Teach Your Own by John Holt & Pat Farenga This is the latest edition of one of the great classics of homeschooling, but it has valuable ideas for anyone with children, even if you send them to school. From extensive work with children and schools, Holt challenges the popular idea that children need to do work they don’t like to be educated, and that schools are the only places that know how to teach. Children will retain what they learn best when they explore what they are interested in most, and when they learn things because the knowledge is necessary in their social group – he gives the examples of Gypsy children who learn to play in the family band not by being taught but by being given an instrument and being put on stage with the rest of the family. Teaching to a test rewards those students who forget what they’ve learned only after the test. If you’re short on time and not planning on homeschooling, reading the preface, introduction and the chapter “Living with Children.” This has sections on the nature of children and moving beyond the popular “savages vs. precious innocents” dichotomy; parents tendency to add “okay?” to statements that are not choices; tantrums, and alternatives to gold stars. Other chapters cover reasons to take children out of school, quite good retorts to standard objections to homeschooling, dealing with learning disabilities, and how to begin homeschooling yourself. I’m still not convinced that kids will explore everything they need to know on their own if given guidance, but, sadly, his premise that what schools do best is to take kids’ joy out of learning seems spot-on.
If you are even vaguely concerned about putting your child in school but worried about your ability to teach your children, this is very empowering. If you are an educator yourself, you might also be interested in Holt’s previous two books How Children Learn and Why Children Fail. And, as even parents of regularly schooled children will have to help with homework, parts of this book will be valuable for any parent.