"To parents I say, above all else, don't let your home become some terrible miniature copy of the school. No lesson plans! No quizzes! No tests! No report cards! Even leaving your kids alone would be better; at least they could figure out some things on their own. Live together, as well as you can; enjoy life together, as much as you can."


1923 - 1985

Deb Lewis, an longtime unschooling, shares a modern unschooler's view of Holt.: * Teach your Own * A Life Worth Living *

Published Interviews linked in below, and a list of books.


Someone wrote to me: "I’m starting to see why you admire John Holt. Will you tell me more about him?"

I responded:

"I admire his courage and his writings. ...

"He wasn't married. He didn't have kids. What he learned he learned from other people's kids in classrooms and when visiting in their homes, and he was SO interested in kids that their lives were different just for his being there, so what he saw often was how a child is in the presence of a really interested and interesting adult. That's the part I want to emulate."

Because John Holt was SO interested in children, every time he interacted with one, he saw a child interacting with a fascinated adult. THIS is one of the things unschoolers need to remember. When the adult brings boredom, cynicism, criticism and doubt to the table, that's what he'll see and that's how he'll see it, and it will be no fault of the child's whatsoever.

With your happiest, most open mind, read what John Holt wrote years ago and leave this place stronger.

Sandra Dodd, Februrary 2008


English below. German here.

"To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves...and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted." —John Holt

"In a nutshell, people whose lives are hard, boring, painful, meaningless—people who suffer—tend to resent those who seem to suffer less than they do, and will make them suffer if they can. People who feel themselves in chains, with no hope of ever getting them off, want to put chains on everyone else." —John Holt, Teach Your Own, Introduction.

~Susan M in VA

On education:

"I choose to define it here as most people do, something that some people do to others for their own good, molding and shaping them, and trying to make them learn what they think they ought to know. Today, everywhere in the world, that is what "education" has become, and I am wholly against it. People spend a great deal of time—as for years I did myself—talking about how to make "education" more effective and efficient, or how to do it or give it to more people, or how to reform or humanize it. But to make it more effective and efficient will only be to make it worse, and to help it do even more harm. It cannot be reformed, cannot be carried out wisely or humanely, because its purpose is neither wise nor humane. "

"Children do not need to be made to learn to be better, told what to do or shown how. If they are given access to enough of the world, they will see clearly enough what things are truly important to themselves and to others, and they will make for themselves a better path into that world then anyone else could make for them." [ from "How Children Fail"]

[Thanks to Deb Lewis for some of these quotes.]

Anne Ohman posted this at unschooling.com:

My favorite John Holt quote passage is from Instead of Education:
Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons' experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives. Whoever takes that right away from us, as the educators do, attacks the very center of our being and does us a most profound and lasting injury. He tells us, in effect, that we cannot be trusted even to think, that for all our lives we must depend on others to tell us the meaning of our world and our lives, and that any meaning we may make for ourselves, out of our own experience, has no value."

[A new unschooler asked:]++++So is it really a rethinking of what matters that informs the way unschooling looks? A huge trusting of human nature to find what it needs to be well?++++

[DebbieS answered with a Holt quote:]

John Holt expressed it more simply and eloquently than I could articulate (any spelling or grammar errors are, unfortunately, mine!):
Let me sum up what I have been saying about learning. I believe that we learn best when we, not others, are deciding what we are going to try to learn, and when, and how, and for what reasons or purposes; when we, not others, are in the end choosing the people, materials, and experiences from which and with which we will be learning; when we, not others, are judging how easily or quickly or well we are learning, and when we have learned enough; and above all when we feel the wholeness and opennesss of the world around us, and our own freedom and power and competence in it. When then can we do about it? How can we create or help create these conditions for learning?

John Holt
What Do I Do Monday?

I hope this helps answer some of your questions.


Interviews and Online Sources

2006 HoltGWS—links to recent articles [archived page]

History of Homeschooling, Helen Hegener series of posts [archived]

1984 Growing Without Schooling an interview with John Holt, by Robert Gilman (published Summer 1984, in The Way of Learning).

