Teach Your Own

Posted on Aug 17 2019 - 9:30pm by Rebekah Schrepfer

Teach Your Own

The John Holt Book of Homeschooling

Author:  Holt, John   
Genre:  Education
Publisher:  Da Capo Press2000
Tags:  Children, Parenting, homeschool
Series:  John Holt Books

Rebekah’s Review


I still like his first book best (How Children Fail), which is a bit disappointing to me.  I always hope for better and better, but I shouldn’t be surprised.  This happens with most secular books I read.  “Teach Your Own” gives a much clearer picture of Holt’s vision for children and the world in general than he did in “How Children Fail”.  So overall, there were some good things and some concerning things.


  • This is a secular book.  So some points Holt makes have to do with the kind of goals children ought to have.  While the author isn’t against Christian ideals, it is a significant omission.  For me, there are some significant mandates in Scripture that have to enter the educational picture.  Holt also believes in the absolute innocence of a child’s nature, a non-christian view.  For example, on page 55, he disagrees with a child learning something simply motivated by submission to authority.  However, we are taught in Scripture to do just that in many arenas.  Later in chapter 4 he qualifies this view by saying “not all people are innately good, neither are they innately bad.”  I assume he holds to a “neutral” view of human nature.
  • There is a bit too much of a child-centric feel.  Of course, the subject is their education, but this concern of mine hearkened back to my point above.
  • Holt often advocates helping children avoid meeting the expectations of others. This can be a potential problem.  In reality, there is balance between cultivating creativity/independence and responsibility/team playing.  Life does have a certain amount of expectations especially if you work for a boss or are meeting a certain level of achievement.  If that doesn’t suit you, then you need to be your own boss.  This is also concerning as it regards the Christian life with all of God’s expectations….balanced with His grace.  To be fair again, Holt addresses this concern by his belief that a child’s mind / childhood is THE place where this kind of creativity, freedom, and independence SHOULD flourish for the sake of mental development.  Plenty of time for buckling down later on, he says.  Maybe he’s right, but I wouldn’t go as far as he does in this regard.
  • He’s not a capitalist, not a political conservative which comes out in his writing.
  • Any point of view that leaves out God will have deficiencies when it comes to the root causes of behavior and the very nature of Man.  So his chapter on “living with children” it quite a bit incoherent to me as a Christian.   That’s to be expected I guess.  Read with a Scriptural filter and you’ll be fine.


  • One recurring theme is that children don’t really need every waking hour to be planned and scheduled in order to “succeed” in life.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.  That’s a relief to me! 
  • Loved the section about whether homeschool parents are qualified enough…he uses Alaska as an example of the correspondence school model (pg 43).
  • I agree with him that Homeschooling is not for everyone.  If a parent cannot, or will not, find a way to teach their child without doing harm (He likens the attitude to the hypocratic oath’s, “first do no harm.”), to teach without anxiety, then go ahead and put them in a school. 
  • Loved, loved, loved his answer to the need for socialization.   I hear this a lot that their child needs to be around other people besides me.  Indeed I think of this often regarding my daughter who is my social butterfly.  Holt says, “They need to know more and more adults whose main work in life is nottaking care of kids. They need some friends their own age, but not dozens of them; two or three, at most half a dozen, is as many real friends as any child can have at one time. Perhaps above all, they need a lot of privacy, solitude, calm, times when there’s nothing to do.” (pg 48)
  • Love his point about how children with special needs or learning disabilities often flourish in a homeschooling environment.   I know several families in this situation, and he’s right!
  • Holt “likes, enjoys, and respects children.”  This is his main theme in all of his books.

Maybe Holt’s vision of unschooled children everywhere, where children run the whole thing entirely rather than by parents or teachers is unrealistic and maybe even detrimental.  Maybe strict traditional schooling with rigid graded expectations is unrealistic and detrimental too.  The truth is somewhere in the middle I suspect. Maybe the solution is for parents, who love their kids best, to help them know the three R’s. Then we can leave the unschooling learning to grandparents!  [wink]