Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Growing Without Schooling and John Holt and Social Change

Yesterday, while browsing at our nearby library branch, I happened upon a bound copy of Growing Without Schooling (GWS), issues #1-12. Probably anyone who unschools, and probably a lot of people who homeschool, know that GWS was a newsletter published by John Holt in the very formative years of the homeschooling movement. I have read many of John Holt's books, I even own several, thanks to local and online used bookstores. I love his work. These copies of his newsletter are like jewels, they include much of his correspondence with people who were homeschooling then (in the 1970's when it was almost unheard of) and their struggles with local government and their own communities. It is nothing to take your kid out of school now in 2008, but then it invited not only criticism from just about everyone, but many parents were jailed and child custody was threatened.

John Holt was not only an early proponent of homeschooling, but most importantly (at least to me), the "unschooly" brand of homeschooling, trusting that children have innate curiosity to learn without coercion. That's right, not just "school at home on your kitchen table" homeschooling. In fact, the name he gave to what he was proposing--taking your kids out of school-- was "unschooling." It wasn't until later that it (taking kids out of school) obtained the name "homeschooling" and "unschooling" became a subcategory of sorts. John Holt was truly a revolutionary in the education movement and I am so thankful for him.

When John first published GWS in August of 1977, he had already written quite a few books on education reform in the context of schools, How Children Fail, How Children Learn, What Do I Do Monday?, among many others. According to HoltGWS. com and as evidenced by the change in subject matter of his writing, Holt eventually decided that schools could not be reformed and spent his remaining years thinking about, supporting, and writing about places where children could learn without conventional schooling (home). The GWS Newsletters were the beginning of the unschooling grassroots movement and his attempt to put his newer ideas into practice.

I'm going to share a bit from issue number one, from the book I checked out from the library. This book is currently out of print, and I looked it up on amazon and abebooks and it currently sells for about $250.00 used. Some of the issues are archived here, but not this one. I don't think John Holt would mind if I shared this with you, and he probably would encourage it, it's pretty inspiring, not only in an unschooling context, but in the context of social change, which to me feels very important in this day and age. In issue No. 1, August, 1977, Holt writes "On Social Change":

"In starting this newsletter, we are putting into practice a nickel and dime theory about social change, which is that important and lasting social change always comes slowly, and only when people change their lives, not just their political beliefs or parties. It is a process that takes place over a period of time. At one moment in history, with respect to a certain matter, 99% of a society think and act one way; 1% think and act very differently. Sometime later, that 1% minority becomes 2%, then 5%, then 10, 20, 30, until someday it becomes the dominant majority, and the social change has taken place. Some may ask, "When did this social change take place?" or "When did it begin?" There is no answer to these questions, except perhaps to say that any social change begins the first time one person thinks of it. "

"I have come to understand, finally, and even to accept, that in almost everything I believe and care about I am a member of a minority in my own country, in most cases a very small minority. This is certainly true of all my ideas about children and education. We who do not believe in compulsory schooling, who believe that children want to learn about the world, are good at it, and can be trusted to do it without much adult coercion or interference, are surely not more than 1% of the population and perhaps much less than that. And we are not likely to become the effective majority for many years, probably not in my lifetime, perhaps not in the lifetime of any reader of GWS."

"This does not trouble me any more, as long as those minorities of which I am a member go on growing. My work is to help them grow. If we can describe the effective majority of our society, with respect to children or schools or any other question, as moving in direction X and ourselves, the small minority, as moving in direction Y, what I want to do is to find ways to help people who want to move in direction Y, to move in that direction, rather than run after the great X-bound army shouting at them, "Hey you guys, stop, turn around, you ought to be heading in direction Y!" In areas they feel are important, people do not change their ideas, much less their lives, because someone comes along with a bunch of arguments to show that they are mistaken, and even wicked, to think or do as they do. Once in a while, we may have to argue with to X-bound majority, to try to stop them from doing a great and immediate wrong. But most of the time, as a way of making real and deep changes in society, this kind of shouting and arguing seems to me a waste of time."

--I feel very lucky to have had John Holt and other revolutionaries go before me. They have made my way much easier and have freed me to question and examine what education, learning, and living mean to me and my family. I have the hope that we are at the beginnings of a revolution, we're at least at a full 1% now, don't you think?!?

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