Holly Van Houten



My educational history is a bit unusual for its time, but is more commonplace now – you see, I was a high school dropout.  I love writing that.  I consider it sort of a badge of courage.  I met with a lot of resistance at the time (1984) when I, having had far more than enough of dull classes and even duller teachers (and this was in the honors program), fled the halls of Granada Hills High School, took the CA High School Proficiency Exam and enrolled at Pierce College.  I had already taken English 1 and a few other classes as a concurrently enrolled high school student, so after carefully studying the enrollment requirements for an English major at UCLA, I set about completing the majority of my lower division general education classes in 2 semesters and 2 summers.  I got all my application paperwork into UCLA and anxiously awaited the acceptance letter, which came in April, 1985.  I was admitted to UCLA as a junior for the following fall (when I would still be 17).  I graduated from UCLA with my B.A. in English and went on to my PhD program at USC where, as part of my fellowship, I began teaching their version of ENG 1 (“Comp 101”) at 21.  I went on to teach at USC for 10 years and as a part-time English Professor at Pepperdine University and Cal State Universities, Northridge & Long Beach.According to my little sister, Kate, this helped inspire her own decision to forego high school altogether, enroll at Moorpark College as a fulltime student at 14 and begin UCLA as a junior at 16.  She completed a bachelor’s degree in math there and is now working on her second Masters degree (in Computational Linguistics) at Stanford Univ.  She’s taking a year though to enjoy working in Budapest on the Fulbright Scholarship she won this year.I give these examples, knowing I sound like a huge braggart (which I guess I am) because I want to demonstrate the variety of ways a student can get a college education even without high school transcripts or SAT scores (neither of which my sister or I had).  After years of boredom and being told what to study and how to study, I was so excited to grab hold of my education and make it my own.  That notion of ownership encapsulates my philosophy of education.  I believe it’s essential that students themselves be the primary driving force behind their educational aspirations.  As a teacher and a homeschooling parent, I see my role as facilitating and encouraging that ownership.  I homeschool my two daughters because I want their education to be rigorous and exciting.  I want them to keep the enthusiasm about learning that came so naturally at age 4 when every question began with “Why…” and the questions came all day long.  At this point, our homeschooling experience has done just that and I so value the classes they take at Huck that encourage this love of learning and exploring.As a teacher at Huck, my goal is to inspire students to discover (and hopefully love) a wide variety of literature and to help them realize the value of honing their writing skills so that they may ably express their own thoughts and ideas.  Learning to read well and analyze a text leads to a lifetime of learning and the ability to “teach” yourself any subject and any skill.  Strong writing skills provide students with the self-expression they need to define themselves as individuals and communicate well.  I love that at Huck, “learning” is the main goal, not grades, test scores or competition.  Students in my classes are able to explore and exchange ideas about literature in the Socratic style and work on their writing in a collaborative and supportive environment.