on April 7, 2004
In The Underachieving School, John Holt Shows us why schools can't be fixed. It's not a lack of money, too many students per teacher, too many societal problems, or any of the other ideas that have been blamed for the state of schooling. Holt shows, rather than tells, that schools can't be fixed because they are not a good idea gone bad. They were a bad idea to begin with.
Full of first hand accounts, this book shows the difference between learning and schooling; why schools are bad for children mentally, physically, and emotionally; why teachers talk too much and prevent students from real socialization; why tests are not only useless, but harmful; why schools turn previously well mannered children into "behaviour problems"; and so much more...
An excerpt from The Underachieving School highlights the problem:
"In school certain things are "spozed" to happen; the kids are "spozed" to sit still, be quiet, read the texts, do the workbooks, pass the exams. If none of these things happens, if the kids learn nothing, riot in the halls, drop out, that's OK, as long as you tried to make happen what was "spozed" to happen. But if you tried to make something else happen, even if, like Herndon's, your kind of order worked and your kids found things worth doing and actually did them, you're a threat to the system, and out you go. "
Many of us think that bad schools and student underachievement are a modern problem. They are not. Everett Reimer wrote about achievement problems in the 70s. John Taylor Gatto wrote about the 80s and 90s. Flesch, of "Why Johnny Can't Read" fame, wrote in the mid-50s. John Holt writes in the early 60s.
Read this book. Read Holt's others books. Read the authors above who came before and after Holt. Then you will have a broad picture, and will be able to truly understand, The Underachieving School.
John Holt was a leading pioneer in re-examining public education, public educator's assumptions and theories. He began calling attention to where exactly the American compulsory school system came from and what students were really learning. They are learning but not what most people, right, left, or center think. Holt was also the major force behind the modern Homeschool movement. Today, John Taylor Gatto is more relevant & further along. But Gatto and the few others who insist compulsory and college schooling are not about education & probably never were owe much to John Holt. Holt began as a reformer but finally had to conclude the entire system must be shut down and education re-made anew from the ground up. I think both men go a little too extreme in their criticisms and their proposed solutions. Their extreme conclusions are not well supported. American education since 1870 has not been totally useless to a free people.
I recommend Holt to those few truly interested in education matters and issues. First, you may want to read the late philosopher Mortimer J. Adler's conclusions about education and schooling. They are not the same thing and probably never were. Fortunately, America's has its supply of people like Mark Twain who admitted: "I never let my schooling interfere with my education"
Holt knew that Socrates, Plato, & Aristotle despised professional teachers. Socrates observed that they soon turned schools into being about them, into fulcrums for serving up their interests. The three thinkers also concluded that people confuse education, schooling, & vocational training. Aristotle wrote "a vocational education is for slaves. higher learning is for free men."
John Dewey in his earlier and only truly major work, "Democracy and Education", echoed Aristotle. His elitist authoritarian education dogma that is echoed & aped today in our Schools of Education came after he became an ideological Fellow Traveler & basked in the Sunlight of "Papa Joe" Stalin whom he glowingly promoted in lectures presented to admiring professors of education. He got on so well with Stalin that Stalin strongly recommended Dewey to young Mao, China's new communist dictator. Dewey was extremely impressed with Mao too, after many months in China as Mao's personal guest. Perhaps education professors should compile a book about Dewey's hand in Mao's making of the Chinese working class.
I also recommend E.P. Thompson's classic, "The Making of the English Working Class" & what John Taylor Gatto has to say about the authoritarian, elite origins of the compulsory American school system. Aspiring teachers will not get introduction to these enlightening analyses in any Teacher's Education course.
Holt (and Gatto even more so) want you to know that our public schools are doing an efficient, fine job, depending on what you understand their assigned mission to be and on who actually determines that mission. It clearly isn't you and me.
on January 23, 2008
This book is very valuable along with "How Children Learn" by the same authoer. The author had deep insights into how a thoughtful and dedicated teacher can help students develop their own minds (as opposed to what most teachers do which is condition students not to think for themselves, and mechanically follow processes. One of my favorite essays is "Teachers talk too much." This essay emphisizes the need for teachers to get students to say things that are meaningful and are not in any sense planted by the teacher. Of course, students are usually conditioned to want to avoid the effort of having any original thoughts of their own, but they are still better severed by the willingness of a teacher to extract their thoughts. This is one example of the books insights, and the reader will find many more. The reader will also find that most teachers do not have the insights in the book.
Recomended for all professors, and all k-12 teachers, including homeschool parents.
on March 5, 2006
The Underachieving School by John Holt contains inspirational and informative ideas on how to children should be properly educated, while retaining the respect and attention to how children actually do learn. Holt's interpretation displays to readers the difference between learning and schooling. Through author John Holt's original thinking, The Underachieving School is well written with clear and thoughtful style as result of Holt's firsthand experience with such issues. Highly recommended to all school administrations nation-wide, as well as parents, teachers, and educational government organizations.