Is anyone else NOT a J. Holt fan? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 05:52 AM - Thread Starter
 
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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?

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#2 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 06:43 AM
 
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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 I think I would have preferred even an outdated term such as 'idiot'.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.

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#3 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 07:10 AM
 
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I have not read anything by him so I guess I don't have strong feelings either way about him.

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#4 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 09:35 AM
 
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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.

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#5 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 10:17 AM
 
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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.

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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!

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#7 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 01:01 PM
 
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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.

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#8 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 01:09 PM
 
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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.

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#9 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 01:11 PM
 
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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.

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#10 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 02:13 PM
 
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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.

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#11 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 02:32 PM
 
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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.

Laura - Mom to ds (10) and dd (7) "Time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life." Brian Andreas.

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#12 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 02:34 PM
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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.
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#13 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 03:58 PM
 
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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).
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#14 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 04:14 PM
 
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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.

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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.

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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.
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#16 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 06:05 PM
 
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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.

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#17 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 06:20 PM
 
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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
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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". :
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#19 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 07:01 PM
 
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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.

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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.

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#21 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 07:20 PM
 
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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.
It's the day to day being together in a mutually respectful manner that's real - philosophy is just philosophy, and, in my own humble opinion, all it can do is help people think through their own ways of being and living together. Lillian


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#22 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 07:29 PM
 
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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).
A bit OT, but I agree. I too hate patriarchy in the sciences. That is why I cannot stand educational child psychologists as the Swiss Marine Biologist...cannot remember his name now...Jean Piaget...his entire repertoire is based on a six week observation of his own three children. He had to leave his own country to do his job. Now if Mrs. Piaget had written something, I would have paid attention. I have brought this up in my many education classes and no one listens to me except to say "sour grapes" to me.

I think one male psychologist is worth two mommies.

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#23 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 08:27 PM - Thread Starter
 
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The version I read was a revised edition-- but maybe there are several and I did not read a revised revised version. In the one I read, the footnotes didn't make me feel better. They added something to the effect (referring to suffocating children) how mothers do this to their children anyway. (So I guess doctors don't need to. )

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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 wish I had the book in front of me. Does anyone out there? I remember reading it thinking, "this is the part where he will explain how wrong he was for his initial reaction" but instead he went on to compare the girl to a sick animal, and how no one wants to look at a sick animal, or something to that effect. I did not see him saying that it was the mother's fault-- I saw him finding fault with the girl-- for example, she waving to an orchestra or something . . .she WAS getting pleasure at waving goodbye (but it was not what other people were doing), yet he found her so offensive that even that action made him react strongly.

From what little I read, he is like so many others . . .he blames (the child, the parents, the teachers). Blah, blah, blah. Anyone can do that. And people do! Again and again.

I'm not sure if it was in that book or in How Children Learn, but I remember his tone was so COMPLETELY condescending toward the children. He was mocking some of the students for being "clueless." (Not his word, but that was the sentiment he expressed.) From that attitude, I cannot even begin to imagine that he was a good teacher. Children KNOW if they are respected, and he did not seem to have respect for any child that had any issues-- he didn't even respect them (as in my first example) for simply being HUMAN BEINGS if they dared have special needs.

How long was he actually a teacher anyway? Was it more than 2 years?

I completely agree with the pps who are tired of the patriarchal "gods" who are constantly recommended. I much prefer to hear from people who are in the trenches (like you mamas!).

I know I will never recommend him, unless I re-read his works and find I did completely misinterpret what he wrote.

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#24 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 09:20 PM
 
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here's a 'limited preview' of the book at google books (but still includes a lot)...maybe what you read is here?? if you see it, please let me know. i'd love to read it for myself. i'm floored that this is the first time i've heard about this. everyone seems to love john holt....and alfie kohn....and dr. sears, LOL

http://books.google.com/books?id=n43...n+holt#PPP1,M1

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#25 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 09:58 PM
 
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here's a 'limited preview' of the book at google books (but still includes a lot)...maybe what you read is here?? if you see it, please let me know. i'd love to read it for myself. i'm floored that this is the first time i've heard about this. everyone seems to love john holt....and alfie kohn....and dr. sears, LOL

http://books.google.com/books?id=n43...n+holt#PPP1,M1

Page 97 and on...The ugliness of 'r------ children...." and so on and so forth...It makes me so angry...and I see what he is getting at, I have this book at home I simply don't agree with his strong reaction to disabled children.

