Thursday, October 22, 2009

John Holt on Alternative Schools

Periodically, I like to refer to John Holt's writing to keep me on track as to what authentic learning is really about. In an essay he wrote for Growing Without School (#17) he said he wanted to do away with the idea of compulsory learning, and the idea that learning should be separate from the rest of life. "Above all, I want to break down the barriers that separate children from adults and their work and concerns."
"It's okay to have special places for kids, since they have certain needs that in some respect are different from the needs of adults....But they should not have to spend all their time in those special places. The adult world should be as far as possible open to them,and they should not have to go to special places unless they want to.

"People say to me quite often,"I want to work with kids." What they really mean is that they want to work on kids, to do things to them or for them, usually without their consent,which they think will do them good. I often say to these well meaning people,"Why not find some work worth doing and then try to find ways to make it possible for young people to join you in this work?"

"This is very different from starting an alternative school. Children (and youth especially -my words) should be able to have contact with many adults who are outside their families, and whose work is not taking care of them. They should be able,if they wish, to make friends with adults who may or may not be friends of or even known to their parents. They should be able to see adults at work and to share in that work according to their energy and skill.
If we want to call the place where this work is done a 'school," I suppose we can. But I would prefer something new, and in our time this is new, I'd rather think of a new name for it than bend an old name out of shape to fit it."

Holt felt uneasy about the relationship between adults and children in alternative schools claiming that in regular school the "relationship is stark and clear."
Wrote Holt, "School is the Army for kids. Adults make them go there..tell them what to do, bribe and threaten them.. When the teachers in an alternative school try to give up this bad relationship, it is very unclear what they put in its place. If they are not there to tell the children what to do, what are they there for? To "help" the children? Did the children ask for this help? Can they get away from it?...Are they the students' servants or their bosses, or if neither, then what? Is the task of adults in alternative schools to think up interesting things for the students to do and then try to seduce or cajole them into doing them? Is their task to be available if students want their help, but otherwise to stay out of the way? Neither of these seems to me like good life-work for serious adults.
"I personally would hate to be in the position of having to think up things for children to do and to find ways to get them to do them. If and when they ask me, I often show them how to do things i like to do, so that we can do them together. But I am not going to do thins that bore me in the hope that they many interest or be good for them. Thus I am glad to play my cello with the children around,and to offer them a chance to play if they want. But if they don't want, that's fine with me; I am not trying it "get them interested" in playing cello. I am not going to take up painting in the hope that, seeing me, children will get interested in painting. Let people who already like to paint, paint where children can see them.
"When adults come into our office with children, if we are doing anything which children can do, we ask them if they want to help, and they almost always say Yes. They work hard and well, and are a real help. I think children could and would like to help adults much sooner and in more ways than most adults give them a chance to."


Anonymous said...

Our society is not interested in having kids and youth out and about and involved in the community. People are surprised when they see kids out of school during school hours.
I'm interested in hearing from readers of this blog their suggestions on how we can,as a society be more welcoming to young people. What are others doing to invite young people into their life and work??

Anonymous said...

"I personally would hate to be in the position of having to think up things for children to do and to find ways to get them to do them." But isn't one of the roles of an educator to expose the children to things the kids wouldn't normally be exposed to??

Anonymous said...

How would you like to taught by a person who is not interested in what they are teaching? That's what the majority of teaching in school is like.

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