Teach Your Own

Teach Your Own - John HoltTeach Your Own by John Holt is a book about homeschooling, or “unschooling” which I read a few months ago. It covers why children should not be in public schools, defenses and advantages of homeschooling, the way children learn, logistics of taking children out of school, legal strategies, and so on.  Some of the information is outdated (the book was published in 1981) and I think I would take a slightly more structured approach to homeschooling than the author suggests, but I agree that “children learn most readily and with retention when they have a need to know something and an opportunity to assimilate in experience what they have learned through their own initiative” (chapter 4). Here are some of my favorite quotations from the book:

“We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children. First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children’s wonder, curiosity, and excitement about the world. And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children’s learning. But that is about all that parents need.” (Chapter 2)

“To parents I say, above all else, don’t let your home become some terrible miniature copy of the school. No lesson plans! No quizzes! No tests! No report cards! Even leaving your children alone would be better; at least they could figure out some things on their own. Live together, as well as you can; enjoy life together, as much as you can. Ask questions to find out something about the world itself, not to find out whether or not someone knows it.” (Chapter 10)

“Intelligence … is not the measure of how much we know how to do, but of how we behave when we don’t know what to do. It has to do with our ability to think up important questions and then to find ways to get useful answers.” (Chapter 10)

“[I]t is a most serious mistake to think that learning is an activity separate from the rest of life, that people do best when they are not doing anything else and best of all in places where nothing else is done. It is an equally serious mistake to think that teaching, the assisting of learning and the sharing of knowledge and skill, is something that can be done only by a few specialists. When we lock learning and teaching in the school box, as we do, we do not get more effective teaching and learning in society, but much less.

“What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent—in the broadest and best sense, intelligent—is not having access to more and more learning places, resources, and specialists, but being able in their lives to do a wide variety of interesting things that matter, things that challenge their ingenuity, skill, and judgment, and make an obvious difference in their lives and the lives of people around them.” (Chapter 16)

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