1981 Upon the republication of Teach Your Own in early 2003, Steve Trinward posted a previously unpublished interview, with this explanation

"The following article is based on a series of interviews I conducted back in 1981. The assignment was initially commissioned by a major libertarian periodical (which shall go nameless), but when I submitted it, the piece was rejected (along with its accompanying photos and artwork)—on the grounds that I had not been "tough enough" in my questioning of the man. After all this time (the work is itself now old enough that, were it a human being, I could buy him or her a beer -- as I did a few months ago for my oldest nephew—), it seems only reasonable to toss this one into the pool and see if it still floats" - SAT

1980 edited interview, Mother Earth News

1980 A Conversation with John Holt, by Marlene Bumgarner, published in Mothering Magazine the following year .

1969 The Underachieving School Some text online

Books by John Holt

in order of publication

How Children Fail (Pitman 1964, revised edition Delacorte 1982, Perseus 1995)

How Children Learn (Pitman 1967, revised edition Delacorte 1983, Perseus 1995)

The Underachieving School (Pitman 1969)

What Do I Do Monday? (Dutton 1970, Heinemann 1995)

Freedom and Beyond (Dutton 1972, Heinemann 1995)

Escape from Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children (Dutton 1974, Holt Associates 1981)

Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better (Dutton 1976, Sentient 2003)

Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story (Delacorte 1978, Perseus 1991)

Teach Your Own (Delacorte 1981, revised and published again by Patrick Farenga as Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, Perseus 2003)

Learning All the Time (Addison-Wesley 1989, Perseus 1990)

A Life Worth Living: Selected Letters of John Holt (Susannah Sheffer, ed, Ohio State University Press, 1990)

Growing Without Schooling, Vol.1. A Record of a Grassroots Movement (Holt Associates 1999)

Sharing Treasures: Book Reviews by John Holt, Edited by Jane P. Holcomb and Pat Farenga (Holt Associates 1991)

Also by Deb Lewis:

On children's rights and position in society:

Escape From Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children is maybe my favorite Holt book and the one apparently completely ignored by those who want to claim John Holt never thought unschooling could encompass all of life. It was published by Dutton in 1974. It's an amazing book. There was some recent discussion here about one of Sandra's talks where she encourages people to think dangerous thoughts. This book is full of them.

From page 1:

This is a book about young people and their place, or lack of place, in modern society. It is about the institution of modern childhood, the attitudes, customs, and laws that define and locate children in modern life and determine to a large degree what their lives are like and how we, their elders, treat them. And it is about the many ways in which modern childhood seems to me to be bad for most of those who live within it and how it should and might be changed.

For a long time it never occurred to me to question this institution. Only in recent years did I begin to wonder whether there might be other or better ways for young people to live. By now I have come to feel that the fact of being a "child," of being wholly subservient and dependent, of being seen by older people as a mixture of expensive nuisance, slave, and superpet, does most young people more harm than good.

I propose instead that the rights, privileges, duties, responsibilities of adults citizens be made *available* to any young person, of whatever age, who wants to make use of them. These would include, among others:

  1. The right to equal treatment a the hands of the law- ie., the right, in any situation, to be treated no worse than an adult would be.
  2. The right to vote, and take full part in political affairs.
  3. The right to be legally responsible for one's life and acts.
  4. The right to work, for money.
  5. The right to privacy.
  6. The right to financial independence and responsibility-ie., the right to own, buy, and sell property, to borrow money, establish credit, sign contracts, etc.
  7. The right to direct and manage one's own education.
  8. The right to travel, to live away from home, to choose or make one's own home.
  9. The right to receive from the state whatever minimum income it may guarantee to adults citizens.
  10. The right to make and enter into, on basis of mutual consent, quasi-familial relationships outside one's immediate family-ie., the right to seek and choose guardians other than one's own parents and to be legally dependent on them.
  11. The right to do, in general, what any adult may legally do.
end of John Holt passage

[Deb Lewis responded to a question asked in a discussion:]
Q: What do all of you think about working to legislate freedom for young people, at least incrementally? A waste of time? Can't be accomplished through legislation?
No, I don't think it's a waste of time. Things have to change.

In the recent Supreme court decision which found the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional, Justice O'Connor, one of two dissenting opinions, said this:

She said:

"...The court's analysis is premised on differences in the aggregate between juveniles and adults, which frequently do not hold true when comparing individuals,"
She said:
"Chronological age is not an unfailing measure of psychological development, and common experience suggests that many 17-year-olds are more mature than the average young 'adult.'"
A supreme court Justice saying age is not the best factor for determining a persons ability to understand and accept responsibility would seem a step toward recognizing the rights of all Americans. Unfortunately the questioning of arbitrary age limits occurs primarily when adults are making decisions about how to punish kids.

People are afraid of children's rights issues in the way people are always afraid to give power to the powerless. What dreadful fate awaits the oppressors when the oppressed are finally given their constitutional freedoms?

Deb Lewis


More John Holt Quotes

John Holt books might still be available from FUN-Books, which also has information on Holt himself. (backup)

Wikipedia entry with more biography than you'll usually find, and links.