In Memory of Elsa Haas: An Individual Who Helped Many Homeschoolers

Elsa Haas, a longtime friend and colleague of mine at Holt Associates, died on December 28, 2014. Elsa's combative spirit, keen intellect, and passion for homeschooling and John Holt's work made her a force to reckon with, as anyone who worked with her knew. However, her self-effacing, quiet demeanor often led you to think she was somewhat shy and retiring, until you hit upon a topic she felt strongly about—then watch out!

Elsa was one of the many strong women who populate the homeschooling movement, those who do the deep research, phone calls, and networking to determine what is really going on rather than blindly obey lawyers' calls to rally and politicians' commands to comply, and she often worked successfully quietly behind the scenes. Elsa's life is a model of how ordinary people, without legal training, can read, learn, and use the laws and regulations of a country as tools to engage in active citizenship, rather than as chains to stay tied to the status quo.

Certainly school officials in New York and Spain felt Elsa's power, and homeschoolers in both places were touched in a positive way by Elsa's efforts. Elsa started work at Holt Associates/Growing Without Schooling right after she graduated from college. She came to the office with a pretty deep knowledge of Holt's work, as well as the work of Vivian Gussin Paley, and she dove into the world of homeschooling/unschooling like a fish to water, though she was barely out of college. She was one of the sharpest minds I have met, and a loyal, loving friend. Her ability to grasp legal language and use it to homeschoolers’ tactical advantage was something I truly valued.

When Elsa left Holt Associates she moved to Spain with the deliberate intent of spreading Holt's ideas about homeschooling there. Elsa honed her Spanish skills while she lived in Barcelona, translated GWS and Holt’s articles into Spanish, and she became a founding member of the homeschooling movement in Spain. Elsa eventually left Spain and settled in New York, where she met her husband, Scott, and then raised their son, Tyler. During this time Elsa became quite active in the New York homeschooling community, as this remembrance by Amy Milstein shows.

Elsa's perserverance to stay active in the homeschooling community while facing considerable discomfort as she lived with cancer for the past 14 years is a testament to her personal fortitude, her willingness to share her knowledge and work, and her desire to see homeschooling grow and thrive throughout the world. The homeschooling communities in NY, MA, and Spain have been positively touched by Elsa’s hands and mind, and I am most grateful to have known her.

CORRECTIONS: My memories of Elsa's background have been corrected by Susannah Sheffer, who notes, "You know, Elsa didn't actualy come to us [Holt Associates] after she graduated from college. She started volunteering while she was still a student at the College of the Atlantic and she decided not to return to college but instead stayed on in Boston." Susannah also believes Elsa lived in Madrid, not Barcelona, when she was translating Holt's work and GWS into Spanish.