Learning All The
John Caldwell Holt
Reviewed By: Erica Fagnan
“…children, without being coerced or manipulated, or being put in exotic
specially prepared environments, or having their thinking planned for
them, can, will, and do pick up from the world around them important
information about what we call the basics.”--Holt
“Learning All the Time”
advances the idea that children are not passive beings,
waiting to be taught basic skills by adults. Much rather these
skills emerge as a function of adaptation to their world, where they
pick up the ability to communicate and solve myriad problems. As such,
children are natural speakers, scientists, writers, and problem solvers,
information from their surroundings at an
alarming rate. Children learn to speak and translate this
knowledge into reading and writing naturally (it is estimated that when
properly guided [not taught] children can learn to read in 30 hours or
less). Further, the solving of intellectual problems comes to
children quite easily when approached from a conceptual viewpoint where
relationships between ideas are demonstrated, and children quite readily
extrapolate from these relationships.
Reading, writing and arithmetic are functions that children will derive
with the help of a supportive environment and their innate critical
The decrease in word complexity and the increase in the picture content
in books is in part responsible for the difficulty young students have
in learning to read. Holt demonstrates that the ability to read
is inherent in youth, and can be attained not through intensive
elementary school instruction, but through individual attention and
support given to children when needed.
Writing is merely the visual expression of language. Children
will learn it through associations they make in their daily lives and
being exposed to large amounts of print, not pictures. The
integration of larger amounts of printed material into children’s
education will thus prove to be more effective than lessons on writing
that are currently being given.
Arithmetic is often taught to students in the form of rote
memorization, e.g. 2+2=4, 2+4=6 with no demonstration of the connection
between the facts being memorized. Such rote methods do little to
inspire interest or learning in young students, who naturally turn to
number games and other distractions when faced with such mundane
lessons. Rather, relationships and fundamental ideas should be
taught to encourage students to learn to see connections and underlying
patterns in numbers. This does much more to establish
mathematical problem-solving ability and form the foundation for
learning higher mathematics.
In addition to the commentary on natural learning processes and the
educational system’s impediment thereof, the text notes some fundamental
viewpoints commonly held by schools that may serve as an obstacle to
School as a Factory
Students are treated as bottles to be filled with
|information, regardless of the shape, size, or
consistency of the bottle. Educational officials decide what
should be “squirted in” to the bottles, and what should be done with
those that do not have openings for the information.
School as a Carrot and Stick Game
Students are laboratory animals given rewards for performing “tricks,”
most often ones they will not need to know devised by distant lab
scientists. Students receive carrots if they do the trick correctly,
and sticks (e.g. an “F”) if they fail.
School as Mental
Students are “patients” sent to the institution to be corrected.
When learning takes place, the schools get the credit, and when it does
not, blame is eagerly parceled out to students.
It is more useful to view children (and learners of all ages) as
individuals who absorb and process information naturally, and
perpetually learn from almost every experience.
To reiterate, children are young scientists with an eye toward
understanding their surroundings; such curiosity is only natural.
When given the opportunity, even babies will search out their
environments for clues as to how things work. The point is that
parents and teachers need to let them.
There is a flip side to the discourse: although the learning curve is
the steepest when one is young, it certainly does not taper off when
one ages. Learning is, and should be, a continuing process.
That does not mean that one must align all learning experiences with an
educational institution. Learning should be independent and in
most cases occurs naturally, with every new experience.
Underlying the discourse, as the above points may have already hinted,
is the idea that living is learning, and learning is a naturally
occurring process. Rather than assuming they need to intervene, parents
and teachers must guide and facilitate the absorption of information
that is already occurring in youngsters. In addition, they must
not obstruct it with artificially simplified teaching guides,
forcing-feeding memorization of facts, and in general “teaching” with
an air of condescension and disdain toward students. Indeed,
children are capable of quite a lot more than we think they are, and it
is time we start acting like it.
Learning All The Time by John Caldwell Holt. Pub. Date:
August 1990. Publisher: Perseus Publishing. ISDN: 0201550911
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