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Is anyone else NOT a J. Holt fan?

post #1 of 53
Thread Starter 
I confess-- I have not read any of his books completely, but one section in one of his books disturbed me so much that I cannot go back to him or recommend him.

I think it was in How Children Fail . . .I came to a section where he described a girl who was developmentally delayed (not his term-- he used another word) as grotesque and other horrible things. He also said that his doctor friend said mothers of babies with special needs should be put out of their misery by someone suffocating the children. (I am paraphrasing, obviously).

Now, did I misunderstand that? I looked at his updated notes in the revised edition and there was nothing that made me feel better about what he wrote. I really, really hope I am wrong. Can anyone PLEASE correct me?
post #2 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mizelenius View Post
I confess-- I have not read any of his books completely, but one section in one of his books disturbed me so much that I cannot go back to him or recommend him.

I think it was in How Children Fail . . .I came to a section where he described a girl who was developmentally delayed (not his term-- he used another word) as grotesque and other horrible things. He also said that his doctor friend said mothers of babies with special needs should be put out of their misery by someone suffocating the children. (I am paraphrasing, obviously).

Now, did I misunderstand that? I looked at his updated notes in the revised edition and there was nothing that made me feel better about what he wrote. I really, really hope I am wrong. Can anyone PLEASE correct me?
Yeah he said what he said. It is the only book by his that I read and I couldn't help that I just didn't like it. It didn't speak to me and I cringe at the words described above. They were..um..very very strong. I think I would have preferred even an outdated term such as 'idiot'. The thing is not all people are as uncomfortable with the behavior/appearance of those that are differently abled mentally.

I think before saying more I should say again that I only read 1 of his books. But I never felt the need to pick up another. Maybe I should have gone with a different first choice.

Probably the words that spoke to me the most on education were the essays by Tolstoy on the school that he opened 'Yasnaya Polyana School'. Absolutely beautiful, dated of course but so fascinating on the idea of creating freedom in the classroom and in education.Whenever I need inspiration I go back to his essays on education.
post #3 of 53
I have not read anything by him so I guess I don't have strong feelings either way about him.
post #4 of 53
I remember reading that, too. But I do believe that there was a footnote explaining that that was the terminology of the day, etc. but maybe I'm mistaken. I'm thinking that because you've only read parts they've been taken out of the context of the whole, and Holt does make a point about why he's bringing up these specific things.

I've only read 2 of his books, but both of them have given me a lot to ponder.
I'm not rushing out to read more of his work, though.
post #5 of 53
When I saw the thread title in the list, I started mentally composing a reply mentioning the passage from How Children Fail that really disturbed me. I see you've already got that covered. But it's not just outdated word choice in the passage, BTW, as some have suggested. He expresses utter revulsion and disgust at the whole existence of this child.

It also bothers me that he says that learning disabilities don't exist, and he mocks people who do believe in them.

I think that when Holt is "on," he's really really on. His close observations of what children do and how they learn are astute and valuable. But he's got some strong beliefs and prejudices, and he's no more likely to be right in those than anyone else is.

I don't blame you for not wanting to read further, to be honest. If How Children Fail had been the first book of his that I read, I wouldn't have read further either.
post #6 of 53
well, i've only read parts of john holt, so i am not qualified to have a strong opinion really. i don't strive in anyway to be an unschooler though, so i don't read his books or want to familiarize myself with his philosophy more.

lillian j. can probably clarify. i know she is familiar with john holt. imho (from what i have read of him), i find it hard to believe that what he *said* and what he *meant* are one in the same. from all of the things i've read about him, it seems a statement like that would have a purpose or an explanantion that made sense of it.


hope someone can clarify. that is crazy talk!
post #7 of 53
I've never read more then snippets because of that. I have two special needs kids. It makes me so confused and angsty that so many parents like what he has to say-it seems like any other subject if someone was spewing hate and prejudice they'd be persona non grata.
post #8 of 53
He began to write his books in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the big push for special education had taken root. His career in teaching of course predated that, so he is a victim of his time, afaik.

Also, AFAIK, he was not married and did not have any children. He was a public school teacher. Period.
post #9 of 53
I'd never read his stuff and I have to say-- WOW-- that really bothers me deeply-- thanks for bringing it up. Now I will be prepared if I ever feel the need to read one of his books.
post #10 of 53
I read one of his other books and took some good from it, had I known that he had written that little gem, I would not have bothered to read another thing from him. That is seriously disturbing and I won't feel better to think he was a "victim of his time":.

I'd like to hear someone really defend this, or put it into a different context, b/c as of now, I am thinking I will *never* recommend him to someone again.
post #11 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Peppermint View Post
I read one of his other books and took some good from it, had I known that he had written that little gem, I would not have bothered to read another thing from him. That is seriously disturbing and I won't feel better to think he was a "victim of his time":.

