Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on March 20, 2009 at 01:59 PM

Unless warped by cruelty or neglect, children are by nature not only loving and kind but serious and purposeful.John Holt

Just about everything [very little children] do, they do as well as they can. Except when tired or hungry, or in the grip of passion, pain, or fear, they are moved to act almost entirely by curiosity, desire for mastery and competence, and pride in work well done. But the schools, and many adults outside of school, hardly ever recognize or honor such motives, can hardly even imagine that they exist.John Holt

Ask children. Hear them. Teach children to ask the questions they want answers to. Believe that what a seven-year-old has to say is important. Because it is. Just ask. — Ann Marie Corgill, Of Primary Importance: What’s Essential in Teaching Young Writers

Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. — Garrison Keillor


Comment by Barbara on March 20, 2009 at 02:47 PM

just wanted to let all the UK readers know that there is a Horizon episode up online about education "who do you want your child to be?".
I only caught the first 15 min or so, but there was professor from cambridge who was doing a preschool where children were free to play and engage as they please, ala project style or maybe even similar to a montessori type thing. He said that he wanted to try and get it going for older children too, as his reasearch showed that children learn best and most efficiently in this style!!
it was great to see.
here is the link, I don't know how long they will have it up on the site, and I don't know what goes on in the program after that segment--my computer keeps crashing :(

ps. those are great John Holt quotes--- what a guy!

Comment by Amy on March 20, 2009 at 03:57 PM

John Holt's books are the reason I wanted to homeschool. I don't remember how I found them, but I began reading them when my first child was about six months old. Love John Holt.

Comment by Kerry on March 20, 2009 at 04:34 PM

It's so funny to me that I am only just reading John Holt now for the first time. I of course had read lots of quotes, and heard his name mentioned a lot, but I began homeschooling mid-year and didn't have a lot of time to read this kind of theoretical stuff at that point. I knew I wanted to homeschool, and I knew why I thought it was a good idea - at that time I was looking for more practical ideas.
I started read "Teach Your Own" three days ago and I'm really loving it. Your quotes from today remind me of how in the very beginning of the book, he says:

"At the same time I was seeing more and more evidence that most adults actively distrust and dislike most children, even their own, and quite often especially their own...In a nutshell, people whose lives are hard, boring, painful, meaningless - people who suffer - tend to resent those who seem to suffer less than they do, and will make them suffer if they can. People who feel themselves in chains, with no hope of ever getting them off, want to put chains on everyone else."
I always knew that most adults distrust children - based on my own childhood, my children's teachers, and my own co-workers when I was a teacher. What I never really thought about was why.
I myself was drawn to the teaching field because I love the enthusiasm, curiosity, and honesty of children, but I guess there are a lot of teachers out there who just want to "put them in their place" so to speak.
I know that I have some family members and friends who are patiently waiting for me to "be done with the whole homeschooling thing." What they don't understand is that my feelings about doing it get stronger every day!

Comment by Stacey on March 20, 2009 at 06:16 PM

I found John Holt and his ideas practically by accident. I had heard of him but he was on my list of read someday. I was at the library at the local college, before I was even pregnant, looking for a copy of Summerhill (A.S. Neill) and found a copy of A Life Worth Living, a book of letters to and frrom Holt begining during his time in the army. It was such a wonderful lyrical book that I was complitely captured by him and his ideas. When I picked up a copy of Why Children Learn I was dissapointed because the voice was all technical. Luckily I also picked up a copy of Teach Your Own and it completely inspired me towards homeschooling. That and a copy of Ron Miller's What are Schools For which cememnted the fact that I didn't want anything to do with the system, as a teacher or a parent.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 20, 2009 at 08:05 PM

barbara, i’m going to check that out & see if i can watch it! thank you!

re: john holt, i just remember when i started reading his books how much they resonated with me as being true — there are other books i’ve read that made me think about what was possible, ones that sounded to me as though they might be true (and i wanted to try out their theories or approaches), but holt’s books always just sounded true. they reminded me of my own childhood and my own experiences at school.

kerry, that is a great book — you’ll enjoy his others, too!

stacey, have you read ivan illich’s deschooling society? i think you’d really like it. full text is available here:

Comment by Barbara in NC on March 21, 2009 at 01:42 AM

It's funny to read this today because I have been really been struck this week by the industriousness of the children around me, particularly when they are thrust into the natural world. Not the kind of work adults would arrange, but the work that is unique to children--digging holes, moving buckets of water, mixing mud, painting trees. And doing it with both a joy and a seriousness of purpose that holds me in awe.

