One afternoon I went to see John Holt, who was working in his fourth-floor
office on Boylston Street in downtown Boston. Holt, possibly this country＇s best
known, if not its most controversial education writer, was sitting on a stack of
newspapers four inches high placed on a chair in front of a desk cluttered with
books and papers. The newspapers were yellowing. One was dated February 29, 1980. In front of his desk was a green folding cot, standing upright to shield him from the
sun that slanted through the windows.
“I may not be good at making things,＂ he said, “but I love to improvise,＂ He
pointed proudly to the wooden splint and tape that held the cot upright. He worked
bare-chested and wore shorts in the heat; his skin full of freckles, and a fan
whirred beside him as he composed on his Olivetti memory-storing typewriter, his
pride and joy.
In contrast to so much of the writing on schools and learning, one reads Holt
easily, and he has become one of the very few education writers to have reached the
masses. How Children Fail and How Children Learn, the most successful of his nine
books, are among the best-selling education books ever.
This afternoon he was putting the finishing touches on a revised edition of How
Children Fail (to be published this spring by Delacorte). When the original was
published in 1964, it all but launched the educational reform movement that reached
its peak a decade ago before being swept aside by “back to basics.＂
“My first thought, he says about his revision, “was that it would be easy
maybe add a few words here and there. But I found I had a lot more to say. My
thinking had really moved on since then. It＇s a whole new book. Really John Holt up
By the mid-seventies Holt had decided that for him, meaningful school reform was impossible. Four years ago he began his own magazine Growing Without Schooling. In the magazine, In the magazine, in lectures, on talk shows (after an appearance on
the Phil Donahue show Holt received 10,000 letters) and in a new book Teach Your Own (Delacorte) he stressed that the best learning environment for a child was not in
the school, no matter how humane, but in a supportive home.