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How Children Fail (Classics in Child Development)

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  977 ratings  ·  89 reviews
First published in the mid 1960s, How Children Fail began an education reform movement that continues today. In his 1982 edition, John Holt added new insights into how children investigate the world, into the perennial problems of classroom learning, grading, testing, and into the role of the trust and authority in every learning situation. His understanding of children, t
Published September 27th 1990 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1964)
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Holt has a way of cutting through the bullshit when it comes to how children learn (or more realistically, as the book contends: how they do NOT learn) in schools. He approaches the subject almost as a scientist, eschewing fancy, obfuscating academic language as well as cleverness and finger-pointing. It is a remarkably gimmick-free book that attempts to put aside the supply-side notion of "how can we as teachers discover clever methods for imparting knowledge to our captive charges?" in favor o ...more
John Holt summarizes perfectly the problem with contemporary education: it emphasizes right answers rather than learning, production rather than thinking. Read this book to understand this problem and its results, as seen through his experience as a collaborative teacher and thoughtful observer. The rewards for "right answers" over thinking even persists at higher education levels. "What would happen at Harvard or Yale if a prof gave a surprise test in March on work covered in October? Everyone ...more
So, after all these years of homeschooling I finally read John Holt. And, believe it or not, I whole-heartedly agree with a lot of what he has to say. He so eloquently puts into words many things I have thought about education and learning. I don't know if I could've understood so much of this before experiencing it through learning with my own children. One of my many favorite quotes: "But a child who is learning naturally, following his curiosity where it leads him, adding to his mental model ...more
There is a special place in heaven where angels sing dirges for children herded off to school each day. Lamenting the destruction of their infinitely creative capacities as fear of authority, fear of being made fun of, is inculcated deep within their minds. And which drives them towards the hunt for right answers to please countless adults around them and very far away from truly discovering life and their own selves. This, in a nutshell, is what John Holt's book is about. Its immensely sad to r ...more
Pretty intense. I have decided not to rate this book with gold stars (John wouldn't have approved).
It definitely wasn't perfect, there were certain points where the spelling and grammar made it difficult to understand what was going on. Another aspect that I wasn't crazy about was the product placement. I can tell that John was just trying to be helpful and give pointers to other teaching personnel and share what he was interested in, but it's clear in revision notes that John wished he hadn't
Rebecca Esposito
While I don't agree with all of John Holt's ideas, his book definitely made me think. I wish I had read this back when I was starting out as a teacher because it gave me a different perspective on some of my struggling students. Some of the information is dated (such as his treatment of special needs students) but the general ideas are still applicable. And I think his statement that teachers take responsibility when students learn and blame students when they don't is still true in many classro ...more
I would recommend a different title: How Children are Failed.

Fantastic. Cannot recommend this highly enough. Some of the references are a bit dated, but the main points are just as valid as ever. It is nothing short of criminal what is done to children "in their own good".
This wasnt the best book on self guided pedagogy i have read recently. it does, however, seem to be one of the standards, due to its early observations (mid '50s) on the destructive nature of institutional instruction's crippling effect on learning (and happiness). It wasnt the most scintillating read due to its focus on the author's math students and their struggles with basic math. Still, it was worthwhile to read Holt's process of unraveling each student's approach to the subject until he cou ...more
As my husband is a teacher by trade, he has read several books on children and education that he recommended I read. One of these is How Children Fail by John Holt. I found it to be profound and fascinating and recommend it to anyone who cares about what their children learn or education. (Plus at under 200 pages, it's a quick read.) John Holt was a teacher and this book is a collection of memos that he shared with other teachers and his administration. His memos were based on observations in te ...more
This book is a highly personal rumination on why so many schoolchildren have trouble absorbing and understanding the material being taught in school. The main focus is on the difference between the passion for learning readily observed in infants and the boredom, frustration, and rebellion against learning that is already manifest in students in the earlier grades. Through a series of memos that read almost like diary entries, Mr. Holt describes his observations of his own and other teachers' cl ...more
As a student, I schooled the educational system. I was the teacher's pet, the A student, the girl with all the answers. Yet, when I finished it all (including grad school), I knew hardly anything, and I was frustrated that I could remember so little. Nineteen years and thousands of dollars, and not much to show for it.