I'd like to hear someone really defend this, or put it into a different context, b/c as of now, I am thinking I will *never* recommend him to someone again.
I'm not going to defend what or how he said what he said, but as another pp wrote, learning disabilities were not recognized at this time. I don't think he even wrote about dyslexia, but "number and word blindness." Remembering that his first books were published over 40 years ago, medicine and psychology have change *a lot* since then. And his thoughts were pretty revolutionary at the time as child psychology wasn't a very broad field at all, and education was still operating under a "fill the empty vessel" kind of mentality. If a child disobeyed, it was common place to spank and other types of more severe punishment was expected. Children who were severely disabled were often institutionalized for life - and parents went along with "this is the best thing for you and your child." If anything, Holt challenged people to reconsider their traditional views *at that time* by offering his observations and his opinions. As with most information I read or view, especially info. that is not current, I take the good with the bad. This passage disturbed me as well, but since I often read critically, I mentally discarded it as being not very relevant to today's world. There are a lot of classical fiction novels that are equally disturbing in many ways, but they're still classics.
post #12 of 53
I was going tback to look b/c I do not remember reading that (which means absolutely nothing since I am not sure I ever finished it).....I do not recall his other books saying this (again, means nothing!) but I was wondering if anyone can pinpoint where it was in the book. I am curious now and a cursory look through found nothing.
post #13 of 53
I have a problem with patriarchy, just in general. All these guys telling us what to do...Alfie Kohn, John Holt, The Sears'.

I would be a great parent is I wasn't one (John Holt) and a better parent if I were away most of the time giving lectures on parenting or locked up in my study writing books while my wife watched the kids for me (Sears' and Kohn).
post #14 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by elizawill View Post
lillian j. can probably clarify. i know she is familiar with john holt.
Oh, thanks ! No, actually, I don't have a clue . I read all of Holt, but it was a long time ago, but I certainly have no memory of that part and have never heard of it before, although that particular book is not one of the more popular ones.

Quote:
imho (from what i have read of him), i find it hard to believe that what he *said* and what he *meant* are one in the same. from all of the things i've read about him, it seems a statement like that would have a purpose or an explanantion that made sense of it.
That's my feeling. I'd just focus on the positive information he offers, because it can be pretty enlightening. When I read his books, I wasn't all that open to a lot of what he had to say, feeling that he didn't even have children of his own and might have different ideas if he did - but I grew later, from my own experience and observations, to see the wisdom he offered. I do still disagree on some of his opinions, though. For instance, as I recall, he had this thing about how children shouldn't be encouraged to be silly, and I feel that's ridiculous. Being silly is a normal, natural, part of being human, and I think it's perfectly healthy for children to engage in it. Maybe being silly was not his thing, but that's just his personal preference. I don't recall what else bothered me, but that stands out.

- Lillian
post #15 of 53
I just recently read How Children Fail, and am now reading How Children Learn. For the most part, I liked what he wrote, though I wouldn't put him on a pedestal. I do remember that memo struck me as being very strongly worded and not "pc".

I interpreted it more as an objection to what was made of this human being when adults tried to make her into something that she wasn't capable of being. That it was grotesque to try to turn a disabled 12yo into a "normal" 12yo instead of letting her live her own way in her own skin. So her conformist mother (among others) had turned her into a skittish, paranoid, neurotic, seemingly unhappy creature (a golem?) instead of letting her live as a 6yo (as he imagined) child without fear of reprisal. So perhaps if she was allowed to take pleasure in the music, the grass, the sunshine, the picnic, the other people around--even if it meant she did things that were socially unacceptable--he would have had an entirely different response to her as a disabled person.

I also took that he was writing what he felt (difficult feelings) and not so much what he thought should be a policy towards disability. In general I've found his writings to reflect deep compassion and desire to understand the children he encountered. It's also the only writing of his that I've read that deals with any kind of obvious disability.
post #16 of 53
Wow, I never read that quote. It is deeply disturbing, and mere ignorance doesn't excuse it.

Having said that, I've been swinging away from Holt and unschooling lately. It all just seems so extreme and inflexible.

I agree with UUmom that it's easy for these guys to be so sure of what ought to be done, when they aren't down here in the trenches.

ZM
post #17 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by zeldamomma View Post
Having said that, I've been swinging away from Holt and unschooling lately. It all just seems so extreme and inflexible.
My own oft ranted opinion is that it doesn't need to feel extreme or inflexible - there's no official Unschooling charter you need to refer to for the rules. Not that it matters what you label what you're doing, but I'd just hate to see the baby get tossed out with the bath water. Actually, that's really my main concern. Lillian
post #18 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Peppermint View Post
I read one of his other books and took some good from it, had I known that he had written that little gem, I would not have bothered to read another thing from him. That is seriously disturbing and I won't feel better to think he was a "victim of his time":.
Being married to someone who was destroyed growing up because of his dyslexia and ADHD, I feel the same way.
Heck, DH still needs to hear people say how all of these learning disabilities are made up or a consequence of "bad parenting". :
post #19 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by zeldamomma View Post
Having said that, I've been swinging away from Holt and unschooling lately. It all just seems so extreme and inflexible.

ZM

yes, just when i think i can "define" unschooling, i read a new thread that confuses me again, lol. i just call it graceschooling now. next year, i'll also be danielschooling in addition.
post #20 of 53
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lillian J View Post


My own oft ranted opinion is that it doesn't need to feel extreme or inflexible - there's no official Unschooling charter you need to refer to for the rules. Not that it matters what you label what you're doing, but I'd just hate to see the baby get tossed out with the bath water. Actually, that's really my main concern. Lillian
Honestly I'm not changing what we do so much as taking a break from the philosophy and focusing more on what my instincts tell me my kids need at the moment.

ZM
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