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January-February 2010 Selected Content

Publisher's Note - Helen Hegener

The Writings of John Holt

"A lot of people have come to me and said, 'Your books have changed my life,' and I believe them." -- John Holt.

In December, 1981 the northeastern regional magazine Yankee published an interesting character study by Mel Allen titled "The Education of John Holt," and it profiled the man who would, in large part, help create and shape the modern homeschooling movement. Holt was a successful author before he ever got involved with taking or keeping kids from school; How Children Fail and How Children Learn, the most successful of his several books, are consistently among the best-selling books ever published about education.

Four years after Holt began his homeschool newsletter, Growing Without Schooling, Allen quoted him in the Yankee article, stating, "It's not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It's a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life."

That key concept, that learning doesn't need to be cut off from the rest of life, certainly changed my perspective on living and learning. I credit my parents with letting me learn in a way that made sense to me when the traditional system of education did not, but I credit John Holt with bringing the ideas full circle. He left all homeschooling families a body of work and a legacy to draw from and be inspired by.

Holt's writing style is conversational and easy to read, as in this passage about attending a concert of young Japanese musicians: "We waited in great suspense. What would they play? Perhaps some of the slower and easier tunes of Vivaldi, Handel, or Bach. Dr. Suzuki gave the downbeat, and away they went - playing not some easy tune but the Bach Double Concerto, in perfect tune, tempo, and rhythm, and with great energy and musicality. It was breathtaking, hair-raising. I could not have been more astonished if the children had floated up to the ceiling. Rarely in my life have I seen and heard anything so far beyond the bounds of what I would have thought possible."

If you've never read John Holt's books or other writings, you're in for a treat! But even if, like me, you've been enjoying his insights and adventures for many years - and life was an adventure for John Holt - you're sure to be inspired all over again if you start reading his essays, interviews, and other writings. John was a gifted explorer of the world, especially the world of children and learning, and he had much to teach us all about families, and education, and love, and ourselves.

© 2010, Helen Hegener

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