How Children Fail

How Children Fail

by John Caldwell Holt


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Since its first publication in 1964, this book has helped two generations of parents and teachers understand what actually happens in the classroom. Holt's astute observation of children, his clear simple style, and his lifelong conviction that we can do better by our children make How Children Fail an enduring classic.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385284233
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/15/1982
Edition description: REV
Pages: 320

About the Author

John Holt (1927-1985), one of this country's leading educational and social critics, was the author of ten influential books which have been translated into fourteen languages. Known both as a passionate reformer and as ”the gentle voice of reason” (Life magazine), John Holt offers insights into the nature of learning that are more relevant today than ever before.

Table of Contents

Books John Holt v

Acknowledgments xi

Prefaced To Revised Edition 1

Preface 5

Strategy 9

Fear & Failure 57

Real Learning 129

How Schools Fail 227

To Summarize 269

About the Author 300

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How Children Fail 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While Holt's book, How Children Fail, strongly criticizes our schools, it is an accurate record of what goes on behind classroom doors. Parents may think their kids are learning in school but do they ever wonder whether the children are really sinking it all in? Holt does an amazing job in describing how schools fail to expand the youths' minds. He is knowledgable in the field of education and has some intelligent views on what should be changed in our school systems today. I give this piece of fine literature two thumbs up!
jpsnow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
John Holt summarizes perfectly the problem with contemporary education: it emphasizes right answers rather than learning, production rather than thinking. Read this book to understand this problem and its results, as seen through his experience as a collaborative teacher and thoughtful observer. The rewards for "right answers" over thinking even persists at higher education levels. "What would happen at Harvard or Yale if a prof gave a surprise test in March on work covered in October? Everyone knows what would happen; that's why they don't do it." (p. 232)He advocates for schooling at home (and in the world) as the best method of education. "People teaching their children at home consistently do a good job because they have the time - and the desire - to know their children, their interest, the signs by which they show and express their feelings." (p. 36) Four key principles: 1. Children do not need to be "taught" in order to learn, and they often learn best when not taught, 2. Children are very interested in the adult world, 3. Children learn best when the subject is "embedded in the context of real life," 4. "Children learn best when their learning is connected with an immediate and serious purpose."Holt blames the current system, pointing out that if a system consistently fails, the problem is with it, not its inputs or participants. In the summary section, he forcefully points out the negative effects of the current system - low self-esteem, ignorance about how to learn, and a mind trained not to want to do so.
flourishing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So far, one of the great quotations I've found is:"It used to puzzle me that the students who made the most mistakes and got the worst marks were so often the first ones to hand in their papers. I used to say, 'If you finish early, take time to check your work, do some problems again.' Typical teacher's advice; I might as well have told them to flap their arms and fly. When the paper was in, the tension was ended. Their fate was in the lap of the gods. They might still worry about flunking the paper, but it was a fatalistic kind of worry.... Worrying about whether you did the right thing, while painful enough, is less painful than worrying about the right thing to do." (74-75) This about sums up (1) the whole reason I was so bad at math when I was in grammar school and (2) why I am much better at revising work that I make up for myself than at revising work where it actually matters. My psychology is still that of a schoolchild.All this said, it feels a little dated: people are trying different things in their classrooms now, although (to be fair) change hasn't come terribly quickly.
dmcolon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
John Holt's How Children Fail is one of those books that seems like something of a cultural artifact of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The book's premise is that schools are places that essentially set kids up to fail and drain their enthusiasm for learning. The kids find ways to manipulate the system and are driven by fear to obey but not learn in any meaningful ways. Holt's treatise reads like a clarion call for the rebellion of the 1960s and all of the excesses of that era. And yet there's a lot more here than cultural critics might believe. How Children Fail, for me at least, reveals some truths that have existed in American education for decades, if not centuries. His assessment of the system seems pretty reasonable to me. My experience backs up his observations of kids who come to hate learning as a direct result of their experiences in school. Now this might be seen as a defense of the overly permissive excesses of the 1960s, but I don't think so. There were certainly excesses, but was the basic premise of educational reformers really all that far off the mark? Holt's book calls for kids to be more engaged in what they do; for educators to link education to the world we live in without creating an artificial and ultimately sterile "academic environment". As a piece of writing, How Children Fail isn't great literature and much of the text seem pretty disjointed. But there is a lot of wisdom contained in these pages. As we move into the age of connectivity, the singularity, web 2.0, and all that kind of stuff, I think Holt's ideas are going to become a lot more feasible than they were 40 years ago. I remember reading Rousseau's Emile in graduate school and thinking that the ideas were good, but no society could ever produce the 1 on 1 teacher/student relationship outlined in the book. Technology doesn't quite get us there, but it gets us awfully close. Likewise, Holt's call for homeschooling seemed far-fetched at the time, but hasn't technological change made it too far more likely?
