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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
John Holt is probably best known for his early books, "How Children Fail" & "How Children Learn," and his advocacy of homeschooling -- although his concept was nothing like the rigid indoctrination of the fundamentalist mindset. From his decades of working with children, from accepting them as whole, autonomous human beings, he fully believed in the capability of the individual to learn. He had less & less faith in the official school system, which he saw as simply one more tool & reflection of a culture more interested in turning out interchangeable, obedient widgets for the machine, rather than freely thinking individuals.

In this superb, insightful selection of his letters, from his days as a young man, to his tragically early death from cancer, we follow the development of his thought. He wrestles with ideas, always born of personal experience, which he trusted far more than abstract theory. His empathy, his compassion, his heartbreak all shine through from every page -- he CARED with all he had to give, and he gave all that he had, that much is clear.

It's difficult to sum up an entire life of thought in just a few words, but I'll try: Holt believed that human beings are born with an innate desire & need to learn, and that they'll exert all their effort for something that truly matters to them. He also believed that schools did far more harm than good, by being glorified certification factories ('You've got to have X degrees to get a good job!"); training grounds for obedience to bullying authorities who were unworthy of respect ("You'll find out what the real world is like soon enough!"); and places of needless humiliation & emotional damage for children ("What are you, stupid? You'll never amount to anything! Loser!").

In short, that schools are essentially boot camps for modern American society, breaking people down & rebuilding them for use as consumers & cogs.

Holt believed that (to use his phrase), education is something a person gets for him/herself, rather than something that's force-fed to a person. At least, that's what it should be. And of course his worldview went beyond just the school system, or the idea of learning -- his was a humanistic critique of our materialistic, power-hungry, status-oriented culture as a whole.

All of Holt's books are worth reading, especially the later ones, which found less of an audience than his first, most successful volumes. But even if you haven't read anything else by the man, you'll benefit from this selection of letters. Both his ideas & his personality come through clearly ... and he'll leave you with much food for thought.

Most highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2013
It's hard to explain why, but this book was fascinating. If you like John Holt and find his writings interesting, you will be interested in this book and the letters he wrote to various people on various topics.
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