John Holt

John Holt was born on April 14, 1923 in New York, New York to Henry and Elizabeth Holt. He was an American educator and writer. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-46. He held various posts as part of the American Movement for World Government from 1946-52. He also worked for the World Federalists Movement from 1951-52. Holt was educated at Yale in a course of industrial administration and ended up in education less by planning and more by accident. He didnít have proper teacher certification and education courses so he was limited to private schools when he started his teaching career. Holt worked as a high school English, French, and Mathematics teacher in Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Carbondale, Colo. from 1953-57. From 1957-59, he was a teacher at Shady Hill School Cambridge, Mass. Holt was a secondary school English teacher from 1959-63 at Lesley Ellis School- Cambridge in Boston, Mass. From 1965-67, he was a teacher at Commonwealth School, Boston, Mass. He was a visiting lecturer in education at Harvard University, Cambridge in 1968. Holt was also a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Berkely in 1969. He started the Holt Association Inc. and was the president of it from 1965-85. He was the publisher of the magazine Growing without Schooling from 1977-85. Holt died on September 14, 1985 in Boston, Mass. of cancer.

As a progressive, Holt rose to prominence in the 1970ís as one of the nationís leading theorist on learning. The root of his ideas about learning was a direct observation of children and his own learning experiences. This, plus the lack of training as a professional teacher, formed the basis for his deep trust and understanding of parents and children and the possibilities for learning outside of school. Holt claimed that he had taught himself far more than he had ever learned in the classroom. He took up French and Italian at the age of 30, skiing at 31, cello for the first time at 40, water skiing at 47, horseback riding at 48, and violin at 60.
 After a career of teaching, John Holt came to the conclusion that todayís education system did not work. He believed that schools stunted the natural desire to learn. According to Holt, children came into the world biologically driven to learn. He suggested that the child is curious, wanting to make sense of things, to find out how things work, and gain competence and control over himself and his environment. The child, Holt said, is patient and willing to tolerant an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, and ignorance as he waits for meaning to come to him. That in talking, reading, and writing, children are able- if not hurried or made ashamed or fearful- to notice and correct most of their own mistakes, but school rarely is a place that gives the time or opportunity for this type of learning and thinking. According to Holt, what schools care most about is the appearance of knowledge, not true understanding. Holt believed that students should be taught how to learn and then allowed to explore subjects that fascinate them.

Holt did not begin to write until he had had many of years of experience teaching young children, and his most persistent theme is that the system ignores what it knows, or should know about how children learn. Holtís ideas on improving the educational system can be seen in several books and when he was the publisher of a magazine called Growing Without Schooling; Holt Associates Inc. His list of books are:
 Holt, J. (1982) . How Children Fail  (Rev.ed.).   New York:  Delacorte.
 Holt, J. (1983) . How Children Learn (Rev.ed.).   New York: Pitman.
 Holt, J. (1969) .  The Underachieving School.    New York: Pitman.
 Holt, J. (1970) .  What Do I Do Monday ?.  New York: Dutton.
 Holt, J. (1972) .  Freedom and Beyond.   New York: Dutton.
 Holt, J. (1974) . Escape From Childhood.  New York: Dutton.
 Holt, J. (1976) . Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better.  New York: Dutton.
 Holt, J. (1978) . Never Too Late: A Musical Autobiography .  New York: Delacorte.
 Holt, J. (1981) . Teach Your Own: A Hopeful Path for Education.  New York: Delacorte.

John Holt is considered the father of unschooling and the person who coined the term. In his early writings, he seemed to hold out hope that the school system could be fixed, but he later became more convinced that parents were better off taking their children out of schools. According to Holt, as educators we like to say that we send children to school to teach them to think, but what we do, all too often, is to teach them to think badly, to give up a natural and powerful way of thinking in favor of a method that does not work well for them and that we rarely use ourselves. Based on more than ten years of teaching experience, six of them spent in private schools, Holt argued that fear and boredom in the school setting discouraged children from taking chances and this prevented them from experiencing real learning. This entire educational process, Holt contended, maximizes compliance and ď goodĒ work habits and thus prevented curiosity, creativity, self-esteem, and other traits traditionally associated with genuine intellect.

By the 1980ís Holt had established himself as one of nationís leading spokesmen for the home schooling movement. His concept of unschooling has become associated with the particular styled homeschooling in which no set curriculum is used. Homeschooling carries an implication of schooling at home, while unschooling connotes that what you are doing is the opposite of school. People who accepted the teaching techniques of school but wanted more control over the subject matter, socialization, or morals that their children were exposed to might readily accept the term homeschooling. People who disliked the teaching techniques and environment of school might be more inclined to use the term unschooling. At the time of his death in 1985, Holt was remembered as a forceful advocate of educational reform as well as a leading supporter of home schooling/unschooling. His theories about the natural learning styles of children were extremely influential in developing teacher-training programs and in developing curricula. Holtís insights and his books helped to raise important questions about the state of American education.


 Farenga, Patrick (7/6/00). Can a christian be an unschooler? [ on-line],
 Greer, Billy (7/6/00). Unschooling or homeschooling? [on-line],
 Biography Resource Center. (7/7/00). John Holt. [on-line],
 Lant, J.L. (1977). Considering John Holt. Educational Studies, 7, 327-335.

Report Prepared by:
Sharon Garrett