Teaching: The Fear of Being Wrong

A shy, balding, 44-year-old private-school teacher who shuns educational jargon and rejects the notion that either life or learning can be forced into nifty patterns is quietly emerging as one of U.S. education's most damning critics. In his 1964 book, How Children Fail, Teacher John Holt unreeled a series of classroom anecdotes to show that children—beset by teacher-imposed fear, confusion and boredom—merely grope for right answers, rather than understand. In a sequel, How Children Learn, to be published next month, he illustrates the spontaneous ways in which kids embrace knowledge before they enter schools, where they "learn to be...

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