How Children Fail by John Holt

The journals of a teacher reveal how the mistakes that children make reveal a lot about how they are failing to learn–and how schools are failing to teach.

How Children Fail was riveting reading. I loved how John Holt paid attention to the kids he encountered so that he could help them learn. He came to realize that teachers were seeking to impose structural forms on the minds of children, where children are best served by being led to develop those forms for themselves.

Since I am hoping to homeschool Superfast Baby, this book was incredibly instructive. It was initially published in 1965, so I would hope that schools have changed some and that its critique is out-of-date. The insights into the process of learning (or “not-learning,” as it were) were fascinating. The techniques he employed for teaching math reminded me a lot of the Montessori school I went to, and I will definitely explore those methods when that time comes around for us.

4 thoughts on “How Children Fail by John Holt”

  1. You might see if your library can get you a copy of “Tools for Teaching” by Fred Jones. I liked this one when I was substitute teaching five years ago – classroom discipline was an important concept for me. There were a lot of insights and facts that make my work simpler, and I think helped the students.

    Surprisingly, as I read the book I also got better helping my neighbor work his cows.

  2. I read this one some years ago and found it particularly interesting. Strange considering the fact that I am not a teacher or a parent, but I thought it was really well written and an intriguing look at educational practice.

  3. Little Children Learning Latin. – Latin comes to life online with the Tar Heel Reader.

    A new wave of publishing is currently sweeping the Latin world – but these are not high works of literature, Vergil and Cicero, but beginning illustrated children’s readers, with titles like “Colours” and “ Who is that over there?”.

    The surge has been made possible by a new interactive website, called the Tar Heel Reader, developed by Gary Bishop , at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill.

    The reader was built to assist in providing reading materials for young adults with disabilities, who were just starting to learning to read – so, the books needed to have adult content, but very simple wording. The site was also targeting readers with disabilities – books can easily be tailor made – for example, and autistic child who only pays attentions to blue flowers, can have all his books made with blue flowers, quickly and easily.

    In early May 2009, the Tar Heel reader was brought to the attention of Laura Gibbs, one of Latin’s internet champions, who produced the first book in Latin on the site, “About Lions”. The book was an immediate hit, as was the concept.

    By the end of the month, over 80 books in Latin had been written and had received the site’s quality mark, a gold badge. (Apart from English, Latin is the only foreign language on the Tar Heel site with an official review process) The range of subjects on offer is astonishing – subjects include simple vocabulary building stories, mathematics, science, and fables, and some poetry.

    “The goal”, said Evan Millner, one of the contributors to the site, “is to provide enough books in Latin to build up a solid vocabulary and overall knowledge of the world, but through the medium of Latin. We want students to read in Latin, and to read a lot. At present, this material simply does not exist, even in printed form.

    The Tar Heel books are written so that a parent at home, with almost no knowledge of the language, can start to read books in Latin to their children. Children can access the site alone, without any teacher, and simply by reading these illustrated readers, they can learn an enormous amount.”

    “Latin is very good for developing basic reading skills, as the letters match their sounds in most cases. After all, the Latin alphabet was written for Latin, so the letter-sound correspondence is very close. Reading in Latin actually helps a student with reading problems to read in English, because they become confident. In addition, so much high level vocabulary comes from Latin, that even a very basic knowledge of the language is of enormous assistance”

    The books are great fun to read – and the children have a chance to rate them after they have read them. The site is very easy to use.

    “What is great about the Tar Heel Site, is that the Latin books are there, on an open bookshelf. Students looking for English books, or just browsing through the site, will encounter basic books in Latin. Some of these are now bilingual English-Latin. These books will introduce a whole generation of students to the language – in only a month, they have been read many thousands of times, in around 60 countries across the world.”

    “I love the Tar Heel reader”, said one young student, whose teacher had projected a story from it for the whole class to read. “The pictures made us laugh so much. We were learning numbers, and there were two squirrels, and they were sooo cute! I went home and read the story to my mum, and then I looked at some of the other books as well. ”

    The Tar Heel Reader can be found at

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