Deschooling Society, Unschooling, How Children Fail, How Children Learn, Unlearning and Relearning, What is Education?, and Visit the Library


John Holcroft
John Holcroft Illustration
  1. “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  2. “Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being “with it,” yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  3. “Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  4. “Learning is the human activity that least needs manipulation by others. Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful activity.” Ivan Illich
  5. “Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  6. “Most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only in so far as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  7. “Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. Only by segregating human beings in the category of childhood could we ever get them to submit to the authority of a schoolteacher.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  8. “Once a man or woman has accepted the need for school, he or she is easy prey for other institutions. Once young people have allowed their imaginations to be formed by curricular instruction, they are conditioned to institutional planning of every sort.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  9. “School initiates young people into a world where everything can be measured, including their imaginations, and, indeed, man himself.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  10. “School prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to grow in independence.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  11. “The public is indoctrinated to believe that skills are valuable and reliable only if they are the result of formal schooling.” Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society
  12. “Children don’t need to be taught how to learn; they are born learners. They come out of the womb interacting with and exploring their surroundings. Babies are active learners, their burning curiosity motivating them to learn how the world works. And if they are given a safe, supportive environment, they will continue to learn hungrily and naturally – in the manner and at the speed that suits them best.” Wendy Priesnitz
  13. “One of my early memories of school is wondering when they were going to start teaching me the things I didn’t know, rather than what I already knew. Many years later, I began to understand how, insidiously, school had reinforced my inadequacies and had left me with what I now called ‘learned incompetency’ and a fear of not being able to do things ‘right’ the first time.” Wendy Priesnitz
  14. “Because schools suffocate children’s hunger to learn, learning appears to be difficult and we assume that children must be externally motivated to do it.” Wendy Priesnitz
  15. “Our schooling has led us to misunderstand the difference between the power to do something and the force that makes us do something. We were told one too many times to sit in our seats and listen, to put up our hands when we had to go to the bathroom, and to buy what we were offered.” Wendy Priesnitz
  16. “At the end of the assembly line, there is no guarantee that the diploma signifies competence, knowledge, or maturity.” Wendy Priesnitz
  17. “We learn because we want to learn, because it’s important to us, because it’s natural, and because it’s impossible to live in the world and not learn. Then along comes school to mess up a beautiful thing.” Peggy Pirro
  18. “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” William Butler Yeats
  19. “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  20. “Children need models rather than critics.” Joseph Joubert (1754-1824), French Philosopher
  21. “When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become.” Louis Pasteur
  22. “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass
  23. It is easier for a teacher to command than to teach.” John Locke
  24. “It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.” Alec Bourne
  25. “Mass schooling damages children. We don’t need any more of it. And under the guise that it is the same thing as education, it has been picking our pockets just as Socrates predicted it would thousands of years ago. One of the surest ways to recognize real education is by the fact that it doesn’t cost very much, doesn’t depend on expensive toys or gadgets. The experiences that produce it and the self-awareness that propels it are nearly free. It is hard to turn a dollar on education. But schooling is a wonderful hustle, getting sharper all the time.” John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
  26. “It is absurd and anti-life to be a part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry.” John Taylor Gatto
  27. “The old system where every child was locked away and set into nonstop, daily cut throat competition with every other child for silly prizes called grades is broken beyond repair. If it could be fixed it could have been fixed by now. Good riddance.” John Taylor Gatto
  28. “Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” Plato
  29. “As far as I have seen, at school…they aimed at blotting out one’s individuality.” Franz Kafka
  30. “The act of placing the power over learning and life into the individual’s hands is both empowering and motivating. The ‘motivation’ people see in unschoolers is really a joy in learning that is seen far less often among the masses in school.” Idzie Desmarais
  31. “During the school day, there should be extended time for play. Research has shown unequivocally that children learn best when they are interested in the material or activity they are learning. Play — from building contraptions to enacting stories to inventing games — can allow children to satisfy their curiosity about the things that interest them in their own way. It can also help them acquire higher-order thinking skills, like generating testable hypotheses, imagining situations from someone else’s perspective and thinking of alternate solutions.” Susan Engel
