The Pioneering Work of John Caldwell Holt
The history of home schooling has consisted of gradual attempts to reform the public school system and a turn toward education within the home by parents concerned about the quality of public education in America.
The most important figure in the home school movement’s history has been the educator and writer John Caldwell Holt, whose writings and advocacy for change in American education have led to the evolution in the quality of home school curriculums.
Holt’s books and articles are so well respected that public education advocates and new teachers utilize his work as part of a well-rounded study of American educational history and techniques.
On April 14, 1923, Holt was born in New York City and raised with two other siblings in New England. As part of his education, Holt attended private schools though he was always leery of the quality of education he received considering the cost of such schools.
As well, like many children, Holt learned much more from his parents and from experiences outside the class room than he ever did in school.
Holt served aboard a submarine in the Pacific campaign in World War II and after his service was over, he worked for six years with the World Federalists in an attempt to stop the build up of atomic weapons throughout the world.
After his work with the World Federalists was over, Holt moved to the American Southwest, first to New Mexico and then Colorado. His initial choice of profession was farmer but his sister recommended he attend a school called the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, which was a unique school where students and teachers would be a self-sustaining community.
After teaching at the Colorado school for four years, Holt worked at a Massachusetts private school as a math teacher. These experiences in education, along with his activist spirit and own experiences as a child, compelled him to lead a reform movement that would lead to home schooling.
Holt wrote several books based on his experiences in Colorado and Massachusetts. His 1964 book, How Children Fail, focused on the failings of the public and private school system when it comes to teaching children what they need to know.
His 1967 follow up, How Children Learn, focused on the influence of formal schooling on the learning skills and personality of children. In the 1983 re-issue of How Children Learn, Holt included a passage on why the public education system and parents fail in reforming the way in which children learn.
This passage concludes that three common ideas keep children from having the best education possible: the idea that children are incapable of looking out for their own best education interest, the idea that children should get used to an unjust world early on, and the notion that because past generations went through an experience, the next generation should experience the same things.
Holt feels that once these notions are deemed impotent, students will get the attention they deserve during their formative years.
The most important book to the home school movement, however, was the 1976 book Instead of Education, which advocated the use of home schooling or unconventional schooling outside of the classroom as the best educational approach.
Parents from the country and the city took to this idea quickly and many began to pull their kids from school and start programs within their homes or neighborhoods.
In order to facilitate a growing home school movement, Holt supplemented his writing with the creation of a home school newsletter in order to share ideas and reassure others that there are, in fact, many parents of like mind on the failures of public education.
Parents and educators interested in learning about home schooling or the theory behind home schooling should look to the works of John Caldwell Holt for anecdotal evidence to its success.
Certainly, the increasing concern over the state of public education means that more parents will look to home schooling as a viable option for their children.
In addition, the spread of urban areas into suburbs and the countryside makes travel to school difficult at times and home schooling makes not only for a better educational opportunity but also a sound financial decision.