From the preface to the revised edition of How Children Fail, by John Holt:

After this book came out, people used to say to me, “When are you going to write abook about how teachers fail?” My answer was, “But that’s what this book is about.”

But if it is a book about a teacher who often failed, it is also about a teacher who was not satisfied to fail, not resigned to failure. It was my job and my chosen task to help children learn things, and if they did not learn what I taught them, it was my job and task to try other ways of teaching them until I found ways that worked.

For many years now I’ve been urging and begging teachers and student teachers to take this attitude toward their work. Most respond by saying, “Why are you blaming us for everything that goes wrong in schools? Why are you trying to make us feel all this guilt?”

But I’m not. I didn’t blame myself or feel guilt, just because my students were so often not learning what I was teaching, because I wasn’t doing what I had set out to do and couldn’t find out how to do it. But I did hold myself responsible.

“Blame” and “guilt” are crybaby words. Let’s get them out of our talk about education. Let’s use instead the word “responsible.” Let’s have schools and teachers begin to hold themselves responsible for the results of what they do.

I held myself responsible. If my students weren’t learning what I was teaching, it was my job to find out why. How Children Fail, as I said, was a partial record of my not very successful attempts to find out why.

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