As a teacher, I started asking questions. Am I actually helping my students learn? Why are kids graduating from college with absolutely no idea about what they're good at or even i
Garden Gal
Dec 30, 2012 Garden Gal rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: students, parents, teachers, prospective teachers
Are you a learner? A teacher? Do you think you might like to teach?


It will teach you as much or more than any college or grad course in pedagogy and in a much more enjoyable manner with more inspiration than any pedagogy professor I've ever encountered.

It is a true today as it was when it was written.

It is an easy read, without jargon.

As a young college student, I read a library copy and as soon as I could afford to, I purchased a copy and promised myself I would read it at least once
I know, I know, five stars? for an educational classic? Yes, not only does it really deserve to be considered a classic in the sense that it is very thought provoking and could bear multiple readings, but unlike many classics (esp. in education!) it is a very engaging read. I find myself very drawn in by his style as much as anything and his compelling insights into the thinking and world of children. His observations are grounded in concrete examples as they happen (as all journaling will produ ...more
I read this book some time back, but I still remember as if I read it yesterday. It is a collection of reports/observations made by John Holt as he was teaching in the fifth grade. He explains different strategies children play in their class rooms to impress the teacher or to get hints or even to find out the answer itself from the teacher. I could even relate my life in school with the things he explains. I too wanted to impress teacher, I too looked at the teacher’s face to know whether I gav ...more
David Langer
I always enjoyed this style, anecdotal with commentary. The thoughtfulness with which Mr. Holt looks at his experiences observing the act of teaching is nothing less than amazing. He really gets into the question of why children respond to teachers and the school system the way they do. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, it is difficult to deny that he considers deeply the subject matter. The style is very engaging, interspersing his thoughts with memories. This edition is even bette ...more
This was the first book I read about homeschooling. It was recommended in my Montessori Teacher Training, and I fell in love. Despite the dreary title, John Holt has an intuitive sense of good teaching and the innate joy children can find in a good learning environment.
Now that I am more used to Holt's ideas and writing style his books are easier for me to read. I still say I don't agree with everything he says, but he gives new perspectives that are good for me to think about.

From this book, the following thoughts stood out:

Pg 67-68: Failure is honorable and constructive. The only true failure happens when we quit, give up. To be smart/to have success is to keep trying.

Pg 208: "We teachers will have to learn to recognize when our students are, mathematically
I just discovered John Holt and, although I am quite prejudiced against home schooling and/or unschooling (nothing wrong with it per se but, to me it sounds more like an ideal of an education accessible to only a privileged few than something applicable to a whole society) I was really enthusiastic reading this.

As Holt insists beautifully here, 'intelligence is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don't know what to do'. In other words, intelligence can only be rooted and t
Insightful is an understatement. Written in the 50s but still very relevant today. Everyone should read it. Everyone.
Aug 29, 2007 Sara rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: parents, teachers, students, and former students
This book, more than anything else, is what sold me on homeschooling. Anything to save my kids from this.
School sucks, all kids hate to go. This book explained a lot about why my kids struggle in school and reminded me of my own struggles in school, with concepts that I haven't had use for since I graduated. The way children are force fed information in mass public schools destroys their spirits and their intellects. It thwarts them from being the people that they could be. It's indoctrination into official reality, which is a toxic and destructive way to live. Well worth reading if interests lie i ...more
Mariam Hussien

أنا ممتنة لجون هولت..ممتنة لتلك الرقة في المشاعر في التعامل مع اﻷطفال و السعي المستمر لمحاولة فهمهم

أنا أحببت الكتاب أكثر مما كنت متوقعة أني سأحبه. في بعض اﻷجزاء و هو يتحدث عن فشل اﻷطفال شعرت أنني هذه الطفلة الفاشلة التي تحاول أن تبحث عن معنى و تحاول أن تربط اﻷشياء ببعضها البعض. و في البعض اﻷخر ، جعلني أتأمل في ممارساتي مع اﻷطفال و مع من أعلمهم سواء صغار أو كبار.هذا الكتاب جعلني أشعر كم أنا مسئولة

"كيف يفشل الأطفال" هي رحلة بدأها المُعلمجون هولت عام 1958 و -هو مُعلم و كاتب أمريكي عاش في الفترة

Nov 06, 2008 Flourish rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: teachers, parents, educators, students
So far, one of the great quotations I've found is:

