A CRITIQUE OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION OF JOHN HOLT, A HOME SCHOOL ADVOCATE

John Holt, for whom Holt Associates (publisher of Growing Without Schooling) is named, is a popular educational commentator. He has authored several books on education, including Teach Your Own:  A Hopeful Path for Education (1982, New York: Delacorte Press). Susan Douglas Franzosa, of the University of New Hampshire, takes a critical look at Holt’s philosophy of education in an article that is thoughtfully and provocatively penned. The article is: “The best and wisest parent: a critique of John Holt’s philosophy of education” in Urban Education, v.19 no.3, October 1984, p.227—244.

Franzosa begins with a synopsis of John Dewey’s efforts at educational reform. She says that Dewey understood the interdependence of social and individual welfare and that “Dewey’s reform strategy suggested that the school itself could become society’s best and wisest parent, and his social ethic suggested that exemplary individuals should act to realize that ideal.” She continues by recognizing that an increasing number of parents are now choosing not to engage their children in any public educational arrangements.

Franzosa explains that Holt was once an “ardent proponent of school reform” who “now urges such non-participation and advocates home schooling for all parents who love and trust their children.” She hears Holt saying that the full growth of an individual is incompatible with educational institutions as we know them today. I will allow Franzosa to summarize the major portion of her article:

I believe Holt’s philosophy as presented in these arguments demands critical attention, not because it is likely to inaugurate a major home schooling movement, but because it represents and serves to popularize an emerging conservatism that, I will argue, has grave educational implications. I have no doubt that our current ways of educating children need serious reevaluation and that education at home may prove to be one of a number of appropriate responses to school incompetence and injustice. However, Holt’s advocacy of a single solution to the multiplicity of problems we now face in education is naive and misleading. Furthermore, the social thesis he uses to support that solution signifies a retreat from any collective consideration of educational ideals and a dismissal of the idea that communities have any educational responsibilities to their members. Thus, I believe Holt’s conservatism ultimately sanctions the educational neglect of the vast majority of children and leads to a tacit acceptance of their plight.

Among other things, Franzosa accuses Holt of not allowing for adequate social interaction for homeschooled children. It follows, she explains, that this might well lead to more social conflict and less harmony. Another point is made that families cannot really isolate themselves from society and that if they want to change their lives they must change the context in which they live. (My thought on that point is, Can parents afford to let their children be directly subjected to the problem context as it is slowly, over decades, being reformed?)

And, antithetical to her understanding of Holt’s philosophy, Franzosa closes by stating: “Rather, good parents, if they are also wise, will recognize that their own child’s good is dependent on the good of others and that taking adequate responsibility for one’s own requires continued participation in the crucial debate about what constitutes the best education for all our children.” My first response to this closing statement is: Is there or can there be a “best education for all our children”?

To do it justice, you must read Franzosa’s writing. Her line of reasining is followable and stimulating to anyone interested in home schooling. She raises questions that any educator or homeschooling parent should consider.

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