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Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better

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John Holt is credited with launching today's huge and still growing homeschooling movement. This book is his most direct and radical challenge to the educational status quo and a clarion to call parents to save their children from schools of all kinds. Holt advocates self-directed learning and a creative life.


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John Holt is credited with launching today's huge and still growing homeschooling movement. This book is his most direct and radical challenge to the educational status quo and a clarion to call parents to save their children from schools of all kinds. Holt advocates self-directed learning and a creative life.

30 review for Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    From the guy who kicked off the homeschooling movement in the united states - not attached to Christianity, but to free kids from the pursuit of achievement, which he equates with Education. John Holt tells us that Education prepares students for a restricted life, constrained by the everlasting failing to pursue one's curiosity and develop a holistic being. This is a well-written and concise treatment of the Education system from an unschooling perspective. Not much has changed since he wrote From the guy who kicked off the homeschooling movement in the united states - not attached to Christianity, but to free kids from the pursuit of achievement, which he equates with Education. John Holt tells us that Education prepares students for a restricted life, constrained by the everlasting failing to pursue one's curiosity and develop a holistic being. This is a well-written and concise treatment of the Education system from an unschooling perspective. Not much has changed since he wrote it in 1977, except that Education's accelerated pursuit of goals has further trapped kids into a life of regimentation.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Susan Olesen

    I'm not sure where to start about how short-sighted, bigoted, and damaging this book is. Let me say two things first off: 1) I am not opposed to quality homeschooling. I came very, very close to pulling two of my kids out of school and teaching them at home. I fought hard to get a third one into a specialized school, and won. 2) I am not a fan of the current trends in public schools, and the Almighty Test curriculum, for it fails every student every time. That said, this author is both right, and I'm not sure where to start about how short-sighted, bigoted, and damaging this book is. Let me say two things first off: 1) I am not opposed to quality homeschooling. I came very, very close to pulling two of my kids out of school and teaching them at home. I fought hard to get a third one into a specialized school, and won. 2) I am not a fan of the current trends in public schools, and the Almighty Test curriculum, for it fails every student every time. That said, this author is both right, and grossly wrong in his attitude toward education. By the author's ideology, classical education demands are damaging to a child, that by "teaching" a child in a demanding process, he ceases to "learn" and is bored, turned off, and tuned out, and then fails to feel good about himself. In some cases, yes, this is true, but is most often due to a variety of ills, from poor teachers, poor schools, social issues like poverty and lack of role models, and a poor, uninspiring curriculum. Holt's idea is to abandon "teaching" and allow children to drift and explore whatever they want, however they want, for as long as they want, and that when the motivation to know and learn something strikes them, they will then sit down and learn it all on their own under their own motivation. If they wish to learn math, they will do it when they are ready and it makes sense to them. If they wish to take apart clocks all day for 3 years straight, then that's okay, because there are too many scholars in the world and the world needs more repairmen and factory workers and such, too (a frighteningly familiar political stance). There are only so many good schools and good jobs, and they should be reserved for those who will do best at them, and the rest of the students should just learn their place and be happy at what they do. While what he basically touts is a Montessori approach, with a lot of Bettelheim and some Kanner thrown in, can you imagine an anarchical school approach? Without common societal norms, a society cannot function. If there is no standard level of reading, computation, and science, not only have you thus created a feudalistic peasant, but a stratified social ladder where upward mobility has become almost impossible. I have no issue with his basic tenant: schools do not allow enough hands-on and experiential learning for students who do not do well in a straight-laced tied-to-the-desk read-and-spit-out curriculum. I'd love to see more of a Montessori method in public schools, but some group instruction needs to occur. Here is the lesson, now go forth and play while you process it. That is a method that requires very small classes, and very intensive teachers. Our schools are not willing to pay for that. My kids benefited tremendously from visiting every museum from Maine to Florida; they are amazed at kids who have never been to see anything. But telling people to abandon traditional schooling because it's damaging children, to lie to school boards and send your children to relatives, anything to get them out of public schools, is wrong. Wrong to dump unwarrented guilt on parents, wrong to children, and wrong to society. Yes, public education is failing us, because we have ALLOWED it to fail us, replacing hands-on job training skills with computers as the answer to all our ills, but this guy is a nut job of highest caliber, and MY kid is not going to become a victim of anyone's social downscaling. Hands-on is what hobbies are for. AVOID this jackass, and read someone worthy, such as Kozol, or Montessori.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Milloum

