Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Review: John Holt, Why Students Fail

Most children in school fail to develop more than a tiny part of the tremendous capacity for learning, understanding, and creating with which they were born and of which they made full use during the first two or three years of their lives. So begins John Holt, this highly insightful book. It is an open truth that whatever the levels we may reach as individuals, at an averaged mass level we manage to do our best to keep children average! Recent findings prove John Holt out through and through. It is being known (Ellen Galinsky, Mind in the Making; Alison Gopnik, The Philosophical Baby and Alison Gopnik , Scientific American July 2010) that children below five years are not necessarily egoistic as once thought based on the work of Jean Piaget. They are in a sense, 'philosophical', altruistic and can more appreciate the needs of others. Not only so, they already begin to develop language sense, number sense, people sense and the essential life skills. We must keep in mind also that the brains of children below five years are predominantly in the delta state. That in age five to age seven, in the theta state and between age seven to age fourteen, in the alpha state and after fourteen, in the beta state. It follows that younger the age, more the processing speed of the brain. Children are far more equipped with their cognitive non-filtered, general attention to learn than any adult unaided by special means like hypnotic trance or meditation can hope for. I have it from one of my friends and colleagues that according to an international survey of psychologists, the Indian child ranks no 1 in the world. At the age of sixteen, however, the Indian child has fallen to the 26th position. Our present educational system that relentlessly advocates competition at the school level and ironically, in later life, demands cooperation from the same student, either grossly underestimates or subtly ignores these findings not to speak of John Holt's warning words. John Holt's words on the fearful, bored and confused child echo twentieth Century's most influential quality-control management consultant Edwards Deming's words on the employee-boss relationship in the corporate world. In Deming's words, " The teacher sets the aims, the student responds to those aims. The teacher has the answer, the student works to get the answer. Students know when they have succeeded because the teacher tells them. By the time children are 10 they know what it takes to get ahead in school and please the teacher - a lesson they carry forward through their careers of pleasing bosses and failing to improve the system...". It is striking that John Holt in his books "How Children Fail" and "How children Learn" seems to anticipate and trace the problem Deming cites to the roots. This is a must read for any educationist and corporate reformer who embraces the 'Schools that Learn' and 'Learning Organization' point of view.

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