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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant descriptions of young children struggling to learn, 17 Jun. 2009
This review is from: How Children Fail (Paperback)
First published 1964 from notes made in what in England are called primary schools round about 1960. Four categories: Strategy (tricks children use to get answers), Fear and Failure, Real Learning, How Schools Fail.

Let me give extracts to give the feel of this book:-
'The teacher ... told these children that a verb is a word of action - which is not always true. ... She said '.. a verb has to have action; can you give me a sentence, using "dream", that has action?' The child thought a bit, and said, 'I had a dream about the Trojan War.' Now it's pretty hard to get more action than that. But the teacher told him he was wrong, and he sat silent, with an utterly baffled and frightened expression on his face. ...'

'When Nancy and Sheila worked the balance beam last year, they were often close to the truth, but they could never hang on to it because they could never express their ideas in a form they could test... Once one of them said, 'Things weigh more further out.' This was a big step; but they couldn't think of a way to check or refine this insight..'

'.. I had what seemed .. a bright idea. I thought if I could get her to think about what she had written, she would see that some of her answers were more reasonable than others, and thus ... an error-noticing, nonsense-eliminating device might take root ... I ... asked her ... to compare her answers, check with a tick those she felt sure wre right, with an X those she felt sure were wrong ... A moment later I got one of the most unpleasant surprises of my teaching career. She handed me her ... paper, with 7 x 1 = marked right, and *all other answers* marked wrong. This poor child had been defeated and destroyed by school. Years of drill, practice, explanation, and testing ... have done nothing for her except knock her loose from whatever common sense she might have had to begin with. ...'

'We had been doing maths, and I was pleased with myself because ... I was 'making her think' by asking her questions. It was slow work. .. we inched our way along until suddenly, looking at her as I waited for an answer to a question, I saw with a start that she was not at all puzzled by what I had asked her. In fact, she was not even thinking about it. She was coolly appraising me, weighing my patience, waiting for that next, sure-to-be-easier, question. ... The girl had learned how to make all her previous teachers do the same thing. ...'

'What is most surprising of all is how much fear there is in school. Why is so little said about it? Perhaps most people do not recognise fear in children when they see it. ... the subtler signs of fear esacpe them. It is these signs, in children's faces, voices, and gestures, in their movements and ways of working, that tell me plainly that most children in school are scared most of the time, many of them very scared. ...'

John Holt is (was?) American. The special feature of this book is the observation of evanescent and transient states of mind, most which take far longer to record than they do to actually happen in life. The impact of this book is its rather depressing nature; and this includes the behaviour of teachers. Fortunately Holt wrote 'How Children Succeed' a few years later.
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