Friday, July 8, 2011

John Holt on the Old New Math

I'm reading "How Children Fail", by John Holt. I like this passage:

We say and believe that at this school we teach children to understand the meaning of what they do in math. How? By giving them (and requiring them to give back to us) "explanations" of what they do. But let's take a child's-eye view. Might not a child feel, as Walter obviously did, that in this school you not only have to get the right answer, but you also have to have the right explanation to go with it; the right answer, and the right chatter. Yet we see here that a "successful" student can give the answer and the chatter without understanding at all what he is doing or saying.

P.S. "How Children Fail" is an in-depth description of John Holt's experiences teaching in an elementary school. I've read a lot of the book, and I haven't seen homework mentioned once. The book is copyright 1964.


  1. PsychMom says:
    I've read some of his stuff in an "Unschooling" book I bought last year. I think it makes alot of sense.
    I started school in 1964...and for the first 6 years of my schooling, I do not remember having homework. When I bring this point up to my daughter's teachers they dismissively say, "Oh,you probably did, nobody really remembers what they did in elementary school".

    I recall one bad day with my Mom, as she tried to drum the times tables into my head. One day. I also remember her(my) project for Grade 4...she did most of the work.

  2. I had virtually no homework until seventh grade. There might have been the occasional diorama or something, but really almost nothing at all. (This was in the early Seventies.) I do remember having to do a "book report" once in second grade, and being entirely mystified as to what was expected of me (having been shown no examples of what a book report looked like). I did mine on A Charlie Brown Christmas. I'm pretty sure I gave it a thumbs-up.

    That Holt book is really interesting. What spoke to me most when I recently read it was its depiction of how some kids experience education -- math instruction, for example -- as a threat, rather than a challenge, and how powerless the "make 'em learn" approach is to do anything about that.