He is not stupid. In spite of his nervousness and anxiety, he is curious about some things, bright, enthusiastic, perceptive, and in his writing highly imaginative. But he is literally, scared out of his wits. He cannot learn math because his mind moves so slowly from one though to another that the connections between them are lost. His memory does not hold what he learns, above all else because he wont trust it. Every day he must figure out, all over again, that 9 + 7 = 16, because how can he be sure that it has not changed, or that he has not made another endless series of mistakes? How can you trust any of your own thoughts when so many of them have proved to be wrong? I can see no kind of life for him unless he can break out of the circle of failure, discouragement, and fear in which he is trapped in. .. Worst of all, I’m not sure that we, his elders really want him to break out. It is no accident that this boy is afraid. We have made him afraid, consciously, deliberately, so that we might more easily control his behaviour and get him to do whatever we wanted him to do. ….They get bold and sassy; they may for a while try to give a had time to those adults who for so long have been giving them had time. So to keep him in his place, to please the school and his parents, I have to make him fearful again. The freedom of fear that i try to give from one hand I almost instantly take away with the other. What sense does this make? –John Holt, How Children Fail, 1962
Fear and Failure. I know this is not how we should be viewing our school system to be. However, it has been hard to see anything else that has been more unvarying than the fear and failure that has been systematically instilled into the belief system of my son during his ten years in the mainstream school system. I know there is nothing unique about our experience, that’s the sad truth about it. We have been at a cross roads many times. Do we stay, do we to leave, do we try another school, only to return to the one that has had the greatest detriment of all. The one where, the reinforcing has become so great that there’s almost a complacency about it. What he has is a comfortable character there, he is well liked because he is a great person, but they’ve looked passed his innate potential because they have already successfully redefined it. I have watched the influences of the educators on my sons well-being over the years carefully. Trying to counteract the messages i could see being instilled and taking effect. I have watched them change his mind on what he now believes to be true for himself. There will be so much undoing of school to do, when we finally make it and that is if we do. There has been little to no choice of this playing out any other way. An alternative way has never been an option that we have ever had the means to take. We have had to rely on and trust our State System. There simply is no choice for parents wanting to choose where their children should be educated if finances are playing a large component. That is our system, and the fact is, schools are funded not children. Possibly the idea of funding children rather than schools would free up this predicament, and give parents the choice to choose the best education facility for their child’s unique learning style. Freedom of choice, is not what we have now. What we have now, is a system in such dire restraint that its powerfully failing Australian Children.
The idea that children won’t learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorist, “positive and negative reinforcements,” usually becomes a self for filling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me ” if we didn’t make the children do things, they wouldn’t do anything.” It is the creed of a slave. John Holt, How Children Fail