I agree with people on the patriarchal issue. I did like Kohn's punished by rewards somewhat but I find a lot of these books to be preachy. I think a lot of people, this is not the authors fault obviously, but people take these people to heart.It often seems to be coming from a colder place, psychological stand point. What I got from Tolstoy's essays was a real adoration of the children, not just observation but love for the children that he was teaching and respect and admitting mistakes, as well as honoring the rights of the parent, admitting that a mother reading to a child was the most important and best way to learn reading , for example. So while his work is 'his ' work, it didn't have that same feel to me that some of these modern male authors do .

On the other hand I don't hate the modern authors. I appreciate a dissenting opinion from the mainstream that may open people's eyes. I like the idea of these things being out there so that more people may adopt some of the basic principles at least. However for my own personal reading I don't prefer them.

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#26 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 10:19 PM
 
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Interesting. I hadn't read this book before and I just read the Google books excerpt of this part. Obviously parts of it are terrible and dated especially his discussion of the girl as ugly, smothering, etc.

At the same time though, if you get past that and look at the deeper themes a couple of them are very similar to what I often read on MDC special needs board. The suggestion that children be allowed to be the individuals they without making it the primary focus of their lives to conform to social expectations of making other people feel better. It seems similar to objections we sometimes hear about ABA for kids with autism. His other progressive theme is that children can learn and progress if our expectations are high and that early labels can be inaccurate and damaging. Again those are very MDC special needs themes.

Again, there is lots of ick there, but I also see themes that are in some ways progressive for the time.
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#27 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 10:36 PM
 
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I went to read it at Google, but those pages were not part of the preview. So I went to Amazon and went to the page number. I had to keep putting in page numbers to get it all. I was stunned - it was bizarre to see the way he spoke about that child - but the subsequent pages (around 99 or 100?) went into a whole different tone of compassion for how that girl was being treated and how a lot of children are treated. It almost made me weep. I ended up feeling he was making some very important points, even though those few pages were, I agree, really horrifying. I do wonder, though, if we could actually talk to him and have a dialogue, whether he might explain what he was thinking in a way a lot different from the one in which it came across. - Lillian
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#28 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 10:52 PM
 
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I suppose the most important offering he made was his homeschooling bookstore and list of homeschoolers that allowed for networking in an era before the internet and home computers. He also had a newsletter.

He taught for over 20 years in the public school system. As I posted before, he had come to his conclusions before he wrote his first book in 1964. He was an advocate of the Youth Rights Movement and was formerly a member of Citizens for Global Solutions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Holt_(educator)

He was a man ahead of his time, but also a victim of his time.

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#29 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 10:58 PM
 
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Originally Posted by larksongs View Post
Page 97 and on...The ugliness of 'r------ children...." and so on and so forth...It makes me so angry...and I see what he is getting at, I have this book at home I simply don't agree with his strong reaction to disabled children.

I agree with people on the patriarchal issue. I did like Kohn's punished by rewards somewhat but I find a lot of these books to be preachy. I think a lot of people, this is not the authors fault obviously, but people take these people to heart.It often seems to be coming from a colder place, psychological stand point. What I got from Tolstoy's essays was a real adoration of the children, not just observation but love for the children that he was teaching and respect and admitting mistakes, as well as honoring the rights of the parent, admitting that a mother reading to a child was the most important and best way to learn reading , for example. So while his work is 'his ' work, it didn't have that same feel to me that some of these modern male authors do .

On the other hand I don't hate the modern authors. I appreciate a dissenting opinion from the mainstream that may open people's eyes. I like the idea of these things being out there so that more people may adopt some of the basic principles at least. However for my own personal reading I don't prefer them.
"She was less then fully ANIMAL"!!! I so should not have reread any of this. It's just making me mad and sick that anyone can defend his feelings. He was sickened by her and continued to study her- not as a person, but as a specimen to degrade.

To my husband I am wife, to my kids I am mother, but for myself I am just me.
we're : with and : and
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#30 of 53 Old 02-07-2009, 11:07 PM
 
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Like a pp said, he wasn't married and he didn't have children of his own and he was a public school teacher. He also died in 1985, long before homeschooling became known to most people.

I have only read a couple of his books, and I haven't read the one in question here. I do find what has been quoted here quite disturbing, and I have often wondered how much of his ideas apply to homeschooling today, because things have changed a lot since he was writing over 25 years ago. To me it seems he used the term unschooling as simply not attending school and learning outside of school. The debates of homeschooling vs. unschooling have nothing to do with John Holt as this is something that has come up recently, long after his death. So when I read about unschoolers today worshipping John Holt's ideas, I often question how his ideas apply to radical unschooling today.

Just my two cents. Like I said, I haven't read a whole lot of his work.
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