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The Big Answer


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How Children Fail

a book by John Holt

(our site's book review)

This book, and Kohn's Beyond Discipline, are possibly the most insightful—and incite-ful—statements yet about what’s wrong with our schools and why kids are more turned off than turned on by learning. Along with Holt’s How Children Learn, How Children Fail helped create the unschooling and deschooling movements. Probably seen as a pariah and a traitor by many NEA supporters (and that, in and of itself, is proof that he MUST be doing a lot right!), the late John Holt had the ability—and the inclination—to “tell it like it is” about schools and learning. Seeming very much in harmony with the Montessori school philosophy, Holt championed independent learning for decades. Home schooling is on the rise, in part due to the insights of this eloquent author and schoolteacher.

"Homeschooled students are school-age children (ages 5–17) in a grade equivalent to at least kindergarten and not higher than 12th grade who receive instruction at home instead of at a public or private school either all or most of the time.

Approximately 3 percent of the school-age population was homeschooled in the 2011–12 school year. Among children who were homeschooled, a higher percentage were White (68 percent) than Black (8 percent), Hispanic (15 percent), or Asian or Pacific Islander (4 percent).

Parents gave a number of different reasons for homeschooling their children. In the 2011–12 school year, 91 percent of homeschooled students had parents who said that a concern about the environment of other schools was an important reason for homeschooling their child, which was a higher percentage than other reasons listed." (Source: U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.)

Approximately 1,770,000 students were homeschooled in the United States in 2013—3.4% of the school-age population. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) said that among children who were homeschooled, 68 percent were white, 15 percent were Hispanic, 8 percent were black, and 4 percent were Asian or Pacific Islander—the same percentages as the 2011-2012 school year statistics. The number of homeschooled kids keeps growing every year—0.4% growth per year.

This tells us that the biggest reason for homeschooling—concern about the environment of available schools—is so strong it spurs parents to act for their kids' benefit. Of course, one needn't do too much research to figure out that the "environment" that so many are worried about is one where safety is often a concern, as is bullying, drugs, weapons, and bad influences. Add that to health concerns and concern that the educational results are not that good and you can see why rapidly increasing homeschooling rates can be predicted into the future as well.

This tells us that the biggest reason for homeschooling—concern about the environment of available schools (e.g., bullying)—is so strong it spurs parents to act for their kids' benefit
This tells us that the biggest reason for homeschooling—concern about the environment of available schools (e.g., bullying)—is so strong it spurs parents to act for their kids' benefit
Transmogrification of our schools from Second Wave assembly lines of mediocrity to Third Wave institutions of the Knowledge Age is a kind of perverse Maine joke: No one knows how to get there from here. Charter schools, vouchers, schools run as purely market-driven and profit-making businesses, and Montessori schools are but a few of the proposed antidotes for our sick school syndrome. The special-interest group known as the National Education Association has enormous political clout in this area, but several factions threaten what many perceive as their choke-hold on American education.

The NEA has a choke-hold on American education
The NEA has a choke-hold on American education

Holt is hardly alone in his concerns. Businesses abhor all the money they have to spend getting new employees trained in subjects they should have mastered in school. How can America compete in the global marketplace when its companies have to bear such a burden? (See Bold New World: The Essential Road Map to the 21st Century.) And parents resent the failure of American education as well. One thing for sure, if schools do not begin to get the message that they must train kids so they can fill available jobs, the trend of American businesses—especially tech-related busnesses—importing their workers from Asian countries that actually have a work ethic will gain ground rapidly, leaving young Americans who didn't go to technical colleges as kids to flip burgers for them as they pull up to fast food joints in Maseratis.

American kids will flip burgers for tech-trained workers as they pull up to fast food joints in Maseratis
American kids will flip burgers for tech-trained workers as they pull up to fast food joints in Maseratis

Holt’s book came out in 1964, while the Tofflers’ Learning For Tomorrow came out in 1974. Holt’s ideas would have made a good addition to this latter book, which gives many experts’ perspectives on transforming our ineffective education system, based upon an eye to the future. If one cannot understand the future as it arrives, one cannot set up educational goals today in harmony with said future. Holt’s book was updated in 1982 and 1995.

Futurists like the Tofflers want schools to incorporate this futurist orientation into their worldview so that their products (students) are not always so out of step with the reality they face by the time they becomes workers/professionals. Both Holt and the Tofflers want a reversal of the process of de-geniusing (a Buckminster Fuller term) our young which is ongoing in the Second Wave assembly lines found in anachronistic smokestack-era educational institutions based on discredited theories of learning.

Anachronistic smokestack-era educational institutions based on discredited theories of learning
Anachronistic smokestack-era educational institutions based on discredited theories of learning


Teachers' normal obedience-based view of education is incorrect: 'working with' works but 'doing to' doesn't work
Teachers' normal obedience-based view of education is incorrect: 'working with' works but 'doing to' doesn't work

In the May 24, 2000 New York Times, Peter Kilborn outlines the home schooling, unschooling, and deschooling movements which are rapidly growing in this very early part of the 21st century. Started as a protest movement among religious fundamentalists against liberal education in public schools (they still cannot face the fact that the Bible is in error about our evolution), the rate of home schooling in 2013 is at 3.4 percent of kids. And many of these kids’ parents are anything but fundamentalists. They just don’t like that schools are not only failing but also unsafe and seemingly permanently stuck in the past.

Schools are not only failing but also unsafe and seemingly permanently stuck in the past
Schools are not only failing but also unsafe and seemingly permanently stuck in the past

Holt’s philosophy is a guiding light for many such people. Home-schooled kids score as well as public school kids in college entrance tests. But many worry about the potential for stunted social growth in these kids—and their concerns are legitimate. (Obviously, MCs with home schooling would be able to eliminate such worries, although we advocate that MC people help to transform the existing school system in the Third Wave direction rather than dropping out of the system. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match


The NEA turkeys are up in arms, of course, but who can take them seriously when their idea of improving schools is paying teachers more, which hasn’t worked once in all these years?
The NEA turkeys are up in arms, of course, but who can take them seriously when their idea of improving schools is paying teachers more, which hasn’t worked once in all these years?

The NEA is up in arms over the home schooling, unschooling, and deschooling movements, of course. But who can take them seriously when their idea of improving schools and education is paying teachers more, which hasn’t worked once in all these years? Are they really serious when they try to get us to believe that this year it will finally work? One has to give Al Gore (the ecological hero) credit for the way he advocated this raise throughout the year 2000, however, if for no other reason than he did it with a straight face! It must be tough to be a Democratic candidate knowing that without the support of the NEA, one cannot hope to win, but with their support, one cannot hope to avoid making ludicrous claims and throwing the credibility of one’s entire campaign into question. Aah . . . politics

Al Gore deserves credit for advocating raises for teachers 'to improve education'—not because such nonsense was a good idea, but because he did it with a straight face!
Al Gore deserves credit for advocating raises for teachers 'to improve education'—not because such nonsense was a good idea, but because he did it with a straight face!