I am a great fan of the American educationalist John Holt. I am very aware that this does not necessarily endear me to some Christians who struggle with what they perceive to be his radical child-centred educational agenda. Whatever one might think of Holt’s philosophy of learning (and I feel that we have much to learn from it) his assessment of schooling is compelling. Holt argued in his seminal first book ‘How Children Fail’ that the academic failure of children was often not despite the best efforts of schools but actually because of them! He maintained that structurally, schools are not good places for children to learn in. Writing in the 1960’s and early 1970s’s these were profoundly radical ideas, which in some respects led to the progressive movement in British primary schools during the mid to late 1970s.

Though progressive education with its open plan classrooms and mixed age classes is often ridiculed nowadays, at its best there was much that was wonderfully innovative and creative about it – I can still recall my first teaching practice in an open plan upper junior classroom in Cowbridge in Mid Glamorgan. These were pre-National Curriculum days and children had fun while teachers had freedom to create lessons that were stimulating and focus on the interests of children.

I do not wish to appear nostalgic and there were many failures and disasters in classrooms where teachers simply did not have the vitality, creativity or sheer teaching skills to work in this way with 30 or more children.

Nevertheless we as home educators can learn much from the progressive approach to education. The rigidity of modern western schooling, that has replaced it, is most certainly not the model that we should aspire to mimic in our homes! And the fact that most of us are only working with two or three children actually means that we have the time to spend being innovative. The challenge for all of us is to be brave enough to be different. Maybe you can add one of John Holt’s books to your Christmas present list and allow Holt to stimulate your thinking!


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