  32. “The teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.” Horace Mann
  33. “Childhood has it’s own way of seeing, thinking, and feeling, and nothing is more foolish than to try to substitute ours for theirs.” Jean Jacques Rousseau
  34. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” Rachel Carson
  35. “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” Haruki Murakami
  36. “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Ursula K. Le Guin
  37. “There can be no education without leisure; and without leisure, education is worthless.” Sarah Josepha Hale
  38. “A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.” George Santayana
  39. “We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.” Rutherford Rogers
  40. “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” Albert Einstein
  41. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein
  42. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Mark Twain
  43. “Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.” Mark Twain
  44. “The school isn’t the only place that a child gets educated.” Frank Zappa
  45. “Drop out of school before your mind rots from exposure to our mediocre educational system. Forget about the Senior Prom and go to the library and educate yourself if you’ve got any guts.” Frank Zappa
  46. “Where is the wisdom lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge lost in information?” T. S. Eliot
  47. “I can’t give you a brain, but I can give you a diploma.” L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz
  48. “Four years was enough of Harvard. I still had a lot to learn, but had been given the liberating notion that now I could teach myself.” John Updike
  49. “What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch out of a free, meandering brook.” Henry David Thoreau
  50. “Artificial learning takes what is simple and natural and turns it into a complex array of objectives, goals, measurements, administrators, supervisors, counselors, and transportation experts. Natural education requires only a guide providing direction, and a learner ready to discover and create goals and values that are personally meaningful.” Linda Dobson
  51. “My job is not to teach at all, but to find the opportunities for my kids to learn. NOT knowing something can be an advantage, as it reminds me of the wealth of resources out there in the community and world, if only we are willing to go look for them.” David Albert
  52. “When you are genuinely interested in one thing, it will always lead to something else.” Eleanor Roosevelt
  53. “A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.” Samuel Johnson
  54. “Where my reason, imagination or interest were not engaged, I would not or I could not learn.” Winston Churchill
  55. “My education was interrupted only by my schooling.” Winston Churchill
  56. “As a child lives today, he will live tomorrow.” John Dewey
  57. “Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey
  58. “Education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” John Dewey
  59. “Unschooling doesn’t mean not learning – it means learning without the trappings of school. It is not unlearning or uneducating. Its only unschooling – it points out a contrast in approaches to learning. My unschooled kids are learning as much or more than their schooled friends.” Pam Sorooshian
  60. “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero
  61. “All I am saying in this book can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” John Holt, How Children Learn
  62. “Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. “Leadership qualities” are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.” John Holt, Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book Of Homeschooling
  63. “We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards, gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys, in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else.” John Holt
  64. “We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.” John Holt
  65. “A child whose life is full of the threat and fear of punishment is locked into babyhood. There is no way for him to grow up, to learn to take responsibility for his life and acts. Most important of all, we should not assume that having to yield to the threat of our superior force is good for the child’s character. It is never good for anyone’s character.” John Holt
  66. “This idea that children won’t learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorists, “positive and negative reinforcements,” usually becomes a self-fulfilling 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 children do things, they wouldn’t do anything.” Even worse, they say, “If I weren’t made to do things, I wouldn’t do anything.” It is the creed of a slave.” John Holt, How Children Fail
  67. “To a very great degree, school is a place where children learn to be stupid.” John Holt
  68. “If I had to make a general rule for living and working with children, it might be this: be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, whose good opinion and affection you valued.” John Holt
  69. “For many years I have been asking myself why intelligent children act unintelligently at school. The simple answer is, “Because they’re scared.” I used to suspect that children’s defeatism had something to do with their bad work in school, but I thought I could clear it away with hearty cries of “Onward! You can do it!” What I now see for the first time is the mechanism by which fear destroys intelligence, the way it affects a child’s whole way of looking at, thinking about, and dealing with life. So we have two problems, not one: to stop children from being afraid, and then to break them of the bad thinking habits into which their fears have driven them.
