John Holt

"Education... now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the modern slave state, in which most people feel themselves to be nothing but producers, consumers, spectators, and 'fans,' driven more and more, in all parts of their lives, by greed, envy, and fear. My concern is not to improve 'education' but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves." -John Holt

Unschooling grew from writings and theories of John Holt, a proponent of radical education reform. While John Holt continued to want to reform schools, after years of observing education and school children, he came to the firm belief that children learn better at home. He also specifically instructed not to mirror the school environment at home. Instead, he supported letting children lead their own learning. Additionally, John Holt became a pioneering proponent of youth rights and taking children seriously.

John Holt Biographical Information

John Holt was born on April 14, 1923. He went to school, and eventually graduated from University. He joined the Navy and served for three years. After that, the New York branch of the United World Federalists hired him in their mailroom. After 6 years, he worked his way up to the position of executive director, but then quit in 1952 citing the group's ineffectiveness as the reason.

Then, John Holt became a fifth-grade teacher. He taught in Colorado and then in Boston. He and a colleague decided to observe classroom functionality by taking turns teaching, so that the one not teaching could observe. What John Holt learned formed the foundation of his theories about education.

Basically, John Holt theorized that mostly fear of failure combined with disinterest in subject-matter hindered children's education.

Holt published his first book in 1964, entitled How Children Fail. The book caused much controversy. In it, he claimed that school itself caused children's failure.

At first John Holt wished only to see a great reform of education, but he eventually started to believe that it wouldn't happen. As a result, he focused on supporting homeschooling. He produced a magazine about homeschooling, entitled "Growing Without Schooling," and he wrote one book about homeschooling, entitled Teach Your Own, which he published in 1981.

All in all, he wrote 10 books, which greatly influenced homeschooling and lead to the unschooling movement.

John Holt died from cancer on September 14, 1985, at the age of 62.

John Holt's Books

  • How Children Fail (published in 1964)
  • How Children Learn (published in 1967)
  • Escape from Childhood: The Rights and Needs of Children
  • Instead of Education; Ways to Help People Do Things Better (published in 1976)
  • Teach Your Own (1981)
  • The Underachieving School
  • What Do I Do Monday?
  • Freedom and Beyond
  • Never Too Late
  • Learning All the Time (1989)
  • A Life Worth Living, letters of John Holt

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