Here is a quick quiz for home educators. Which well known advocate of home education was in favour of abolishing the age of consent so that adults and children could have sex without any legal restraint? No? Well it was the same one who argued that children should be able to vote at the age of three. And use heroin if they wished. Anybody guessed yet? Last clue, he did not think that there should be a minimum age for children to be able to drive a car on public roads. Well, I can see that nobody is going to get this one. Step forward John Holt, darling of the home educating parents.
I have never been a particular fan of John Holt's, regarding him as a smug windbag whose writing is unendurably prolix and twee. Still, I am aware that he is enormously popular with many parents. I had forgotten though quite how raving mad he was and it was not until I began leafing through my old copy of Escape from Childhood that I remembered another reason that I dislike him so much; the creepy way he talks about children. The problem with this book, which is not one of his most popular, is that it alternates the fairly reasonable with the completely barking. Reading it is thus a disconcerting experience; like some weird mixture of A S Neil and Aleister Crowley. Some of what he says is pretty unexceptionable, especially to autonomous home educators. For example;
'Young people should have the right to control and direct their own learning, that is to decide what they want to learn, and when, where, how, how much and by whom they want to be taught and the right to decide if they want to learn in a school and if so which one and for how much of the time'
There, who could object to that? (I am tempted to add, only somebody who actually cared about their child, but we'll leave that for now). Enough to say that many home educators will be applauding such noble sentiments. A couple of chapters later he suggests that we should abolish the age of consent entirely and allow any child to have sex with anybody she pleases, child or adult. He concedes that not everybody would agree with such a move, because:
'Some people have voiced the fear to me that if it were legal for an adult to have sex with a consenting child, many young people would be exploited by unscrupulous older ones'.
Well he got that right! How does he deal with this objection? Well you see it seems that we are 'caught with the remains of old myths'. He says, in effect, that only repressed people or old fuddy duddies would object to this liberating proposal. He does seem to have a bit of a thing about children though. After talking of the ridiculous idea, in his eyes, that small children might not have any sexual urges, he says:
'But we cling to this view of children for many reasons, not the least of which is that pretending they have no sexual feelings makes it easier for us to ignore or deny the sexual part of their attraction for us'.
Have a look at the chapters entitled The Child as Love Object and How Children Exploit Cuteness (The little minxes!) Here is Holt talking about an overweight ten year-old girl he had in his class:
'Now that she was no longer cute, but had become a sugar addict, fat, lazy and inactive, seduction failed more and more. But she had nothing else. Seduction was all she knew.'
Yuk! Would you want this man to baby sit for you? I find something deeply odd about a man of over fifty who refers to 'a six year-old friend of mine.' In view of whjat he had to say about the age of consent, one cannot help but wonder whether this friendship entailed his taking the kid to the pictures and then back to his place for coffee! In the chapter The Right to Use Drugs, he makes the surprising claim that:
'Most children have smoked tobacco (probably marijuana) before they are twelve years old.'
He wrote this in 1974 and I don't suppose that it was true then that most eleven year olds were smoking dope any more than it is today. He is all in favour of children taking heroin. The irrational objections to this drug are a caused by people believing more old myths.
'What really enraged people about heroin and marijuana was and is the belief that when people take it they don't want to work. So the public was sold the idea that heroin use was a terrible danger.'
In other words, just like those of us who would not want to see our eight year old daughters in the sack with a man of thirty, so too only old stick-in-the-muds would wish to prevent their children from fixing up some heroin. It's sheer repression! I won't even quote from the chapters which urge that three year olds should be able to vote and that there is no reason why an eleven year old should not take a car on the roads.
The truth is that John Holt was a very strange, some would say completely mad individual. He certainly said a few interesting things about education, if you can be bothered to wade through all the folksy anecdotes. His attitude to children in general though is appalling and dangerous.