    Very radical. A 100 years back in Europe, and to this day in many parts of the world, compulsory schooling was social progress; but now, Holt says, school as we know it has to be wiped out. Reading this book, if nothing else, revealed how many preconceived ideas I had harboured about education. I laughed out at my stupidity when reading John Holt explaining that "learning" and "doing stuff" are not in fact different processes, the one taking place at school, the other, outside... How much more Very radical. A 100 years back in Europe, and to this day in many parts of the world, compulsory schooling was social progress; but now, Holt says, school as we know it has to be wiped out. Reading this book, if nothing else, revealed how many preconceived ideas I had harboured about education. I laughed out at my stupidity when reading John Holt explaining that "learning" and "doing stuff" are not in fact different processes, the one taking place at school, the other, outside... How much more obvious can you get. Gets you thinking about school, schools. About whether school really teaches kids to think by themselves -- or to bend blindly to authority. Then you just look around you -- hell, you just look at yourself! And you realise, this guy's got a point here...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Justin Podur

    John Holt's approach to education, teaching, and learning has been a major influence in my life. What Holt brings to the table is an optimism about people's ability to learn. You don't really need to do anything to get people to learn, especially children, who are incredibly efficient learning machines. But the way our bureaucratic, credential-driven, behaviourist education systems work is to stifle the learning instinct. Holt works this basic message throughout all his books, but this one was John Holt's approach to education, teaching, and learning has been a major influence in my life. What Holt brings to the table is an optimism about people's ability to learn. You don't really need to do anything to get people to learn, especially children, who are incredibly efficient learning machines. But the way our bureaucratic, credential-driven, behaviourist education systems work is to stifle the learning instinct. Holt works this basic message throughout all his books, but this one was one of my favourites because I was looking for practical advice. What to do as a teacher, given these realities? Holt can help with this, a lot.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    This is vintage John Holt, who is considered by many to be the father of the homeschooling movement. Written in the seventies, his criticism of the public education system is apropos and prescient. Thirty years ago Holt proposed that school reform was not possible, that the whole system needed to be scrapped. He offered many alternative ways for children to pursue learning and self-education instead of the environment of compulsory schools whose social function is "ranking....grading and This is vintage John Holt, who is considered by many to be the father of the homeschooling movement. Written in the seventies, his criticism of the public education system is apropos and prescient. Thirty years ago Holt proposed that school reform was not possible, that the whole system needed to be scrapped. He offered many alternative ways for children to pursue learning and self-education instead of the environment of compulsory schools whose social function is "ranking....grading and labeling, putting children into pecking orders, dividing them into winners and losers."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laura Rogers

    Another one of my favorites from one of my favorite authors - so just read it and take it in. If you have children, this book is a must read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Beau

    I imagine this is and will be one of the most important books I've read for my son's sake. Brilliantly succinct and on point. I love it and recommend literally everyone read it. :P

  8. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    I am really enjoying all of Holt's books. His premise, as I understand it, is that humans are born with an innate curiousity to learn and understand the world around them. Regarding public school here is my favorite quote from this book. Meanwhile, education-compulsory schooling, compulsory learning-is a tyranny and a crime against the human mind and spirit. Let all those escape it who can, any way they can. John Holt. Pretty much sums it up. Read it if you are curious about a new path for I am really enjoying all of Holt's books. His premise, as I understand it, is that humans are born with an innate curiousity to learn and understand the world around them. Regarding public school here is my favorite quote from this book. “Meanwhile, education-compulsory schooling, compulsory learning-is a tyranny and a crime against the human mind and spirit. Let all those escape it who can, any way they can.” John Holt. Pretty much sums it up. Read it if you are curious about a new path for education.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    This is a wonderful book; I don't know if I'd go quite as far as Holt does in his scathing appraisal of compulsory schooling--but I'd go pretty far, and his book is a cogent, lucid, and jargon-free explanation of why.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Zag Abdulrahman