Comment by Dawn on March 21, 2009 at 01:48 AM

Kerry - I can relate to the famliy waiting for you to be "done with homeschooling"... I get the same thing... and my conviction that this is the right path for us is only getting stronger.

I read John Holt for the first time on my honeymoon!! Romantic! Eh!
Love his work!

We are off early in the morning to go fossil hunting... I will check in on Sunday when we get back!

Comment by Cristina on March 21, 2009 at 01:57 AM

I love that last one, I'll need to save it for my almost seven year old. :o)
I also enjoyed the Margaret Atwood quote you put on my blog!

I really need to revisit "Teach Your Own." I've read some of it, but it was a library book and I had to return it, and I never got around to taking it out again. I think I need my own copy!

Peace and Laughter!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 21, 2009 at 02:03 AM

i just read the *most* depressing article written by an education .. expert? .. saying that you can’t let kids do projects in school because they will take any opportunity to “cheat” and slack off and not do the work .. because “we already can’t teach kids basic skills — we can’t waste time on this frou-frou stuff that you can’t assess and that kids will just *fake* doing”. gah!

the writer also said that *real* teachers know that you can’t do this in a classroom, because *real* teachers know that kids will always get away with everything they can.

i left with two thoughts --

one, i feel sorry for anyone blessed with the opportunity to write about education who thinks so little of children. and teachers. (the not-real ones who do more than teach kids how to fill in ovals on multi-choice tests.)

two, i feel lucky -- *so* lucky! -- to have the freedom to teach my children in a way that is denied to 97% of teachers in our country. not just to acquire knowledge but to work with it. not just to identify plot and character but to love to read. not just to know things, but to know themselves.

we've kept children away from holistic learning so long as a society that we’ve ceased to believe it works! we’ve made our children hate learning and now we say they can’t be trusted to learn because they hate learning.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on March 21, 2009 at 02:25 AM

Wow. I don't think I want to read that article. Just reading what you wrote about it made me slightly ill.

We've had a great learning week this week, that I'll post about on my blog this weekend and put a link here. It was full of highs and lows, but was so fulfilling in its own way.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 21, 2009 at 03:20 AM

ha! i feel bad about leaving such a dark comment. i wrote it before i read the sunny comments just above. :^) but i am truly flabbergasted by people who boldly state that children can’t even learn basic skills and teachers can’t even teach them so how can we possibly introduce deeper thinking skills. as though one precludes the other. actually, bound together they make sense — to children and *just in general*.

okay, i am off my soap box! goodness.

Comment by Elise on March 21, 2009 at 07:59 AM

I haven't read any John Holt yet - get me to the library!!! I have recently sworn off tv (but not dvds :) ) so now I have more reading time. I'll be looking for the Ann Marie Corgill book too...

I love what Barbara said above about the industriousness of children too. At the playground today, all of the kids decided they'd bury the sidewalk chalk in and around the sand city they'd built. It was wonderful to watch!

Comment by Susana on March 21, 2009 at 12:04 PM

What an inspiring conversation for the beginning of our Saturday. Whenever I come here I feel like the deep sea diver and Camp Creek Blog and its readers/comments are my oxygen. Thank you so much Lori.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 21, 2009 at 03:01 PM

elisa, ah, i can’t believe you haven’t read any john holt! :^) i like “how children learn”.

susana, thank you so much, and have a wonderful weekend! :^)

Comment by estea on March 21, 2009 at 06:24 PM

"*so* lucky!" indeed.

john h. is the man.

Comment by Amy on March 21, 2009 at 07:38 PM

Oh Lori, what a depressing article indeed.

re: John Holt, _How Children Learn_ and _How Children Fail_ really resonated with me. As you say, they seemed true, or right. I remember I photocopied the bit about how a child is not going to learn the letter "A" from Big Bird and stuck it to my fridge, my passive-aggressive response to my mil's shocked utterance of, "You don't let him watch Sesame Street?!" Well, at a year old? No, I didn't let him watch ANY TV. Geez, that comment was annoying on so many levels...

But what really energized me was Holt's descriptions of how one idea leads to another, how an interest in yarn could lead to a study of the Industrial Revolution. (I think he used that example; something similar maybe?) I could see how my child-self would have so loved having the time and resources and SUPPORT to follow my own interests in that way, and I wanted to try and do that for my kids when the time came.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 21, 2009 at 10:50 PM

ah, amy, that just makes me think of project-based learning .. how one idea leads on to another and another, and you’re always surprised by where you ended up based on where you began. :^)

i can hardly imagine being allowed to learn that way as a child! and, like you, that’s exactly why my children get to learn that way.

