An interesting book that caught my attention is John Holt’s “How Children Fail.” In this book, the author discussed why and how children with tremendous potential and capacity for learning simply fail, and fail miserably. He questioned the very nature of the classroom that produces “intelligent” and in contrast, “stupid” students. His main premise is that most children in school fail.
A healthy discussion on Holt emerged in my Sociology on Education Class. The reporter pinpointed the stand of Holt on why children fail. Holt believes that children fail because they are afraid, bored, and confused.
Children are afraid of disappointing the many adults whose expectations for them haunts their every move. Children are bored because the activities given to them in school do not really touch and stimulate the wide spectrum of their intelligence and capabilities. Children are confused because they plainly could not comprehend the language that adults use in transferring whatever message that they want to relay.
Holt identified four major topics that crudely describe the different ways of looking at and thinking about what children think and how they behave: Strategy, Fear and Failure, Real Learning, and How Schools Fail.
Strategy. The insufferability of being wrong, or even the potential of being wrong, renders children’s incapability of coping with the stress that education gives. Out of the fear of being wrong, and sometimes of the fear of the pressure of being right, children try to focus their full energies and capacities to creating ways that will ensure that they will not fail behind too much or excel more than their liking. Excellence means pressure so some just settle for mediocrity.
Fear and Failure. How much fear and terror might there be in school and why is so little said about it? Maybe because we do not notice that in the children’s slightest movement, there is a scream of pain hidden underneath. Or perhaps just because, as Holt thought, “Like good soldiers, they control their fears, live with them, and adjust themselves to them. But the trouble is, and here is a vital difference between school and war, that the adjustments children make to their fears are almost wholly bad, destructive to their intelligence and capacity. The scared fighter may be the best fighter, but the scared learner is always a poor learner.”
Real Learning. Knowledge, learning, understanding are not linear. They are not bits of facts neatly organized in rows or piled up one another. A field of knowledge is a territory and knowing it is not just a matter of knowing all the items in the territory, but knowing how they relate to, compare with, and fit one another.
How Schools Fail. If schools are treated as a king of institutionalized punishment that can do something unpleasant to children regardless whether they have done anything bad to deserve it or not, then education in its should probably reform. School tends to be a dishonest as well as a nervous place. Adults are not often honest with children, least of all in school. We tell them not what to think but what they feel they ought to think. We think that its our right and our duty not to tell the truth, but to say whatever will best serve our cause – the cause of making children grow up into the kind of people we want them to be. Thus we pole certain facts and recipes down their throats whether they like it or understand it or not and even if there are other things that a child is much more interested in learning. This is harmful and nonsensical for Holt. He claims that we should weed out this nonsense in order to have true education or real learning in school. Schools should be a place where children learn what they most want to know, instead of what we think thy ought to know.
As a conclusion, the only way to promote real education is to have schools and classroom in which each child in his own way can satisfy his curiosity, develop his abilities and talents, pursue his interests, and from the adults and other children around him/her, get a glimpse of the great variety and richness of life.
Coming from one of Holt’s students: “You know, kids really like to learn; we just don’t like being pushed around.”
Thus, let us let them be.