"It used to puzzle me that the students who made the most mistakes and got the worst marks were so often the first ones to hand in their papers. I used to say, 'If you finish early, take time to check your work, do some problems again.' Typical teacher's advice; I might as well have told them to flap their arms and fly. When the paper was in, the tension was ended. Their fate was in the lap of the gods. They might still worry about flunking the p
Very interesting read. It was written mostly from the 60's and 70's and things have changed some in our schools, but not much. That was what was so surprising for me. I didn't realize when I ordered the book that it was written from his notes in the late 50's and early 60's. I read it anyway, thinking I might get SOMETHING out of his research. Unfortunately, our schools haven't changed that much and most of what he discussed in this book is STILL HAPPENING TODAY. ARGH!!!

The best part is that he
Mar 29, 2009 Claudia rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all teachers
Original copyright date: 1964. Holt's work rings just as true now as it did when I read it in the late 60's. As I read, I could see his warning about our current testing craze: "One ironical consequence of the drive for so-called higher standards in schools is that children are too busy to a very great degree, school is a place where children learn to be stupid...our 'tell 'em and test 'em way of teaching leaves most students aware that their academic success rests on shaky foundation ...more
Umm Layth
Do you know what is so wonderful about this book? The students were paid attention to!

This is a must read for any human being. It was an overwhelming read for me because I related to so many of the things mentioned within it. I am an example of a child who was ignored, who had her strategies to survive in school, who really was behind and didn't understand as much as my teachers thought I did. I stopped caring sometime around middle school. Sadly, there are far too many examples of students who
Alan Hat
Dec 29, 2012 Alan Hat rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone thinking of using the school system anywhere in the world
This is apparently a seminal work so I can forgive it's faults, but it does have a few.
The edition I read on Kindle is a second edition & has elaborations by the author that he has blended in so well that I only spotted a few.
John Holt tries to show how schools destroy intelligence.
The book does give some insights to children's experience of the (American) school system as interpreted by an observant & interested teacher & views on how this experience impacts on the outcome of the sc
I really like the ideas of John Holt. This is a good read. I might come back later and elaborate, but if you are in the educational field, or a parent wanting to know how to help your child get the most out of school... then buy this and read it.
Brittney Clay
I found this book very interesting and agreed with most of the ideas in regard to how our current system (surprisingly, written in the '50s-'60s, but some things never change?) is not sufficient in guiding children to learning opportunities. My children asked why I was reading a book that is about how children fail and I told them that this was my new plan, I would no longer teach them and planned on "failing" them. They started to panic until we all sat down and explored the things we new the m ...more
Great book, about how the school systems don't really work well because of the fear that a lot of kids feel and how they try to get around the system etc. Confirmed our ideas that homeschooling was for us.
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After teaching in private schools for many years John Caldwell Holt wrote his first two books, How Children Fail, and How Children Learn. He became a vocal advocate for school reforms, and wrote several more books about education theory and practice, including alternative forms and many social issues relating to the education system. Eventually he decided school reform was impossible, and changed ...more
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“This idea that children won't learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorists, "positive and negative reinforcements," usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me, "If we didn't make children do things, they wouldn't do anything." Even worse, they say, "If I weren't made to do things, I wouldn't do anything."

It is the creed of a slave.”
“For many years I have been asking myself why intelligent children act unintelligently at school. The simple answer is, "Because they're scared." I used to suspect that children's defeatism had something to do with their bad work in school, but I thought I could clear it away with hearty cries of "Onward! You can do it!" What I now see for the first time is the mechanism by which fear destroys intelligence, the way it affects a child's whole way of looking at, thinking about, and dealing with life. So we have two problems, not one: to stop children from being afraid, and then to break them of the bad thinking habits into which their fears have driven them.

What is most surprising of all is how much fear there is in school. Why is so little said about it. Perhaps most people do not recognize fear in children when they see it. They can read the grossest signs of fear; they know what the trouble is when a child clings howling to his mother; but the subtler signs of fear escaping them. It is these signs, in children's faces, voices, and gestures, in their movements and ways of working, that tell me plainly that most children in school are scared most of the time, many of them very scared. Like good soldiers, they control their fears, live with them, and adjust themselves to them. But the trouble is, and here is a vital difference between school and war, that the adjustments children make to their fears are almost wholly bad, destructive of their intelligence and capacity. The scared fighter may be the best fighter, but the scared learner is always a poor learner.”
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