Comment by Cathy T on March 21, 2009 at 10:55 PM

Oh I am glad you mentioned Holt. I hadn't read any of his books until I had homeschooled for several years and it was reassuring to read his views. Thanks for reminding me - a re-reading would always be good - and letting those who haven't yet read him know about his books.

Comment by Alice on March 22, 2009 at 01:34 PM

Dear Lori,

Thanks for the quotes! I had been mulling over the thought of how frequently adults title children as lazy, as I 'lazily' dozed in bed early on Saturday morning while my two year old was busy careening around, just woken up, climbing up and down off the bed, commenting on everything in the room as she walked around touching or looking at things - children, lazy, are you kidding! We could probably resolve the world's energy problems if we could harness it.


Comment by jeannine on March 23, 2009 at 12:05 AM

Great quotes Lori, John Holt is amazing! What is it about the transformation to adulthood that makes us misunderstand the ways and gifts of children so?
Thank you my friend!

Comment by Kat on March 23, 2009 at 01:35 AM

My three-year-old does everything outright: joy and grief, and all her questions ("What is dead, Mama?" and "Did you wash the chemicals out of my new pijamas? Ar eyou SURE?"). If she is not interested in something I offer her for learning, it's just not the right time, and we'll get to it later, and she'll be INTO it fully. It's not because she's lazy, or spoiled, or mean-spirited. Just look at how she runs and dances, and reads her three-letter words, and chooses pears at the market: it's true, whatever she does, she does it outright and to the maximum.

Whoever says otherwise is unfortunately projecting his or her own frustrated enthusiasm.

Comment by Kat on March 23, 2009 at 02:36 AM

I just remembered something.
A while ago my parents were here and my father suggested he read my daughter's bedtime story. She never stops asking questions and commenting, so reading to her in the traditional sense is a challenge (you can never finish a sentence), but when you pay attention, all her questions are legitimate and interesting and they make the reading much richer.
Soon I heard some raised voices from the bedroom and then her crying. I walked in and asked what's up.
My dad was walking out in disgust. "She won't let me read!" he said. "I'm not reading anymore". It was clear from his tone of voice that he thought she was having him on or even annoying him on purpose.
But the worst casualty was my daughter, who didn't understand why her grandpa was so upset with her.
Guess who got a big cuddle from me that evening! AND an extra bedtime story!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 23, 2009 at 02:12 PM

thank you, cathy, alice, and jeannine!

alice, i agree completely about the energy .. and it seems to me that when adults call children lazy they are usually talking about something unpleasant they were being forced to do .. in which case i would probably exhibit extreme laziness as well.

jeannine, i ponder that question all the time!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 23, 2009 at 02:31 PM

kat, re: “projecting his or her own frustrated enthusiasm”, yes, that is what i was trying to express as well — we can’t expect children to be engaged and enthusiastic about random tasks we assign to them!

interesting story re: your dad .. again, i think it’s about learning to work *with* children rather than control them. your poor dad didn’t have time to adjust. ;^)

if you think of children’s natural interests and questions and wonderings and engagement as the flow of a river, running and tumbling, then there are those who try to paddle upstream .. and others of us who find the going much easier downstream...

Comment by Sarah Jackson on March 23, 2009 at 02:50 PM

Getting back to the "laziness when it's something you don't want to do" issue, that I usually deal with by showing how the end result is worth the work. This weekend I had what I *thought* was one of those perfect natural consequences moments with my son (age 10). He is getting a cell phone activated so he can do more things on his own and we can stay in touch. He already has the phone, and when it came time to activate it yesterday, he couldn't find it. I suggested that he clean his room so that he would find it in the process - the room is in sorry shape. He did so with much reluctance and foot dragging, but I persevered, smug in the knowledge that he would find the phone along the way and see my point. And if he would clean it faster than a lego every 2 minutes, then he would see it that much faster. Smart mama.

Umm, no. The phone was finally found under a couch, where it had slid when his sister took it and was playing with it. Oops. So, message about the room. Lost. Spirit of cooperation and sharing with sister. Damaged. Trust in Mama's good intentions. A little frayed. The hormones of a prepubescent boy. In emotional overdrive.

