Posted by: Chris Kretz | December 11, 2008

At Dowling: John Holt on How Children Fail

Wednesday, December 11, 1968

Author and educator John Holt spoke in the Hunt Room. A fifth-grade teacher, Holt rose to national attention with the publication of his first book, How Children Fail (1964). The book was made up of observations compiled over years of his classroom experiences.

In the foreward to the 1964 edition, Holt addresses the question of why children fail:

They fail because they are afraid, bored, and confused.

They are afraid, above all else, of failing, of disappointing or displeasing the many anxious adults around them, whose limitless hopes and expectations for them hang over their heads like a cloud.

They are bored because the things they are given and told to do in school are so trivial, so dull, and make such limited and narrow demands on the wide spectrum of their intelligence, capabilities, and talents.

John Holt
How Children Fail

The New York Times review of How Children Fail concludes:

How Children Fail is a short book. It is full of anger and despair, but it also carries in it the exhilaration of discovery. It is possibly the most penetrating, and probably the most eloquent, book on education to be published in recent years. To anyone who deals with children and cares about children, it cannot be too highly recommended.

“Scary-Eyed in the Classroom”
Eliot Fremont-Smith
New York Times
July 26, 1965


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