Rather than give an overarching theory
of how children learn,
the father of the modern home school movement, uses
anecdotal observations that question assumptions about how children
acquire knowledge and learning skills.
Holt rejects the idea that children are
"monsters of evil" who must be beaten into submission or computers whom
"we can program into geniuses." Neither are they the passive
receptacles of knowledge that can only learn in a schoolroom.
Instead, he calls upon parents and educators to "trust children."
First and foremost, Holt believes that children
are born learners and that there is a curiosity in all
children that begins at birth, not when they are put in school.
His observations of young children reveal that their brains are trying
to make sense of the world.
Children want to solve problems; they like to
think. The problem is that parents and educators get in
the way of this natural process by placing children in large, impersonal
schools, and by teaching a meaningless curriculum in an industrial
Holt rejects knowledge that is entirely taught
in an abstract manner. He uses the example of teaching
fractions as an anesthetic experience with little real world
application. Similarly, he is disgusted by children’s primers and
picture books with their “dumb” and simple vocabularies. Rather,
Holt believes in exposing children to real world problems of increasing
complexity. For example, he encourages parents to expose their
children to newspapers, letters, warranties, the yellow pages - anything
tangible and visceral to promote their curiosity about the world.
Staying with the theme of promoting real
problems for children, Holt is nostalgic for a time when
children observed their parents at work, indeed, when parents and
children worked side by side. He believes childhood observation of
parental work would accelerate learning on the part of their children,
rather than just having information disseminated from the classroom.
This is one reason why Holt is so receptive to home-schooling or as he
calls it. "unschooling."
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