Founded in 1977 by John Holt, Growing Without Schooling (GWS) was the first magazine published about homeschooling, unschooling, and learning outside of school. After 24 years of continuous publication, GWS closed in 2001.
As you can see, John packed every inch of each page with information, reflecting his fondness for low-cost publishing and distribution techniques. Of course, this was also a matter of survival since homeschooling was not widely known in the late seventies and self-publishing was not nearly as sophisticated then as it is now with personal computers. One can see how GWS grew and changed over the years since John died, and how our attempts to increase circulation, subscriptions, and awareness worked or failed. Our book catalog and publications, speaking engagements, and consulting work all contributed to keep GWS afloat.
However, the Internet's free information and support undercut the paid subscription model for GWS; big box bookstores and Amazon made many independent booksellers and publishers, such as Holt Associates, close; and, as unschooling grew in numbers, fractures among unschoolers became more pronounced—some felt GWS was becoming "too organized" (as one former subscriber informed me). All these factors, plus the personal toll of making a payroll and running a small business made GWS difficult for us to keep operating (unlike many home- and unschooling businesses, Holt Associates was never owned and operated by a single family or funded by any educational, corporate, or religious interests) .
I hope you will be inspired to help children learn in their own ways by reading these issues, as thousands of people over the past 34 years have been inspired. Rather than listen to experts tell you what unschooling is and how you must do it, I hope you will read these articles, read John Holt's books, books and other materials that we published or recommended through John Holt's Bookstore Catalog (you'll see the catalog bound into many of the issues and many of them are available for free here on the site), and the many new books, videos, and websites that now exist for unschooling so you can make unschooling work for you and your family in YOUR own way.
John Holt founded, edited, and published the first eight years of Growing Without Schooling magazine, but it is through the effort and commitment of its subsequent editors—Donna Richoux, Susannah Sheffer, and Meredith Collins—that GWS grew and thrived for sixteen years after Holt's death. Though I was president and publisher during that time, it was Donna, Susannah, and Meredith who shaped each issue, corresponded and worked with all the writers to GWS, and made sure the content not only stayed true to Holt's vision of what GWS should be, but also expanded this vision and complemented it with books, research, and interviews with many thinkers and doers both in and out of school. GWS couldn't exist without all the readers who shared their stories; but behind this, it couldn't exist without the work and dedication of its editors.
—Pat Farenga, Publisher
Donna Richoux was responsible for getting GWS to be printed on a regular schedule, which was no small feat given John's easy-going original publishing schedule. I don't know how we would have continued publishing and growing if Donna hadn't been there to help us negotiate the considerable changes to HoltGWS after John died.
Susannah Sheffer deserves special kudos not only for being the longest-serving editor of GWS (she edited more than twice as many issues of GWS as John did), but also for her creation of publications from GWS stories (see GWS Materials) and her amazing books about John Holt and homeschooling:
A Life Worth Living: Selected Letters of John Holt (Ohio State Univ. Press, 1991)
Writing Because We Love To: Homeschoolers at Work (Heinemann, 1992)
A Sense of Self: Listening to Homeschooled Adolescent Girls (Heinemann, 1995)
In the years since GWS's closing, Susannah has gotten involved in other kinds of work, while also continuing her commitment to John Holt's vision by working part-time at North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, a program that helps make a lot of the benefits of homeschooling available to teenagers who probably wouldn't otherwise choose it. In all her endeavors, Susannah still does a lot of writing, editing, and listening to people's stories.
Meredith Collins edited several issues before we had to cease publication, and she came on-board knowing the risk she was taking. Meredith learned a demanding job and continued to produce high-quality and provocative issues during a particularly stressful time for Holt Associates and her grace under pressure is incredible. Meredith continues to support children and families in pursuit of joyful authentic learning – as a coach and consultant in Portland, Maine, and with her blog. Meredith is currently at work on a book about a paradigm shift in education which would allow all young lives to be shaped by individual potential and capacity (rather than only by the priorities of traditional academic ideology).
Aaron Falbel and Elsa Haas, two Holt Associates who worked tirelessly behind the scenes at GWS, deserve mention here, too. Aaron proofread each issue of GWS for many years, catching errors and commenting wisely on a wide number of topics. He also helped us in a variety of roles at conferences and in the office and his presence made our work better and more enjoyable (especially when he brought in his latest baking efforts).
Elsa, after working with us at Holt, moved to Spain and decided to help the nascent Spanish homeschooling movement grow by translating GWS into Spanish (Aprender Sin Escuela), networking with interested people, and offering her smart observations about homeschooling to her Spanish friends. Elsa continues to be active in homeschooling in New York state.