Freedom and Beyond

I'm very pleased to announce the publication of a new edition of John Holt's Freedom and Beyond. This is an important book in John's work, as it clearly marks his departure from conventional school-reform ideas and delves into the structural issues that prevent any disruptions from affecting the deep structure of schooling. Written in 1972, it was not well received by most of the education and policy elites who, as Holt notes in this book, refuse to accept any limits on the growth and cost of schooling, capitalism, and government power. Indeed, growth was the overall strategy for solving all our country's ills then, and it still is. But Holt, and other intellectuals of the seventies, saw this as a dead end and proposed other solutions besides more schooling, more development, more debt for the poor and more wealth for the rich. Now that we have reaped the very situation Holt predicts in Freedom and Beyond—elementary and secondary school costs at record highs, the intense competition for grades causing deep disaffection among schoolchildren, college degrees burdening young graduates with huge debt, a despoiled environment, a nation divided by social class—I hope some will turn to this book for hope and different ideas.

John wrote that this is his most political book—you'll see why just by reading a few excerpts from it—but it is also a very practical and useful book for parents and anyone who works with children because it explores in detail many of the tensions caused by giving freedom to people. Partners who argue over the value of letting their children learn when they want to learn, who worry about discipline, who want their children to be self-actualized, and so on will find that Holt presents both sides of these tensions and notes they will never go away. In fact, he writes that this tension is actually what being a member of a free society is all about and that we must let go of the idea that we can do away with the tension once and for all. We need to examine and interrogate these tensions all the time, which can lead to us learning to be better listeners and thinkers, and to accept that tension and disagreement are part of life and we need to get better at dealing with it instead of ignoring or thinking we can eradicate it.

Though some of John's examples in the book are dated, the points he makes with them are not. In fact, it is sad to say, some points have gotten much worse since 1972, such as the income-to-education issue:

"When we define education as schooling, and put public educational resources into schools, the children who benefit most are the children who can stay in school the longest. These are, necessarily and in all but a few cases, the children of the well-to-do."

This book is not a polemic for privatizing public schools, it is about rethinking how we can use public education resources to reconfigure our conception of schoolng from compulsory education to freedom and beyond.