Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book Of Homeschooling” by John Holt and Pat Farenga

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Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book Of Homeschooling by John Holt and Pat Farenga isn’t my favorite John Holt book. But anything with his name on it is a push of the “Buy Now” button on Amazon for me.

Read it because you’re familiar with Holt’s unschooling philosophy, and want ideas for employing it in some way.

Key Takeaways

  • In this book the authors discuss the idea of unschooling as an alternative to traditional schooling or homeschooling. This involves allowing learning without a lot of direct teaching. The authors provide a number of colorful, hearty quotes, some of which are as follows:
  • Learning is, and should be considered to be, as natural to humans as breathing. The authors imagine themselves at a “breathing conference” where nothing but the act of improving on breathing is discussed all day long. “And I thought, if we found ourselves at such a conference, would we not assume that everyone there was sick, or had just been sick? Why so much talk and worry about something that healthy people do naturally?”
  • “If there were no other reason for wanting to keep kids out of school, the social life would be reason enough. In all but a very few of the schools I have taught in, visited, or know anything about, the social life of the children is mean-spirited, competitive, exclusive, status-seeking, snobbish, full of talk about who went to whose birthday party and who got what …”
  • “Years ago I read that one or more inner-city schools had tried the experiment of letting fifth graders teach first graders to read. They found, first, that the first graders learned faster than similar first graders taught by trained teachers, and secondly, that the fifth graders who were teaching them, many or most of whom had not been good readers themselves, also improved a great deal in their reading.”
  • “We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children. First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children’s wonder, curiosity, and excitement about the world. And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children’s learning. But that is about all that parents need.”
  • “During his early years, my wife and I and a couple of friends taught him all he wanted to know, and if we didn’t know it, which usually was the case, it was even better for we all learned together. Example: at 7, he saw the periodic table of elements, wanted to learn atoms and chemistry and physics. I had forgotten how to balance an equation, but went out and bought a college textbook on the subject, a history of discovery of the elements, and some model atoms, and in the next month we went off into a tangent of learning in which somehow we both learned college-level science. He has never returned to the subject, but to this day retains every bit of it because it came at a moment in development and fantasy that was meaningful to him.”
  • “A very important function of institutions of so-called higher learning is not so much to teach people things as to limit access to certain kinds of learning and work. The function of law schools is much less to train lawyers than to keep down the supply of lawyers. Practically everything that is now only done by people with Ph.D.’s was, not so very long ago, done by people with no graduate training or in some cases even undergraduate training.”
  • Though some parents worry about sheltering their children too much, the author believes that doing so is the proper role of a parent. Sheltering them is a way of teaching them how to avoid problems later on.
  • Some parents view homeschooling as a way for kids to avoid challenges or problems, but the authors write that children will always have their fair share of these. “To learn to know oneself, and to find a life worth living and work worth doing, is problem and challenge enough, without having to waste time on the fake and unworthy challenges of school—pleasing the teacher, staying out of trouble, fitting in with the gang, being popular, doing what everyone else does.”
  • To parents who fear homeschooling won’t challenge kids to do things they don’t want to do, the authors write that life is full of requirements, and they will learn to meet them if they have enough internal and external motivation to do so.
  • “Intelligence … is not the measure of how much we know how to do, but of how we behave when we don’t know what to do. It has to do with our ability to think up important questions and then to find ways to get useful answers.”
  • “One thing I’ve found useful, when helping kids go through this process, is to make three lists. One list is for things that come easily, things that you would do anyway, whether or not you sat down and made a plan about them. The second list is for things that you want to work on but feel you need some help with—maybe suggestions of ways to pursue the activity, or maybe some sort of schedule or plan regarding it. The third list is for things you want to put aside for a while, things you don’t want to work on right now.”

About the Author

John Holt and Pat Farenga are both influential figures in the field of education, particularly in the realm of homeschooling and alternative education.

John Holt (1923-1985) was an American educator, author, and advocate for educational reform. He is best known for his progressive views on education and his belief in the importance of child-centered learning. Holt challenged traditional schooling methods and argued that children learn best when they are actively engaged and have the freedom to explore their interests. His influential books, such as “How Children Fail” and “How Children Learn,” sparked a movement that emphasized self-directed learning and homeschooling as viable alternatives to conventional education.

Pat Farenga, a student and collaborator of John Holt, has played a significant role in continuing Holt’s work and promoting homeschooling as a valid educational option. After Holt’s death, Farenga worked closely with the Holt Associates and founded Holt Associates International, which provides support and resources to homeschooling families. He has written several books, including “Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling,” co-authored with John Holt. Farenga is known for his efforts to spread awareness about homeschooling, empower parents as primary educators, and advocate for educational freedom and choice.

Both John Holt and Pat Farenga have made substantial contributions to the educational landscape by challenging traditional schooling paradigms and championing alternative approaches that prioritize the needs and interests of individual learners. Their work continues to inspire and inform parents, educators, and policymakers seeking innovative and student-centered educational models.


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