Mary Leue On The Legacy of John Holt

Mary Leue is a woman of great spirit and accomplishments—she is the founder of the Albany Free School, a midwife, and a counselor—and we have supported each other's work for many years. We spoke publicly about our work at Carnegie Hall when we participated in John Taylor Gatto's Exhausted School Speakout in 1993.

When I sent Mary an advance copy of The Legacy of John Holt (it's almost ready for sale, honest!), she replied with this moving response. I had forgotten about Kit Finn's children's remarks about John Holt and, like Mary, it brought me nearly to tears to read again, particularly as they remember dear Anna Van Doren, who died just two weeks after John died.

I remember those days in the office so fondly; I didn't have children then (I wasn't even married yet), but I was totally taken by how at ease John was with children in the office. I learned by watching John and the parents how to get comfortable with having children around you in an office setting, and it was a practice we continued at Holt Associates up until we shut our doors in 2001.

Interestingly, the photo of John Holt we decided to use for the new cover of Legacy includes the Finn children (see below for the original photo). Here's Mary's comments and the wonderful excerpt by the Finn children about their friend, John Holt.

"Pat Farenga asked me to write a blurb for his and Carlo Ricci's glorious and much-needed editorial compilation of articles entitled The Legacy of John Holt, which I am pleased to do. This book brims with articles by people who have something of value to remind us of the broad scope of John Holt's influence, ranging from the personal to the pedagogical, the historical, the philosophical, the legal, and the sociological, both in terms of Holt's life and of his writings.

The home schooling movement has many varieties, and Holt's style was influential in all of them, including the Christian, which was at least partly a rebellion against the strict secularism of public schooling.

The theme running through all of the articles in this compilation is John Holt's own personal uniqueness as a person - and as an educator (the two are interchangeable, in his case), his emphasis on the actual effect of his principles on the children themselves, and of the importance of the relationship between them and the adult family members who have taken on the responsibility of becoming their windows on the world, as it were. In this aspect of his teachings, his on-going contact through his newsletter was crucial—and the fact that this connector didn't end with his death is a vital part of his legacy.

It is the total devotion of both Pat Farenga and Susannah Sheffer, editors of John's GWS, Growing Without Schooling, that kept that influence from fading over time, after the dynamic influence of John's person was no longer there to spark its aliveness. Because, just as it was the aliveness of John Holt himself that acted as that spark for encouraging parents to believe that they could take on the responsibility for educating their children at home, rather than surrender it to "professionals," it is the dedication of these followers of Holt's devotion to children that provided the home school movement with the momentum that could allow it to become as "American" as public education itself—and far more authentic to the nature of children and families!

The only ingredient missing in this splendid book is one I am thrilled to supply, because it represents to me the heart and soul, both of John Holt himself, and of the periodical that carried the banner for John's undying spirit. I originally stole it out of one of the issues of GWS, and reproduce it here verbatim as it appeared - both in GWS and in my own educational quarterly, SKOLE, the Journal of Alternative Education:

Quoted from GROWING WITHOUT SCHOOLING, the following tribute to John Holt was dictated to their mother by Danette, Bridget and Socorro Finn, ages seven, six and four. It is the best memorial tribute to John Holt I have ever heard, and never fails to move me to tears!

John was a good friend. He seemed like family to me. I played with him and I talked with him. John writed books, and him played on the cello. He played a violin too. He showed how to play our violin. He played “Guess the song" with us. We guessed “Twinkle Little Star." John made a magazine. A lot of people made a magazine. John was the boss. It was him's idea. He worked too. We carried things and stapled. We took packages to the post office with Steve and him gave us a kiss. We copied papers on the copier. I stapled my finger once. I put postage on packages and I weighed them. John typed on his typewriter. Sometimes he fell asleep on his typewriter. When he typed he put on his earphones and he didn't close the door. He talked on the telephone. Then he closed the door. We had a typewriter too and we typed. But our typing wasn't a magazine or a book. Sometimes it was a letter. Sometime I'm going to make a book. John said I could make a book. I liked to be with him. He was our John Holt. He came to our house. He slept in Danette's room. Once Corrie stuck a penny to his head with spit. It stuck 'cause he was sort of bald. She was really little. He said she was learning. He didn't yell. Him never got mad at us. We watched the gymnastics on TV together. I told him I plan to be in the Olympics. He said he'd come and cheer for me. He was going to come and visit us. I was going to show him my cartwheel. We were going to play the violin together. I was going to show him my new room. But he died. He got cancer. Him was too sick. He took his body off. He went off to heaven. I want John! John! John! John! John is my best friend. He has to take care of Anna. Anna got in an accident and got dead too. Her went with John. I don't like my friends dying. John was good at hugging. Nobody else likes to eat peanut butter and applesauce sandwiches with me. John liked to talk too and he never called me motor-mouth. John was a grown-up and a person. I miss John. He's still my best friend. You can love a person even if he has to take his body off and go off to heaven. - from Growing Without Schooling, 729 Boylston St., Boston, MA

It is to be thankful for that a spirit like that of John Holt, so rare and precious in our world, is being offered once more to an audience that so badly needs its presence! This book can work its magic in our spirits if they lead back to his books, and to the files of GWS that kept it alive for so many years."

John Holt with children who came to the office with their volunteer parents.  From left to right: Joshua Gray, Solon Sadoway, Chris Gray, Danette Finn, as-yet unidentified child (anyone know who she is?), and Bridget Finn. Photo taken by Maggie Sadoway.

John Holt with children who came to the office with their volunteer parents.  From left to right: Joshua Gray, Solon Sadoway, Chris Gray, Danette Finn, as-yet unidentified child (anyone know who she is?), and Bridget Finn. Photo taken by Maggie Sadoway.