How children fail – John Holt

Why do they fail?
They fail because they are afraid, bored, and confused.

They are afraid, above all else, of failing, of disappointing or displeasing the many anxious adults around them, whose limitless hopes and expectations for them hang over their heads like a cloud.

They are bored because the things they are given and told to do in school are so trivial, so dull, and make such limited and narrow demands on the wide spectrum of their intelligence, capabilities, and talents.

They are confused because most of the torrent of words that pours over them in school makes little or no sense. It often flatly contradicts other things they have been told, and hardly ever has any relation to what they really know— to the rough model of reality that they carry around in their minds.

How does this mass failure take place? What really goes on in the classroom? What are these children who fail doing? What goes on in their heads? Why don’t they make use of more of their capacity?

This book is the rough and partial record of a search for answers to these questions.


Excerpt from the book ‘How children fail’.

How Children Fail

What is unschooling?

What Is Unschooling?

Whenever I mention unschooling people ask me how it is different from regular homeschooling. It occurred to me I’d never written a ‘what is unschooling’ post before. So here we are!

Unschooling is…

A life without school. Pretty simply unschooling means not sending your kids to school, and not creating a school-at-home environment either. Unschooling is a complete rejection of the concept of traditional schooling.

Not equating education with curriculum. Unschoolers don’t use a curriculum. Education is not a step by step linear process, and a one-size-fits-all curriculum is not what unschooling is about. Children learn whatever they are interested in! They’re also free to not learn about things they have no interest in.

What Is Unschooling?

Letting children control their own education. One of the most controversial points of unschooling is that children themselves are the ones in charge of their own education. Most people think that kids are not capable of this. That we must put them in schools and tell them what they need to know. Unschoolers believe that children should be the ones leading the way in their own education and that they are very capable of doing this. We believe it is their right to be able to choose what interests them and how they will learn about it. Learning is always consensual. There is never any forced learning!

Trusting children will learn all they need to know. We believe that children will learn all that they need to know for their own life. We trust that children will learn when they are ready and interested, even if that means on a different timeline to schooled children. We don’t worry if they’re not interested in learning to read at age 5 for example. Eventually, when they are motivated and it is important to them, they will want to learn to read, and they will most likely teach themselves.

Often extended to other areas of life. When you start unschooling and you start to trust children more and more, don’t be surprised if this trust seeps into other areas of your life too. When you see how truly capable kids are, you are given a new perspective. You know that they deserve to be respected and given the opportunity to make their own choices. It’s common for unschoolers to parent respectfully, not using punishments and rewards. Unschooled kids might be able to pick their own bedtime, choose what and when they eat, choose their own clothes, etc.

Prioritising Relationships. Unschoolers value family and relationships over the demands of society. Having ample time together, deepening connections, and spending their childhood with them are equally important parts of this journey as the educational aspect. Unschooling is a lifestyle choice.

What Is Unschooling?

Learning from life. Many sources and many people. Unschoolers learn from the world around them! Parents provide lots of opportunities and resources for kids to learn in a hands on and real world way. We give them many many experiences so that they have a chance to find what interests them. We support and guide them with whatever they need to do. We involve others in the community, extended family members, and even take classes sometimes, learning from lots of different inspiring people.

What Is Unschooling?

Amazing. The thing I love most about unschooling is the freedom. We are not tied to school schedules. We can follow our own pace of life and really truly get to know each other and enjoy each others company. Children can spend their childhood playing, as they should be able to do.

Unschooling is not…

Unparenting. When people first hear of unschooling they might think it sounds like parents doing not much at all and leaving the kids to ‘run amok’. Not so! Parents are always there helping, guiding, listening, and involved. There are also boundaries and limits, it’s just that they are not enforced in an authoritarian manner. We work as a team! Unschooling parents are incredibly involved and proactive. Because we’re not relying on a set curriculum we really have to be present and attentive, picking up on what our children are learning and how best to support them with that.

Compatible with school. Generally, unschooling is not compatible with school, being that the name itself means the opposite of school! You can’t unschool on the weekends for example, just as if you work you aren’t unemployed on the weekends. You can support natural learning on the weekends! And that’s fabulous and I hope lots of parents are doing that! But I wouldn’t call it unschooling.

Only for some subjects. You also can’t really teach some subjects like Literacy and Maths in a traditional matter, and then unschool the rest. I mean you can obviously, but that’s not representative of what unschooling is about. Unschoolers trust that their children will learn everything they need to, this includes all subjects. If you teach them some and then let them learn others at their own pace then you risk sending the message that you don’t really trust them and the learning process. This obviously doesn’t align with the idea of unschooling. We also don’t value one subject or skill more highly than another. Whatever a child chooses to pursue is important.

What Is Unschooling?

Standardised tests. If a child learns something and no one is there to administer a standardised test, did it really happen? Unschoolers would say yes! School gives the impression that no, it didn’t. School requires children to prove their learning (or memorisation at least) before they are allowed to move on the further learning. Unschoolers don’t need tests to know that children are learning. They are closely involved so they see a lot of it, and they trust children to learn what they need. We don’t learn in order to meet the requirements of other people. There is no jumping through hoops or asking our children to prove their learning constantly. We are even happy for them to keep some of their learning private if they wish.

