Advocacy for Learning

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail." —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Weapons of Mass Instruction

I've added this speech by John Taylor Gatto because it is, like all of John's work, an impassioned and intelligent contrarian presentation of modern education. In particular, this speech shows how people can be the architects of their lives without manipulation by education systems and why this is desirable.

John's work as a classroom teacher, like John Holt's work in the classroom, forced him to question what he was doing because he realized the more he taught, the less the children learned. When John Gatto learned to approach each child's education as a unique endeavor rather than as standard school operating procedure, he also gained an appreciation for the role of the family, community, and homeschooling that he did not have earlier in his teaching career.

John and I first met in 1991 when he was thinking about quitting school after being named New York State Teacher of the Year; his acceptance speech for that award concluded with a statement that educators should be studying homeschooling to understand how education needs to be changed (you can read that speech, The Psychopathic School, in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling ). A mutual friend put us in touch, and John and I have been friends, and worked together, ever since. Of course, John Gatto did quit teaching and went on to write several controversial books (The Underground History of American Education: A School Teacher's Intimate Investigation Into the Problem of Modern Schooling ), and his support for homeschooling, unschooling, and self-directed learning of all sorts has never wavered.

In 2005 I put on The Learning In Our Own Way conference, with John Gatto and Dr. Thomas Armstrong as my keynote presenters. John Gatto's speech, Weapons of Mass Destruction, made its debut at the conference (or so John says; I suspect he was using bits of it in other talks) and it later became the basis and title for his book Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling ).






Holt Associates has always supported not just unschooling and homeschooling, but authentic learning for children in school as well. Our books, articles, and materials also featured teachers, schools, or learning centers that emphasize self-directed learning and group activities that are not common in school. Here is a sampling of our work where we promote homeschooling/unschooling and the competency of children to learn on their own—with help from concerned, respectful adults.

John Holt often helped bring back into print books that he felt were important works about children, learning, and society, a practice we continued after his death. John was directly or indirectly responsible for bringing these titles back into print:

The Biography of a Baby by Millicent Shinn (The first title in "The Classics in Human Development" series).

The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff (The second title in "The Classics in Human Development" series).

The Changing Nature of Man by J.H. van den Berg

The Lives of Children by George Dennison (See Susannah Sheffer's "Innovators in Education" series below)

My Country School Diary by Julia Weber Gordon (Unfortunately this has not been reprinted, but the version with John Holt's fascinating introduction is available for free download from Arvind Gupta.)


We Have to Call It School

In 1974 John Holt produced a movie, We Have to Call It School, written and directed by Peggy Hughes, about the Ny Lille Skole, a Danish free school. The Danish school system allows families and teachers to create their own local schools, so, as one researcher notes, "in Denmark parents and children do not see themselves as customers shopping around for the best deal, but rather as partners in the education process." In the late 80s we transferred the 35mm film to video. Someone transferred the film to YouTube, but I do not know the details.

Media and Public Relations for Homeschooling/Unschooling

In addition to putting on conferences at Holt/GWS for many years, Holt Associates were speakers at homeschooling conferences throughout the United States and around the world. However, Pat and Susannah, in particular, also address educators, professional organizations, television, radio, and Internet audiences on a variety of topics connected to John Holt and unschooling. Here are some highlights of their work in this area.

Patrick Farenga

Books, articles, and public appearances:

Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling (Perseus, 2003)

Wrote the entries about homeschooling in The Encyclopedia of School Administration (Onyx, 1988), The International Encyclopedia of Education (Elsevier, 2010), and Encyclopedia Britannica (forthcoming, 2011).

"We need more than 'democracy education' to make school meaningful to students" (2011) Encounter Magazine.

Featured in the film, The War on Kids (2010).

Presented keynote address, "The Challenges Homeschooling Presents to Social Science Research," at Universidad Nacional, Bogota, Colombia (2009).

Farenga's "Teach Your Own" teenage workshop featured in the Boston Globe Magazine (2003).

Presented "Homeschooling: Learning as Living" to Nova Spes, Rome, Italy, (1999).

Addressed the UK-based conference "Home Education for the Year 2000 Onwards" in London (1999).

Presented speech about homeschooling at Pennsylvania State University's Conference, "Education and Technology: Asking the Right Questions" (1997).

Presented "Libraries and Homeschoolers: A Practical Partnership" at the American Library Association (1993).

Presented "How To Get An Education at Home" at Carnegie Hall, NY for John Taylor Gatto's program, The Exhausted School (1991).

Articles by Farenga about John Holt, learning, schooling, and children have appeared in Paths of Learning Magazine, Encounter Magazine, Mothering magazine, Home Education Magazine, and other publications.

Television and radio appearances include The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fox and Friends, The Voice of America, NPR's The Merrow Report, Fox Across America, Geraldo-At-Large, and CNN's Parenting Today. Below is a TV interview Pat did with The Christian Science Monitor.


John Taylor Gatto's The Exhausted School: The First National Grassroots Speakout On The Right To School Choice, held at Carnegie Hall, New York City, October 1991.

Photos below: Backstage at Carnegie Hall. Photo below left, from left to right: Pat Farenga, Dan Greenberg (Sudbury Valley School), Dave Lehman (Ithaca Alternative Community School). Photo below right, from left to right: Pasquale and Kay Farenga, John Taylor Gatto, Pat Farenga.



Susannah Sheffer







































Books and Articles:

A Life Worth Living: Selected Letters of John Holt (Ohio State Univ. Press, 1990) Buy now

Here is Susannah's introduction to this book, a concise summary of Holt's life and work.

Writing Because We Love to: Homeschoolers at Work (Heinemann, 1992) Buy now

A Sense of Self: Listening to Homeschooled Adolescent Girls (Heinemann, 1995). Buy now The Harvard Educational Review of this book is here.

Susannah was also instrumental in creating and editing Heinemann's Innovators In Education series, which brought back to print books that are both historically significant and that speak directly to toady's education concerns. The books in this series are:

The Naked Children by Daniel Fader Buy now

How To Survive in Your Native Land by James Herndon Buy now

The Lives of Children by George Dennison Buy now

The Way It Spozed To Be by James Herndon Buy now

The Question is College by Herb Kohl Buy now

Reading, How To by Herb Kohl Buy now

Uptaught by Ken Macrorie Buy now

What Do I Do Monday? by John Holt

Freedom and Beyond by John Holt


Among Susannah's articles are:

"Helping Children Learn" a review of Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder in The Progressive (1990)

The homeschooling chapter in the textbook Continuing Issues in Early Childhood Education (1990)

"These 'home schoolers' just might be able to teach your board a thing or two" in The American School Board Journal (1989)

Susannah currently works part-time on the staff of North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens in Hadley, MA.


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