The Virtual Bookcase Reviews of 'How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development)':
Reviewer Rob Slade wrote:
"Sally's into knowledge/spent five years in college/
Just to find out nothing was true"
- "What you gonna do", Steve Taylor
Originally published in 1967 (with additional material inserted in 1982), "How
Children Learn" followed Holt's earlier "How Children Fail" (see reviews
The biographical note states that these two books "influenced a generation of
teachers and parents". Unfortunately, this "influence" is more often quoted
In the Preface (in one of the sections added to the second edition), Holt
observes that the whole book can be condensed into two words--"Trust Children".
The format of the book is an anecdotal reporting of Holt's interactions with
(mostly pre-school) children, and his observations and speculations of the
processes of learning consistent with what he sees. His central thesis is that
children have their own in-built learning mechanisms. A corollary, repeated
many times throughout the book, is that we should not try to "teach" children.
This corollary is, of course, not adhered to consistently. Holt reports many
times when he "directs" learning, sometimes with a view to testing a hypothesis
about learning behaviour, but often with an intent to get the child to explore
new fields and build new skills. Left completely undirected, few children
would acquire significant skills in literacy and numeracy, or possibly even
speech. The author's observations and insights can be worked into the school
system only with difficulty: in the only long term "successful" case study of a
normal school environment reported in the book, the actual details of
implementation are completely missing.
It is indisputable, however, that Holt's material remains a challenge to the
educational system as a whole. His analysis is as true today as it was in 1967
(or 1982). Despite the complication and inconvenience of realizing the goals
of discovery learning we now live in a vastly technological age. The rote
training method is no longer viable. "How Children Learn" is a text that every
educator should be required to confront before being allowed to "teach".
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1995
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