Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday #40: "Instead of Education" by John Holt

Best Nonfiction Book - Instead of Education

Dear kids,

John Holt is a from-the-heart writer with a beautiful writing voice. His love of and respect for children is sweet to read, and his perspective on education is revolutionary. I also love the striking examples he uses.

Instead of Education makes the argument that the educational system we’re used to is almost totally flawed. Learning should be a self-guided process that is only assisted by caring facilitators.

Main Points:

Here are the main points Holt tries to convey:

  • We learn by doing. Period.
  • Carrots and sticks—rewards and punishments—don’t work.
  • Learning is not separate from life.
  • There are little-s schools and big-s Schools. Big-s Schools are pedantic, threatening, forceful and don’t offer choice. In little-s schools, all students are free at all times to do or not do, participate or not participate, leave or go. There are no attendance records, no tests, no grades. Teachers are not lecturers, but guides.

A few examples of occurrences at little-s schools that Holt visited:

  • Summerhill was a makeshift school furnished with little more than beer crates. Most of what happened there during the day was simply conversation and reading. In the morning there was dancing and drums and other physical activity directed by the kids. The school keep attendance records but there was no punishment when someone didn’t come. Watching was considered an important activity, and teachers admitted what they didn’t know.
  • Once at Summerhill, Holt saw a new boy hit a girl. Though the girl was slightly hurt, she didn’t cry to the teacher. The other kids sympathized with her but did not reprimand the boy; instead, they felt sorry for him and acted as if they assumed that he would soon learn to behave better.
  • In another example, another new boy “. . . did one thing over and over again. He heated his nail red hot and stuck it into a piece of wood, which charred and smoked . . . I have never sensed more violence and anger in a child . . .” The teachers said nothing, allowing him to work through what he needed to work through. “Two years later, when I next visited the school, he was a peaceful, kind, happy child . . .”


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