tharleman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On a visit to the Indianapolis Children's Museum in Jan. 2008, I saw a quote attributed to William Hull (Educator). "If we taught children to talk they would never learn." An internet search of the quote found this book. The author and Mr. Hull shared a 5th grade classroom. The book is a series of observational memos from Mr. Holt to Mr. Hull. The author intricately describes the communication gap between the school system and the child. Children want and need to learn. School systems want to teach. But the lessons often never meet in the middle.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
D_Ma More than 1 year ago
From the beginning, Mr. Holt revealed why children behave in ways so typical in the schools even today in these modern times. It was so astoundingly true and I always wondered why as a schoolteacher I could not motivate some of them. He really nailed it for me. This book was so well organized and written as a diary with dates throughout the whole book. As he laid out in the beginning the strategies we all use when we do not understand why someone is wanting us to do something, I could relate to my own childhood as to why I was so very, very shy in school. It made so much commonsense. Even when I retired some 6 years ago from teaching, I could see clearly after reading this book all that had happened and the causes. If I could ever go back to teaching after reading this book, I know I would do many things different. I highly recommend all professionals particularly teachers and administrators who work in the schools to read this book. It could change our whole educational system for the better. As I was reading this book, so many things reminded me of the Nonviolent Communication technique as taught by Marshall B. Rosenberg. Many ideas about the problems in the schools were also pointed out similarly by Dr. Rosenberg. Furthermore, as Marshall pointed out the key to making a change in the schools is not the blame of people, but rather the whole structural system. Through application of the Nonviolent Communication technique we now know how we can bring more understanding of everyone's needs we are basically trying to get met.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this book, John Holt shares his findings about classroom behavior. It tells parents and teachers why most students in school fail. He has helpful ideas about teaching. It is a good book for people who care about children, and every board of education should read this book. They might learn something!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Holt did a great job giving out his perspective on children that are failing in middle school systems. I recommend this book if you want to learn more about children and the way there being school. Also, for parents who have children that are having trouble in their schooling, and teachers with an open mind to see a different perspective. For teachers that are just starting in their teaching career, and want a first hand step to getting started, this book is for you. Over all, this book is just learning more about children and what goes behind the scenes of schooling, if that's what you're trying to read about. I can agree with the previous review [Scott H]. . .it has dry parts with the math section, but it's Holt's method in using it, which was a helpful method for some kids, not always all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought John Holt's book was interesting because he showed a lot of facts about what children do when they are in school. His book gives parents ideas of what is going on in their childrens' minds. People seem to wonder how children fail, but they never get their explanations right. Most of the time they just blame it on the teacher or predict that the child is literally 'dumb'. Holt explains these expectations thoroughly in his book. However, he does blame some teachers and does mention one of the children actually being 'dumb'. But if you read the book there are other interesting explanations that he seeks to vindicate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For me it was a really interesting book.This book talks about education, how different teachers have many techniques to teach students. John Holt used to do anything he could so children can learn one way or the other, and he didn't give up. I think the audience for these book are mostly for teachers, students, and parents, it has really good information about kids' education.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In my own opinion, I really enjoyed this book. It has alot of really good views and ideas. I can relate to alot of the views, methods and ideas that the teachers use and how the students reacted to it. I think all teachers should read this book because, they can definetly learn from it
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Holt's book is inspirational for all readers. The audience, mostly focusing on adult figures and teachers, brings to the attention of how children struggle in school. How Children Fail is a book that many teachers of all grades should read so they can understand how students act in a classroom. If a teacher is looking to improve their teaching and want to understand why most students act the way they do then How Children Fail is a great choice and will be a learning experience for all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Holt's book was insightful. How Children Fail was a glimpse into Holt's unorthodox but effective teaching methods. How Children Fail was an inspiration to teachers worldwide. Holt connects to students by creating real life scenarios. You absolutley will not be able to put this book down. Holt is an educational genius.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book How Children Fail by John Holt really goes into depth on the different strategies of teaching. He talks about different issues that arise in a teacher's day and different ways to go about solving those issues. I believe that overall this was a great book. These views can really help our youth get the most out of education. I feel that it is very beneficial to teachers and parents of school aged children. I believe Holt's thoughts and strategies were very realistic and great ideas.