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Who Is John Holt?

Updated on March 23, 2011

Who Is John Holt

John Holt: Founder Of Unschooling

John Holt is the "founder" of unschooling. In order to understand what unschooling is, it is important to take a closer look at just who John Holt is.

John Holt's Biography

Upon graduation from college John Holt entered into the United States Navy where he served on the USS Barbero, which was a submarine that fought in the Pacific Ocean. While serving in the Navy he concluded that nuclear weapons were the world's biggest danger and that they could only be prevented by the governments around the world.

After completing his 3 year tour of duty, John Holt started working in the mail room of the United World Federalists. This is an organization that promotes nations working together toward world peace. He eventually worked his way up to become New York's executive director but he soon grew frustrated with just how ineffective the group was and thus he resigned in 1952.

At this time his sister urged him to become a fifth grade teacher. John Holt spent several years as a teacher in Colorado before moving to Boston. In Boston John Holt met a fellow teacher by the name of Bill Hull. Together they began doing a classroom observation project. While one of them would teach, the other would observe.

During John Holt's first 11 years of teaching he accumulated a lot of notes that he has used to create the core of his 2 popular books: "How Children Fail" and "How Children Learn." He has also written a book that is not as popular as these 2. It is called "Escape from Childhood: The Rights and Needs of Children." Together these 3 books provide details about John Holt's educational philosophy.

John Holt And Unschooling

After spending several years within the school system, John Holt grew disillusioned as he believed that the school system was flawed and that there was no way in which to reform it. This led him to become a big proponent for homeschooling. However, he did not believe that the school system should be reinvented within the home.

John Holt believed that the main reason why children did not learn in school was because they were afraid of giving the wrong answer, afraid of being mocked and afraid of not measuring up or being good enough. He maintained that this was only worsened whenever these children were forced to learn about things that they were not interested in. This is where his belief that children do not need to be coerced into learning stems from. John Holt truly believed that children would learn naturally if we would just give them the freedom to explore their interests. Of course, we also need to provide them with a rich environment that is filled with resources that will help them to learn and grow. Hence, the creation of unschooling.

In 1977 John Holt acted upon his belief by starting the first homeschooling magazine, which was entitled "Growing Without Schooling," and opening his own book store. Throughout time, John Holt used his magazine to form the ground work for what is now known as the Youth rights movement. This included eliminating the voting age, allowing youth to sign contracts and thus be able to become employed.

The Effects Of John Holt

Besides laying the ground work for the Youth rights movement, John Holt's writing has influenced thousands of other organizations. Some of these organizations include: Summerhill School, The Evergreen State College, National Youth Rights Association and The Freechild Project.

Thousands of individuals have also been influenced by the writings of John Holt. His 10 books continue to be popular even today, long after his death in 1985 at the age of 62. This is because these books have formed the basis of today's unschooling movement.


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      alan 5 years ago

      great information!

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      noor hayati abdul hamid 7 years ago

      I feel I have more energy and enthusiasm after reading of john holt's works and idea of unschooling because I am also a believer that children are born intelligent and they can learn tremendously from their everyday life experiences.I am a mother of 7 children and 3 grandchildren and about to start my campaign for parents to take up the natural learning approach in educating their children as the life becomes more challenging in this world.the more the challenge the more you need to get connected to thei real life.