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Learning All The Time
Author: 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, absorbing
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.

The Basics
Reading, writing and arithmetic are functions that children will derive with the help of a supportive environment and their innate critical thinking abilities.

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.

Destructive Viewpoints
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 reform.

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 Institution
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.

Constructive Viewpoints
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.

Child Scientists
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.

Learning is Perpetual
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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