Nicholas Karpuk's Reviews > How Children Learn

How Children Learn by John Holt
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's review
Aug 14, 09

really liked it
Recommended for: Parents, Prospective Parents, Avid Learners
Read in August, 2009

People as a whole are only as smart as a society is comfortable with.

In prose style "How Children Learn" reminds me a lot of "The Omnivore's Dilemma", in that both present some pretty depressing news with a great deal of compassion and hope. John Holt wrote this in the 60's and revised it in the 80's a few years before his death, and it's alarming how many of his criticisms of education are still applicable decades later. But it never comes off as polemic or divisive, just concerned for the minds of children and the adults they become.

His overarching conclusion is that children don't need us to learn most of the time. Presented with an interesting problem, a little kid wants to solve it. The issue is adult meddling and often good-hearted attempts to help kill this impulse. Past a certain age kids give up on trying to learn anything that isn't necessary to succeed.

The logic behind school is that it's supposed to turn people in to well-rounded, intelligent human beings. The trouble with that is that no one agrees on what it takes to be well-rounded. Most of us aren't and never will be. Most cultures with public education aren't overrun with renaissance men. People specialize, it's part of what civilizations are built on, so much of what's learned in school is water off a duck's back.

What he says early on and pushes through the whole book is to trust kids. Lack of trust can erode entire civilizations, and in kids it corrupts their ability to work things out themselves. The problem he even acknowledges is that giving kids the respect and trust to figure out problems on their own is intensely frightening at times.

Apparently being a parent who raises a bright, self-motivated, intelligent kid is a combination of being really easy and incredibly terrifying. Oh well, it's scary regardless.
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