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about education. In the book, John Holt wanted to find which way is the best to teach students to be good in school, and he never gives up. This book might help the teachers and parents to know how children feel when they're in school. It has good information about education to teach children.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Holt is an inspirational author for both teachers and students. Holt talks about the way teachers teach and how they don't teach. He also talks about how students learn and don't learn. How Children Fail is a book that should be in every classroom or at least every department in the school. It also should be in every school library, as well as the public library. Every teacher should read this book before the school year starts so they can teach more effectively thoughout the year.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that John Holt's book was really great. I would rate this book a 4 out of 5. John Holt's book had many great ideas about teaching and how you can change your ways to make people learn better. I really enjoyed John Holt's book, and it showed me how my teachers were and how they could have been better. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to teach better or become a better learner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
How Children Fail, by John Holt, is a good book. He has some interesting ideas on how children learn, and the environment they learn best in. I don't agree with him on all points. I think he goes a bit overboard in his beliefs at times. A must read for educators. He says it like he sees it and is very opinionated some teachers may be insulted by this.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading How Children Fail. It's a really great book. He speaks of his teaching methods which I do agree with. I recommend this book for all teachers new,old, experienced or not. Teachers might be able to relate to their students better after reading this book they might have a clear more effective response. When I read this book I learned that John Holt is very considerate, that's what makes him such a good teacher. If teachers read this book, I guarantee them that their students will be able to relate to them a lot more effectively in the classrom.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With over 1,000,000 copies sold, it is evident that How Children Fail, by John Holt is a well written book. Being aware of his audience, John always gives a clear understanding of his opinion, making it easy on the reader. Having such good reasoning for his statements easily convinces you to agree with his reasoning for How Children Fail. Being a student, I can view this book from a students level and relate to the different situations that occur in school. Untill Holt's book, I have yet to have seen somone who takes the responisbility in addressing these everyday problems. The audience can be a variety of people including students and teachers. I highly recommend the book to teachers who can learn from it, and to students who can relate to it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fantastic, Interesting, and Opinionated. Holt gives insights into the understanding of what actually happens in the classroom. Holt's clear and simple system, sharp observations, and conviction of making children better learners makes this book outstanding. You will learn about the classroom, do's and dont's, the strategies children employ, and how schools fail children. This is a great book for parents, teachers to be, and teachers wishing to make a fun, inviting learning experience for students.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Holt's book is about a male teacher who finds himself questioning teachers' methods and if his teaching is the right or wrong way. Holt observes that the students are scared or nervous to give answers,they don't want to be wrong and feel embarrassed if they do get it wrong. He also notices that the students play games, or joke around. Holt finds a way to help the students learn by teaching them in ways they understand and can relate to. This book has interesting facts on teaching and what goes through a child's mind while learning. Why they sometimes behave in ways adults can't explain. Teachers and parents should introduce themselves to this easy read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading John Holt's book I came to the conclusion that most of what he beleived is probably true. He had a lot of detail and reasoning to why he beleived what he did and he backed it up with live observations. I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking to become more familiar with teaching and kids.
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿how children fail¿ is a spectacular book with oodles of useful information that is completely valuable to parents, teachers, and students. I would recommend this book to wants to understand the Childs mind and what ¿really¿ goes on in school learning. He has gone above and beyond his call as a teacher helping others for generations to come his views are indispensable and deeply touching with the student. Although the book did have some dry spots mainly in the math section in the book which is why I must give this book four stars but other wise John Holt has earned every star he has deserved. I find it immensely respectable that someone had decided to get off their ass and do something about the school system, instead of the millions of parents that sit and complain with out lifting a finger. The knowledge that he lays out is very important to the parent it is a great way to see were his or her child is at in school and how to help their own and others. Someone asked why John Holt had focused on how the children fail and not how they succeed the answer is, as we understand how the children fail we can learn why and how they fail and we can correct their learning with ¿real¿ learning. Which John does oh so unbelievably well in his book I have nothing but praise for John and his observations.