John Holt Biographical Information

This biography was originally published in GWS 48. It is based on the personal background information we used for John's publicity; the quote below appeared as part of John's personal information from at least 1977.

Born: April 14, 1923, New York City, NY.

"I have come to believe that a person's schooling is as much a part of his private business as his politics or religion, and that no one should be required to answer questions about it. May I say instead that most of what I know I did not learn in school, and indeed was not even 'taught.'"—John Holt

1943–1946: Submarine service, U. S. Navy.

1946–1952: Worked in various parts of the World Government movement. Finally Executive Director, NY State Branch, United World Federalists.

1952–1953: Traveled in Europe.

1953–1957: Taught at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Carbondale CO.

1957–1959: Taught at Shady Hill School, Cambridge MA.

1959–1963: Taught at Lesley Ellis School, Cambridge MA.

1963–1967: Taught at Commonwealth School, Boston MA.

1968: Visiting lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

1969 : Visiting lecturer, Dept. of Ed., U. C. Berkeley.

1969–1985: Writing, lecturing. Founded Holt Associates, a Boston office with small staff dealing with education and other social issues.

1977: Began publishing GROWING WITHOUT SCHOOLING, a bi-monthly magazine about teaching children at home.

1980: Started JOHN HOLT'S BOOK AND MUSIC STORE, a mail-order service primarily for and about children.

Died: September 14, 1985, of cancer, at home in Boston, Mass.

Published Books Written by John Holt (by original publication date):

HOW CHILDREN FAIL, REVISED EDITION, 1982 (original edition 1964).

HOW CHILDREN LEARN, REVISED EDITION, 1983 (original edition 1967).

THE UNDERACHIEVING SCHOOL, 2005 (original edition 1969).

WHAT DO I DO MONDAY? 1991 (original edition 1970).

FREEDOM AND BEYOND, 1991 (original edition 1972).

ESCAPE FROM CHILDHOOD: The Needs and Rights of Children, 2013 (original edition 1974).

INSTEAD OF EDUCATION: Ways to Help People Do Things Better, 2004 (original edition 1976).

NEVER TOO LATE: A Musical Autobiography, 1991 (original edition 1978).


TEACH YOUR OWN: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling, 2003 edition revised by Pat Farenga (original edition 1981).

A LIFE WORTH LIVING: Selected Letters of John Holt, 1991 (edited by Susannah Sheffer).

Combined sales of HOW CHILDREN FAIL and HOW CHILDREN LEARN exceed a million and a half copies. [PF, 2015: John's books, and these two in particular, have been translated into over 41 languages.]

Articles and reviews by John Holt were published in: N.Y. Review of Books, N.Y. Times Magazine, Book Week, Harper's, The Atlantic, Redbook, Parents Magazine, Saturday Evening Post, Look, Saturday Review, Psychology Today, USA Today, and numerous other publications.

Interviews and articles about John in Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, nationwide dailies, and many other publications. An in-depth biographical sketch is in Yankee, Dec. 1981; a fine interview with Holt about homeschooling was done by The Mother Earth News in 1980.

TV, Radio: Frequent appearances on national and local programs, speaking about education issues.

Twice a guest on The Phil Donahue show to discuss homeschooling, 1979 and 1981, provoking a strong public response both times.

More about John Holt

Books by John Holt
Video Recordings
Audio Recordings
Writing About John Holt
Writing by John Holt

"It's not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It's a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life."—John Holt

This is from a publisher's photo shoot in 1983.

This is from a publisher's photo shoot in 1983.

John Holt writing in his office at 308 Boylston Street., Boston, MA in the mid-1970s.

John Holt writing in his office at 308 Boylston Street., Boston, MA in the mid-1970s.

One of John Holt's Fifth Grade classes at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School.

One of John Holt's Fifth Grade classes at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School.

John Holt Obituaries

These are scans of Holt's obituaries as they appeared in the New York Times, Time magazine, and the Boston Globe.