45 Years, 45 Days: Deschooling Society


For the next 45 days, we'll be celebrating Reason's 45th anniversary by releasing a story a day from the archives—one for each year of the magazine's history. See the full list here. 


Today, an article from the April 1971 edition by John Holt, the education scholar and author mentioned in yesterday's installment. He laments the fact that we have "locked up learning in schools" and proposes ways to free it: 

When everybody gets a particular academic credential, the value of that ticket-credential-piece of paper, the cash-in value goes to zero. I came to my office today on the MTA from Boston and saw this sigh, one of the "Finish high school," signs, the "Stay in school, get a good job" kind of thing. If they ever get that message across, and everybody really does stay in school and everybody gets a high school diploma, a high school diploma will be worth just what an elementary school diploma is worth—i.e., nothing.

So let's put up a whole lot of new signs—"Go to college, get a good job" and spend $200 billion so that everybody can in fact go to college. If we can persuade all the young people in the country—which seems most unlikely—to put up with four more years of what they put up with, so that everybody finally gets a bachelor's degree, that will become worthless. It's not worth too much right now—as some of you may have found out who got one recently. There are already people, have been for a couple of years, talking about the need for a post-PhD degree because the PhD degree doesn't mean anything anymore.

That process can go on forever. As fast as we get everybody one academic credential, get them up one step of the pyramid, we're going to build new pyramids on top of that. It's the rat-race to end all rat-races.