By presenting his books in chronological order, it shows how John Holt's thoughts developed over time from first realising that schools failed children, to why and eventually to believing that home education (homeschooling) or Home Based Education as he preferred to call it, was really the only way forward.
While John Holt has been ever more sidelined by a regressive education system that took dominance since the mid 1980's he has become an Iconic figure in the Home Education movements on both sides of the Atlantic and even further afield. Even though many of those new to home education may not have heard of his name the processes parents imbibe from the home education community and subsequently employ in assisting their children to learn originated with John Holt and others who continued to develop his ideas following his death in 1985.
This book should be seen as essential reading for any who want to understand home education wherever it is practiced.
From the original cover, written by Roland Meighan:
John Holt died in 1985. He had written ten books many of them destined to become acknowledged classic works in education. His work was translated into many languages. This book considers all ten books in turn in reviewing Holt's contribution to educational thought.
When he first began to teach, John Holt was content with schools and teaching:
"I had no quarrel with traditional education. If someone had said to me much of what I have said in this book, my answer would have been, 'Balony!' I agreed without question that students should be made to learn ..."
John Holt found, as many of us have found, that formal teaching did not work very well.. He threw himself into lesson planning, visual aids, the devices for motivating children and careful evaluations. There was not much improvement. He decided to study the children and he began to see the classroom from their point of view. It led to his first book How Children Fail where schools had:
"... an exaggerated concern with getting right answers and avoiding mistakes; they drive them ( i.e. the learners) into defensive strategies of learning and behaviour that choke off their intellectual powers and make real learning all but impossible."
John Holt never tried to pretend that he had not been part of the problem before trying to become part of the solution:
"I myself, for many or most of the years I was a teacher, did almost all of the bad things I have talked about … Later, when I stopped trying to play God in the classroom and became more modest, I became less harmful ... even useful."
Towards the end of his journey, he declared:
"I don't believe in the curriculum, I don't believe in grades, I don't believe in teacher-judged learning. I believe in children learning with our assistance and encouragement the things they want to learn, when they want to learn them, how they want to learn them, why they want to learn them. This is what, it seems to me, education must now be about."
and, after rejecting scholing and deciding to support home-based education
"Meanwhile, education - compulsory schooling, compulsory learning - is a tyranny and a crime against the human mind and spirit. Let all those escape it who can, any way they can."