    We don't see someone who has been home-schooled, advocating homeschooling, do we? How perplexing it is, to be who you are as "compulsory Schooled". Nonetheless, you advocate homeschooling!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dena Guzman

    I give the concept and content five stars, six, seven, eight, nine. Shoot me for this, but I find John Holt's writing itself to be slightly dry and thick. However, he's the Father of Homeschool and I think this should be required reading for all parents.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Doni

    I've been trying to find the right word for this: tirade, polemic, and diatribe aren't right because he's outlining the ideas for something rather than against. Still, it very much carries that feel. He provides no evidence or even supporting arguments for his views. While I agree with some of his ideas, I don't think anyone who disagreed with him would find his writing persuasive.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Much of this book is outdated/irrelevant in a way that his other books aren't because of developments in the internet and legality of homeschooling. Sometimes his tone about people who work in schools is more than I can take. Also--it's very clear that he's coming from a privileged background and that affects his generalizations about how a world without schools would function.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Melodie Good

    Sometimes learning happens outside the classroom. This book reaffirms that children learn best when they are engaged in hands-on learning from people in their community. Definitely reminds us that we all have gifts to share.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Grant Black

    An old book so some of the ideas are old, but the ideas about doing what you are interested in instead of forcing a child to learn something they never wanted to learn and giving them a grade that tells them you are bad at this stands the test of time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jonna Higgins-Freese

    The father of homeschooling and unschooling, Holt argues that people are natural learners and explorers, and that formal S-chooling kills that process through overemphasis on testing and credentials. His analysis was interesting, but his solutions weren't compelling to me. While he talks about children and the need to avoid compulsory schooling, most of his solution examples relate to *adult* learning. Clearly he thinks that adults should have more ability to supervise their children, that it's The father of homeschooling and unschooling, Holt argues that people are natural learners and explorers, and that formal S-chooling kills that process through overemphasis on testing and credentials. His analysis was interesting, but his solutions weren't compelling to me. While he talks about children and the need to avoid compulsory schooling, most of his solution examples relate to *adult* learning. Clearly he thinks that adults should have more ability to supervise their children, that it's the capitalist man that keeps them in the workplace and unable to supervise childrens' free learning (though what this means for women is left unexplored). I'm always torn by these books -- philosophically, these ideas feel comfortable and fit with my view of the world. But having children of my own (Wikipedia doesn't indicate that Holt did), I know that my gentle philosophies don't always work out well in practice. My own kids would spend their entire lives playing Minecraft or running around the neighborhood shooting each other with gun-sticks if given a chance, and though I tried for many years to believe this was cultivating their faculties, I'm just not sure it is. Or at least, I think that an hour or so a day of that, more on the weekends, is plenty, and that going to school is fine the rest of the time. And I'm also torn because school was a great place for me -- though I'm a person of scholarly temperament. So, yes, schools are designed to sort and label. But they can also be places of mind-expansion and deep inquiry -- processes that are sometimes painful to engage in. His idea that learning and doing are the same thing makes absolute sense to me, and has impacted the way I talk about drum "practice" at home - instead of reminding my son to practice every day, I remind him now to "play." At the same time, I do resonate with the idea that schools fundamentally treat children as if "if we didn't make you come here you wouldn't learn anything, you'd just waste your time, spend the whole day playing basketball or watching TV or making trouble, you'd hang out on the streets, never do anything worthwhile, grow up to be a bum. Even if you could be trusted to want to find out about the world, you are too stupid to do it. Not only do we have to decide what you need to learn, but then we have to show you, one tiny step at a time, how to learn it. You could never figure it out for yourself, or even have enough sense to ask good questions about it. The world is too complicated, mysterious, and difficult for you. We can't let you explore it. We must make sense of it for you. You can only learn about it from us" (171). He doesn't argue, fortunately, that doing/learning requires no discipline -- only that that discipline should be freely undertaken by someone, say, who wants to learn Spanish: "If you come here and do what we ask, at the end of three months you will speak fluent Spanish. You undertake to do certain things (come to class); we undertake to do certain things and provide resources" (22). Interestingly, he argues for a fundamentally formative definition of teaching: the teacher breaks down the task into an order that makes sense and allows learning, gives a model, and gives feedback "shows the student the difference between what he did and what he was supposed to do, and shows how to close that difference . . . by doing this, he tries to give the student (or help him make for himself) standards, criteria, a heightened awareness, a model in his own mind/body, from which he will in time get his own instructions, feedback, and correction. Thus, as he sharpens the student's movements, he sharpens the criteria by which the student will later judge and correct his own movements" (58). Argues that the only legitimate use of tests is to find out where the student is to better order the tasks (80). Points out that any intellectual activity begins with asking a question, and that school textbooks rarely make this clear (what question was Einstein trying to answer, and where did he go wrong). group work as collective feedback (often lost in lone unschooler thought) (103) Again formative: helping students learn to write through formative use of criteria/standards that become real to the student (104). Fundamentally argues that our view of children should be different: "children need a society which is open, accessible, visible to all its citizens, young and old, and in which every citizen, however young or old, has the right to play an active, serious, responsible, and useful part" (135). Schools are fundamentally about sorting winners and losers (157). "Schools are, after all, selling tickets to jobs and careers. The more good grades they give, the less their tickets are worth" (160). And they make people obedient -- extensive citation of a research study in which people were asked to hurt another person by someone in authority, and did so. Though he does not offer a comparison group of people *not* having attended S-chool who behave differently, so I'm not sure what the point is, other than that people are socialized to follow the leader. What role S-chool plays in this is empirically left unclear, though Holt clearly links it to S-chool.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Arline

