John Holt‘s book Instead of Education is a 50:50 proposition. Half of it is hopelessly outdated. The Internet has made possible (and insanely cheap and easy) so many of the things that Holt describes as flimsy shoots of possibility in 1976. Educational materials are now abundant; getting together to do stuff, virtually or in person, just keeps getting easier. I wish Holt had lived to see what we have at hand now.
The other half of Holt’s book has great insights, starting with the difference between what he calls S-chools and s-chools, as well as T-eachers and t-eachers. The capitalized versions are compulsory. They are coercive. They tell, they require, they compel. And in doing so, they begin to stamp out the freedom and curiosity that are natural in kids.
The point I had missed that Holt makes elegantly is that small-S schools can be highly structured and demanding. You just have to opt into them of your own free will. Think of a martial-arts dojo. The work is likely to be grueling, but you’re there because you want mastery in that art. Lower-case schools and teachers are essential parts of the educational landscape.
It’s coercion that breaks the system’s natural beneficial powers.