    What is most surprising of all is how much fear there is in school. Why is so little said about it. Perhaps most people do not recognize fear in children when they see it. They can read the grossest signs of fear; they know what the trouble is when a child clings howling to his mother; but the subtler signs of fear escaping them. It is these signs, in children’s faces, voices, and gestures, in their movements and ways of working, that tell me plainly that most children in school are scared most of the time, many of them very scared. Like good soldiers, they control their fears, live with them, and adjust themselves to them. But the trouble is, and here is a vital difference between school and war, that the adjustments children make to their fears are almost wholly bad, destructive of their intelligence and capacity. The scared fighter may be the best fighter, but the scared learner is always a poor learner.” John Holt, How Children Fail
  70. “Why do people take or keep their children out of school? Mostly for three reasons: they think that raising their children is their business not the government’s; they enjoy being with their children and watching and helping them learn, and don’t want to give that up to others; they want to keep them from being hurt, mentally, physically, and spiritually.” John Holt
  71. “Over the years, I have noticed that the child who learns quickly is adventurous. She’s ready to run risks. She approaches life with arms outspread. She wants to take it all in. She still has the desire of the very young child to make sense out of things. She’s not concerned with concealing her ignorance or protecting herself. She’s ready to expose herself to disappointment and defeat. She has a certain confidence. She expects to make sense out of things sooner or later. She has a kind of trust.” John Holt
  72. “It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life.” John Holt
  73. “schools assume that children are not interested in learning and are not much good at it, that they will not learn unless made to, that they cannot learn unless shown how, and that the way to make them learn is to divide up the prescribed material into a sequence of tiny tasks to be mastered one at a time, each with it’s approrpriate ‘morsel’ and ‘shock.’ And when this method doesn’t work, the schools assume there is something wrong with the children — something they must try to diagnose and treat.” John Holt
  74. “We learn to do something by doing it. There is no other way.” John Holt
  75. “Children learn from anything and everything they see. They learn wherever they are, not just in special learning places.” John Holt, Learning All The Time
  76. “Someone asked the other day, “Why do we go to school?” Pat, with vigor unusual in her, said, “So when we grow up we won’t be stupid.” These children equate stupidity with ignorance. Is this what they mean when they call themselves stupid? Is this one of the reasons why they are so ashamed of not knowing something? If so, have we, perhaps un-knowingly, taught them to feel this way? We should clear up this distinction, show them that it is possible to know very few facts, but make very good use of them. Conversely, one can know many facts and still act stupidly. The learned fool is by no means rare in this country.” John Holt, How Children Fail
  77. “I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge.” Seymour Papert
  78. “There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die is a process of learning.” Jiddu Krishnamurti
  79. “We learn simply by the exposure of living. Much that passes for education is not education at all but ritual. The fact is that we are being educated when we know it least.” David P. Gardner
  80. “Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.” Carol Dweck
  81. “Schooling not only destroys our passion for life, it also never allows us to know it exists. As children we have no choice but to place trust in our culture to meet our needs. We do what it dictates, expecting to learn how to live in the world. Placed in school, with a one-size-fits-all curriculum, we do not learn to follow the things in life that interest us and give us power as individuals.” Urban Scout, Rewild or Die
  82. “I spent three days a week for ten years educating myself in the public library, finding mirrors for myself in hundreds of books. At the end of ten years, I was completely educated. I had read every goddamn book in the library, and I’d written a thousand stories.” Ray Bradbury
  83. “School days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence.” H.L. Mencken
  84. “Learning is not a product of teaching. Kids are born learning. They learn how to walk, how to talk. They’re basically little scientists. If we don’t stop that process, it will continue.” Grace Llewellyn
  85. “The only alternative to making mistakes is for someone to make all your decisions for you, in which case you will make their mistakes instead of your own.” Grace Llewellyn, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
  86. “Your life, time, and brain should belong to you, not to an institution.” Grace Llewellyn
  87. “Education itself is a putting off, a postponement; we are told to work hard to get good results. Why? So we can get a good job. What is a good job? One that pays well. Oh. And that’s it? All this suffering, merely so that we can earn a lot of money, which, even if we manage it, will not solve our problems anyway? It’s a tragically limited idea of what life is all about.” Tom Hodgkinson
  88. “For better or worse, we learn every day, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re with. We learn good things, useful things, handy things – and we learn bad things, destructive things, things we might someday wish we hadn’t learned. Life’s like that. On the whole, though, learning serves us quite well, and we’re constantly arranging and rearranging our learning so it’s more useful to us.” Helen Hegener
  89. “It is among the commonplaces of education that we often first cut off the living root and then try to replace its natural functions by artificial means. Thus we suppress the child’s curiosity and then when he lacks a natural interest in learning he is offered special coaching for his scholastic difficulties.” Alice Duer Miller
  90. “If there is anything we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could be better changed in ourselves.” Carl G. Jung
  91. “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.” Will Hunting
  92. “[On school uniforms] Don’t these schools do enough damage making all these kids think alike, now they have to make them look alike too? It’s not a new idea, either. I first saw it in old newsreels from the 1930s, but it was hard to understand because the narration was in German.” George Carlin

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