Socially isolating. All the unschooled kids I know have lots of friends! We see them all the time and there are SO many events on for home educated kids in our area. We could attend something every day if we wanted to. Unschooled kids socialise just fine.

I hope that gives you an understanding of what Unschooling is! It’s not a club with exclusive rules or anything and no one’s trying to make people fit the requirements to join (obviously, we don’t force people, ha!), but those are the general ideas that people who unschool follow. And that’s what we do! It’s fabulous, and freeing, and amazing!

If you’d like to read more about unschooling, you can find my favourite resources here.


School is unnecessary.

School is Unnecessary

I have many criticisms of school. Too many to explain to curious people asking the inevitable question about why we chose this path without overwhelming them.

Mainly it comes down to this, school would be an unnecessary addition to our lives. Possibly detrimental, I don’t know, I’m not going to try and find out, but definitely unnecessary. At this point, I cannot think of a single positive thing that school could add to our lives.

I’m aware that my view is not common. I recently read a comment on a homeschooling article that said ‘why would you deny your children the opportunity to go to an actual school?’

Absurd to my unschooling mind, obviously. But a common thought. That by not sending our children to school they are missing out on something. Something they need. Something beneficial. Something vital even.

Yet, no one has ever told me specifically what these things are. Oh, they throw around vague ideas like ‘socialisation‘, independence, or the names of subject areas. But they fail to have any idea of what specifically school has to offer that would add to our lives. Instead, there’s just this vague notion of ‘education‘ that we’ve been told can only come from one place. Who really cares what ‘education‘ means or contains, that’s the job of people who know better than us right? People whose job it is to educate ‘students’. They’ve got that covered.

Cool story.

Imagine for a moment that you’d never been educated to believe that other people know more than you about how to educate your children. Imagine a life where school did not exist. Where nothing changed when a child turned five. They kept learning as they always had, through life, supported by their parents and community. Where there was no outside influence telling you what you ‘should’ be doing. What would that look like?

School is Unnecessary

It would look like life. Normal life, where children were involved, not locked away in a building getting ‘educated’. Children would play and work alongside their parents, maybe with siblings or in mixed age groups. Parents would have ample time with their children to really know them, what interested them, what inspired them. They would know exactly where they are at in their ‘education’. They would pass on any knowledge they thought was important for their children to know. And they would know what the important things were because they would be confident that they were the experts on their own children.

Children would be prepared for life as an adult by observing and being involved in the lives of adults in their community. They would learn the skills needed for home life. They would learn to read and write by being surrounded by people who have these skills. They would learn maths from everyday tasks like cooking and shopping. They would have the freedom and time to pursue any interest in great depth. They would learn in whichever way suited them best. They would learn all ‘subjects’ in meaningfuland relevant ways. They would all end up with a different ‘education’ customized to their particular lives and interests.

They would be passionate, inspired, self-motivated learners because that is all they had ever known. They would be free.

School is Unnecessary

Now tell me, if this is the life we are living, and many people (including us) are, what are we missing? Every day our children wake up passionate and inspired. We play outside, meet friends, explore new places, and are constantly learning. They have acquired all the knowledge they need at this point and will continue to do so in the future. What need is there for the interruption of schooling? What specifically do you think school can provide in a superior way to life?

Is it the weight of others expectations?

Is it judgement/standardization/grading?

Is it forced memorization of math equations? Which ones? Why do we need them right now?

Is it exclusively socializing with same aged peers?

Is it punishment and control?

Is it forced learning to prepare us for when we are forced to do imagined things in a hypothetical future?

Please, if you are so adamant that there is something that only school can provide, tell me exactly what it is? Because I don’t see it. There is no substitute for life.

Or are you just afraid? Are you clinging to the idea that ‘they’ know better? That there is some magical secret to education and only schools hold the key? That you might ‘fail’ in the eyes of other people? Have they taught you so well that you are inferior, that you now believe it?

Maybe it’s time to take back your power.

School is Unnecessary

In our life, schooling is completely unnecessary. There is nothing missing that could be gained by adding school to our lives, and it is not a mandatory requirement for childhood. Nothing changes when a child turns five except the expectations of others. Joyful, passionate, inspired children are more important to me than those expectations. Here, we know that ‘education’ is something that each person gets to decide for themselves. Our days continue as they always have, and life is not separated from learning. Our children will be perfectly prepared for life, by always being a part of life, not separated from it.

Education doesn’t have to look how they taught us it had to look. Education can be so much more.

Original source.



“The decision to home educate has always been first and foremost a parenting decision to me.

There are countless educational advantages to homeschooling, but it all started with parenting. We chose respectful parenting. From the beginning, we rejected the idea of punishment and rewards. Of shame and guilt. Of being the ‘boss’ of our children.”

I cannot then send my children to spend most of their waking hours in an institution that is so disrespectful to them.

I believe children are people, just like everyone else. No less deserving, no less important. Though they are still developing and need guidance, what they don’t need is control and force. In school children are in a position of less power from the start. They are forced to be there, whether they like it or not, and other people make the choices about how they spend their days. We didn’t want any part in that, so we opted out. But, choosing to homeschool doesn’t automatically mean that respectful learning is going on. You can’t just change the location of the ‘schooling’, you need to ditch the idea altogether. We have chosen to unschool our children because this seems like the most respectful approach to getting ‘educated‘. To me, respectful learning involves the following things…