John Holt Collection
Scope and Contents
This collection documents John Holt’s work as an education reformer, particularly his pioneering work in alternative education, homeschooling, and youth rights. Holt published several books on education, including How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn (1967), as well as the newsletter Growing Without Schooling. Much of the collection relates to these publications, especially his correspondence, which also covers such topics as parents who chose to homeschool their children, students who found school unchallenging, and teachers who were inspired by his ideas.
Together with his books on education, Holt wrote articles that were published in The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, and Redbook and covered such issues as testing, natural learning, and the failures of teachers. He reviewed books on reforming the public school system, urban schools, and international schools, and his reviews appeared in publications including Book Week, The New York Review of Books, and Harper’s Magazine.
In addition to his writing, the collection documents Holt’s personal appearances throughout the United States and Europe where he gave lectures and interviews on education reform, children’s rights, and homeschooling. Also documented are reviews of Holt’s books, including How Children Fail (1964), Freedom and Beyond (1972), and Escape from Childhood (1974), which appeared in such national and international publications as Time Magazine, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New Britain Herald. Among the other subjects documented are Holt’s interests in politics, the environment, technology, and music.
The collection contains correspondence, articles, newspaper clippings, newsletters, and audio cassettes. Material dated 1986-1991 was included by the staff of Holt Associates.
- Majority of material found within 1965-1985
- Holt, John Caldwell (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
30 folders in boxes 1-2 and 4-6 in Series I: Correspondence are restricted by Boston Public Library policy to protect personal information of minors. Folders containing personal information are restricted for 75 years from the date of creation. Contact the Archives Department for more information.
The collection is also currently unprocessed. This means that it may not be housed in boxes stable enough to use; there may be additional preservation issues that need to be addressed; some material may contain restricted content, such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII) that hasn't been screened; and available description of the collection contents may be limited and/or incomplete. When requesting access to unprocessed collections, BPL archivists will first need to assess the state of the materials to see if it can be made accessible in the reading room. Though access will be prioritized, in some cases, portions of or entire collections may be restricted until fully processed.
Conditions Governing Use
Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.
Biographical / Historical
John Caldwell Holt was born on April 14, 1923 in New York City to Henry and Elizabeth (Crocker) Holt. The oldest of three children, he was raised in New England and attended private schools. Holt graduated from Yale University and joined the United States Navy, serving on the USS Barbero (SS-317) during World War II. After the war, Holt joined the United World Federalists, an organization which advocated a single world government as a means of preventing nuclear war. Holt served as the executive director of the UWF’s New York branch until 1952. After leaving the UWF, Holt traveled in Europe for two years, moved to Colorado, and eventually settled in Boston, MA. Holt taught in private schools in Colorado and Massachusetts before renouncing the traditional education system and turning his focus to alternative education, home schooling, and youth rights. He published his first book, How Children Fail, in 1964, which was followed by How Children Learn in 1967. He went on to publish six other books on education, including What Do I Do Monday? (1970) and Instead of Education (1976), as well as Growing Without Schooling (1977-1985), the first American magazine about home schooling. In 1969, Holt founded a consulting firm for home schooling families, Holt Associates, Inc., of which he was president until his death. He was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, and lectured both nationally and internationally. Holt was an amateur musician and wrote about his experiences as a self-taught cellist in Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story (1979). In addition to education and music, Holt had a strong interest in politics, pacifism, the environment, agriculture, and technology. Holt died on September 14, 1985 in Boston.
24.00 Cubic Feet
Language of Materials
This collection documents John Holt’s work as an education reformer, particularly his pioneering work in alternative education, homeschooling, and youth rights. Holt published several books on education, among them How Children Fail (1964) and How Children Learn (1967), as well as the newsletter Growing Without Schooling, and much of the collection relates to these publications. Also included are Holt’s published articles, book reviews, and reviews of Holt’s work. In addition to his writing, the collection documents Holt’s personal appearances throughout the United States and Europe. The collection contains correspondence, articles, newspaper clippings, newsletters, and audio cassettes.
Arranged into six series:
Series 1: Correspondence
Series 2: Published and Unpublished Writings
Series 3: Personal Appearances and Publicity
Series 4: Subject Files
Series 5: Related Material
Series 6: Audio-Visual
This collection is stored off-site and will require additional time to review, retrieve, and make available in the reading room.
Method of Acquisition
Donationed to the Boston Public Library by Patrick Farenga in 2005.
Finding aid written by Jessica Holden, July 2011.
This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.
Statement on harmful description
Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.
- Alternative education Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Alternative schools Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Children's rights. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Domestic education. Subject Source: Local sources
- Education -- Parent participation. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Education -- Philosophy. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Education -- United States. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Education, Compulsory. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Education. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Educational change. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Educational innovations. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Holt, John Caldwell, 1923-1985.
- Home schooling. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Learning. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Non-formal education. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- John Holt Collection
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- 2023-05-25: Archivist Crystal Rodgers updated collection-level Conditions Governing Access note to include boilerplate note regarding unprocessed materials. Series I Conditions Governing Access note also updated to clarify how to know when a folder is restricted.