    Speed-skimmed it and still took away a ton. Definitely a good resource for anyone thinking about education and its many pitfalls.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah Morgan

    Identifies the problem and the quickly moves onto solutions. Incredibly helpful in trying to decide what it means for me to be a teacher.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

    This took me a while to finish but there are a lot of great ideas I'm here. Definitely solidified my decision to not send my son to traditional school.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I bought into the first half of the book--Do-ers, learning is easier when there's interest and choice in the learner, doing something and learning to do it really aren't two different processes. Great. The second half--or the final third, perhaps--he lost me. Some of his solutions to getting kids out of compulsory schooling are not well thought out at all. For example: The students could take competency tests to move up a grade instead of having to sit in a classroom for the year. Well, who I bought into the first half of the book--Do-ers, learning is easier when there's interest and choice in the learner, doing something and learning to do it really aren't two different processes. Great. The second half--or the final third, perhaps--he lost me. Some of his solutions to getting kids out of compulsory schooling are not well thought out at all. For example: The students could take competency tests to move up a grade instead of having to sit in a classroom for the year. Well, who writes the tests? Who determines what the student should learn in whatever grade? It wouldn't be magical Do-er Fairies but either professional educators (those who create the problems he's worked up about) or legislators (who may or may not have the faintest clue about education or child development). He was writing in 1976 before "Common Core" had entered our cultural lexicon, but that's far from uncontroversial now. He disparages the educational establishment as racist and biased toward the wealthy--which is all too true too often. Another of his solutions is to send children out to the country, or to relatives who live out of the parents' district. How many of the poor have such relatives? That's a solution for the wealthy, entirely missing his target audience. Much of this is quite dated as well; his Learning Exchange is being done by Khan Academy or even plain old Youtube. I think he'd approve of that. However, the idea that anyone can gauge their own proficiency is distorted. Someone has to be the amateur doctor's first patient, and I sure wouldn't want it to be myself or any of my loved ones. I could go on, but it feels like ranting.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Myrrie Bloxham

    I read this book after haveing been a homeschooler for 20+ years. So, I had been to conventions and heard a lot about him being the father of the homeschool movement. Ironically, I had to read books from a list given me at an online college where I am now studying to complete my BAES degree, Bachelor of Arts, Edu. studies. After 3.5 years of taking public school teacher classes, it seemed quite radical at first, but I really got into the real-life, hands-on, success and student-led cases. In I read this book after haveing been a homeschooler for 20+ years. So, I had been to conventions and heard a lot about him being the father of the homeschool movement. Ironically, I had to read books from a list given me at an online college where I am now studying to complete my BAES degree, Bachelor of Arts, Edu. studies. After 3.5 years of taking public school teacher classes, it seemed quite radical at first, but I really got into the real-life, hands-on, success and student-led cases. In fact, my open-ended problem in my vision for education in the future is 'the public school system is broken' and my proposed solution is to bridge public school and homeschooling via the great new technology that is available, and charter schools. Public schools that are vacant in the evenings can be a valuable venue for homeschool/community interest classes, and homeschoolers with their great flexibility and service minded, and organization skills can help with reading in library classes, peer aides to special needs students, etc. Even organizing field trips that involve ps parents to learn the joy of being involved with their children's education. Yes, this book inspired me!

