“I beseech you: leave your child’s learning alone.”

Over the past few weeks I’ve been preparing for four talks I’ll be giving in Portland, OR on March 20 (click the sidebar if you want more information about this engagement). I wanted to include some new videos and perspectives for these talks and I started rummaging through my files from my days with John Holt and found a bunch of video and cassette tapes of talks by John. I’ve started watching one, a four-hour VHS tape of John speaking to homeschoolers in Spokane, WA. I’m not sure of the date, I think it is 1983 or 1984, given references John makes to some of the kids who came into the office then. I hope someone who views this, or some of the other segments that will be posted, will remember at least the year. Let me know if you have any guesses or ideas that would help date this video.

I am about two hours into this video and I’ll certainly post more of it as I watch it and become more adept at extracting video from tape and then uploading it to the web. However, there are so many classic John Holt lines, and some surprising comments John makes, that I couldn’t wait any more to start sharing it with people. I think for much of the public there is a perception of John Holt as a wide-eyed radical who romanticized childhood. I hope this, and future clips, will show John as the quiet, plainspoken but deeply thoughtful man he was. This short segment also shows Holt’s deep empathy with children, a quality that is sorely lacking in all our discussions of education today. John’s analysis of how children struggle with pronouns is radical when you consider how few current day teachers would recommend, as John does, to leave the children alone and let them figure it out for themselves. Indeed, in my mind I hear a chorus of educators clamoring as to why they must intervene instead of following Holt’s advice:

“They will develop learning delays!”

“They’ll fall behind their class!”

“You are guilty of educational neglect because you should be making your children learn how to correctly use pronouns!”

Of course—and I see this in this particular clip—John could be quite passionate about certain things, in particular about how children learn and what parents and other concerned adults can do to help them learn. As you will hear John say, “I beseech you: leave your child’s learning alone.”

This particular lecture is in a setting John enjoyed being at: speaking with a group of parents and children in a comfortable setting. In much of the tape I’ve seen so far you can hear lots of babies babbling and children playing in the background and, often, John will stop speaking and comment on what he sees or hears from the children in the audience.  I also found cassettes of radio interviews John did with NPR and the BBC, as well as tapes John made of himself playing the cello or speaking in foreign countries. The cassette tapes are usually very good quality recordings, either professionally done or recorded by John himself, who was quite an audiophile. However, the video tapes aren't the greatest quality. Nonetheless, I decided to work with them to get them online because there just isn't much video of John and I hope people can look beyond the grainy images and scratchy sound to experience, or re-experience, John Holt and his observations about children. I look forward to sharing these with you as I move more of these recordings into digital formats.