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By Susannah Sheffer

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Stephens reviewed How Children Learn in the Winter 1969 issue of the Harvard Education Review. [TO J. M. STEPHENS] December 1, 1969 Dear Dr. Stephens, I’ve been meaning to write you since I read your most kind and generous review of How Children Learn in the Harvard Education Review. I only write to make one point. The things that I say I learned from watching children, I really did learn that way and in no other. ’ One other short point. ” There was nothing either free or easy about my observation, I learned whatever I have learned about children by prolonged and careful observation, and even more importantly, as a result of continued failures to teach them, in more or less orthodox school fashions, things people said they should learn.

TO PAUL GOODMAN] July 23, 1970 Dear Paul, How are you these days? I had dinner with Edgar Friedenberg at Harvard the other day. He is enjoying his work there during the summer. Also told me that he is leaving this country, to live in Canada and teach at Dalhousie in Halifax and become a citizen there. Certainly the temptation to do this is strong. It is a heavy burden on me, as it has been on you, to have to think as badly as I do of so many of my fellow citizens. I keep looking for and hoping to find evidence that they are not as callous and greedy and cruel and envious as I fear they are, and I keep getting disappointed.

There is also a hint that casual learning is somehow less important or useful or worthy than non-casual learning. Perhaps you don’t intend this. In any case, it is to me a matter of critical importance; because it seems to me that the reason that children are able to master the extraordinarily complicated task of learning to speak is precisely that they do learn it casually, in the process of living, as it were. Paul Goodman is good on this point, I’ve said some things about it, George Dennison is even better.

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A Life Worth Living - Selected Letters of John Holt by Susannah Sheffer


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