  22. 5 out of 5

    David

    So, overall, I really enjoyed this book. His distinction of S-chools and s-chools was hard to read. I get what he meant by the distinction, and appreciate it, I just found the mechanism (the 'S-' and 's-') awkward. A few of the chapters were a little dry, but I think that had to do with the subject matter more than his commentary or writing style. However, chapter 10 (On Human Nature) was awesome, and chapter 13 (What S-chools Are For) kind of blew my mind. And really, really pissed me off. So, overall, I really enjoyed this book. His distinction of S-chools and s-chools was hard to read. I get what he meant by the distinction, and appreciate it, I just found the mechanism (the 'S-' and 's-') awkward. A few of the chapters were a little dry, but I think that had to do with the subject matter more than his commentary or writing style. However, chapter 10 (On Human Nature) was awesome, and chapter 13 (What S-chools Are For) kind of blew my mind. And really, really pissed me off. Which is what a good book that challenges your assumptions should do. At least in some cases. A small passage I found memorable: "The parents who gave me the list told me that his child's kindergarten teacher told him in November, "Well, one thing is certain, you son will never be a scholar." Hiding as best he could his amazement and anger, the father asked what else the teacher had learned about his child in eight weeks." And a quote from Chapter 10: "A culture which says that people are bad will produce a great many people who will behave badly." Which is part of a much longer and very cohesive thought about culture and the 'malleability' of human nature.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Philski

    A little dated (predates the homeschool movement which addresses many but not all of his concerns, depending on the implementation) and a little liberal/hippy for my tastes but an interesting look at the problems of compulsatory education as opposed to voluntary education (where both the student and the teacher have the optionality of ending the contract: like karate lessons for instance)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Emily Mellow

    I don't know, this book seems redundant. I love John Holt, but I guess I just don't need more convincing. I hate to give it a low rating because maybe it will be the book that turns things around for someone else, so I'll leave it unrated- but it's a boring read for those of us already unschooling.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Marcy

    My opinion on this book is a bit mixed. He had some interesting ideas, and a few chapters in my copy are now heavily marked bc of concepts he pointed out that I found fascinating and hadn't thought of before. Other parts were a bit overly dramatic or radical, even for me. ; ) Still, interesting and thought-provoking as a whole.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katelyn

    A great resource, full of wonderful things to think about in regards to how to truly educate children. Many, many examples and research and observations and also practical advice and application. I want to read his other books now as we'll as many of the ones he referenced. This book solidifies the idea that compulsory schooling is NOT a good thing, but still ways to deal with it. Loved it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dustin

    Expanding my knowledge of what "education" is, or what it can be, this book as proved as a inspiration source for the idea's and writings come forth since uncovering the "unschooling" way of life. I will read this book again.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Lund

    As someone who's already read everything else Holt has written, I don't know that there's anything revolutionary here. I think Escape from Childhood and Freedom and Beyond had more new ideas and were more comprehensive. However, certainly worth a read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Radical, in the best sense of the word. If you think that our schools are failing, you need to read this. Because theyre not failing: theyre doing what theyre designed to do and what theyre designed to do is not necessarily in the best interest of our children. Highly recommended. Radical, in the best sense of the word. If you think that our schools are failing, you need to read this. Because they’re not failing: they’re doing what they’re designed to do and what they’re designed to do is not necessarily in the best interest of our children. Highly recommended.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Shiloah

    Kind of funny how he bounced from good info to statistics to passionate argument to tips for teaching randomly interspersed. This is an excellent read, especially for homeschoolers. It's a book now highlighted and written all over and one I'll return to often.

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