Not my best parenting day.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 23, 2009 at 03:17 PM

sarah, oops! :^)

re: “laziness when it’s something you don’t want to do” .. to clarify what i think .. (taking it back to a homeschooling context) ..

in the context of a life that honors children’s interests, children are able to discover on their own that to meet a desired goal, it is necessary to do work that may, in itself, be somewhat tedious.

they are able to learn on their own, without being forced or coerced, what rewards hard work can earn.

and also .. our boys at 9 and 12 have a deep trust in us. when we say “this is important — we want you to know this”, they believe us and they work on it, whether they find it particularly interesting or not. we’ve earned their trust and their respect; they see us as successful learners, successful adults, and mentors. and all along the way we have shown them that we respect them as well — their ability to construct their own learning, their individual interests and talents, their desire to work hard on things that are meaningful to them.

it seems to me that adults who complain that children are lazy and unmotivated and sneaky, in a context of coercing and forcing children to fit to a particular agenda, are trying to withdraw funds from an account in which they’ve made no deposits.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on March 23, 2009 at 03:26 PM

I absolutely agree, and am striving to get there, one stumble at a time.

And while this wasn't a homeschool situation, it was a painful reminder of how *I* wasn't doing it right and was using the lost phone to gain a clean bedroom. It's a good thing to keep in mind as I go through my week, both in homeschooling and in life (not that they're usually easily separated). Lesson learned.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 23, 2009 at 03:39 PM

i wasn’t commenting on your situation, sarah, but yes, i agree!

(i think we’ve all had those moments when “natural consequences” backfired, right? :^)

i was just thinking along the same lines (lazy v. self-motivated) but in the hs’ing/learning setting.

education is so in the news these days, and i am reading over and over again this opinion that since we can’t seem to accomplish the goals of NCLB, we need to *hit the nail harder with the same hammer*, if you kwim. i realize our president (and our country) is a bit busy with the economy, but i really wish we could rise up as one and demand a complete overhaul of the education system.

Comment by Dawn on March 23, 2009 at 05:32 PM

Just getting caught up on the open thread. Lots of good stuff to think about here, as usual!

I get so upset when I hear people who don't trust kids in learning and call them lazy. When I was a high school teacher I often found myself talking to other teachers about a certain student and wondering how they could be talking about the same student that came to my class daily. I had a much different experience with those "on the edge" kids because I trusted them and actually asked them what interested them ... and that is what we talked about in class. Amazing how that works!
What those other teachers did not realize was that the homework they assigned was not getting done because the kid was at band practice, or making the most amazing short film... that they showed at the local film festival last week... and on and on.... So frustrating for those kids to get labeled lazy because they did not do a math worksheet or diagram some sentences.

Having a child who is always "on the edge" I find that the same applies at home now. She makes the most amazing leaps in learning when I trust her, give her the supplies and resources she needs, and let her go with it!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 23, 2009 at 06:49 PM

dawn, such an excellent point — we need to get to know and appreciate the whole child!

Comment by reneegrace on March 24, 2009 at 04:59 AM

just to say... you all inspire me... after a day of not so great parenting / educating... :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 24, 2009 at 02:17 PM

thank you, renee — i’m glad! :^)

we all have those days, after all!

Comment by amyk on March 25, 2009 at 01:45 AM

thanks for the wonderful quote! i believe this so much yet find myself constantly trying to create more "school" type lessons at home and it is not working. my daughter has been struggling with the very school-ish stuff all year yet when she is busy and involved with a project like making a robot or making crafts out of a book she chose or playing outside making a mud-maker invention, she's so "industrious" and curious and "taking pride in work well done." Meanwhile with the schoolish things, she complains and hates it and doesn't take care with it and we get in big power struggles and we're both miserable.
I just wanted to say, Lori, that this blog is giving me the encouragement I need to move forward and let her lead and choose a whole lot more. I think for one thing too, we never really took time to "de-school." I need deschooling too; I have too much teacher-education in me that I'm trying to overcome as well.
We've been talking about starting with a project and pretty much just doing math and project work after we get back from the trip we're about to go on. She looks excited and relieved and honestly I feel relieved too. I am hopeful that we will move in a positive direction now getting into what I think we both want but I've been a little afraid to let go and let happen.
By the way, she told me today she already has a project idea, even 2, but she doesn't want to tell me what it is. She said she'll get started on her own and surprise me at some point. I guess she just really wants it to be her "own." Maybe she's afraid I'll hijack it. :) I'm just thankful she's excited and feel that we're about to turn a corner.

Comment by J. on March 25, 2009 at 02:52 PM

Just read your John Holt quote. I"m a former homeschool parent and as you can well imagine, Holt is the seminal inspiration.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 25, 2009 at 03:14 PM

amy, thank you so much for sharing your story! it’s brightened my day. :^)

i was so enamored of it, i wrote a whole post about it:


i hope you’ll come back (or e-mail!) and let me know how the projects are going!

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