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Homeschooling Pioneer and Mendocino County Supervisor J. David Colfax, Dead At 87

J. David Colfax, a key early figure in the homeschooling movement, died at his home in Boonville earlier this month. After leaving academia to homestead a rugged ridge top in northern California, he and his wife Micki made the then radical decision to homeschool their four boys until they were college age. Off the grid with no power, water, or facilities, they built their home from scratch and established a self-sufficient farm. Their unorthodox approach to homeschooling focused on learning from the daily activities necessary to create a working farm, from pouring a house foundation by hand to butchering a goat. Three of the boys attended Harvard College despite having no formal schooling. He and Micki published two books detailing their experiences and methods, Homeschooling for Excellence and Hard Times In Paradise. Both are canons of the homeschooling movement.

John David Colfax was born May 13, 1936, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Growing up near the steel mills, he earned $.90/hour working the open hearth before being the first in his family to attend college. Graduating from Penn State University in 1958, he received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 1964. He married Mary-Alice (Micki) Nash in 1959 and they initially embarked on a conventional academic career trajectory. But as the war in Vietnam escalated, David rallied to his students’ side at the University of Connecticut as they challenged the draft, leading to multiple arrests for anti-war protests. 

Beloved by his students, his increasingly public political activism led to threats to his family and ultimately resulted in his being fired by the University. The family moved to St. Louis in 1969, but David remained active in the anti-war movement as an associate professor at Washington University. After again being denied tenure, he and Micki left academia for a 50-acre parcel outside of Boonville. They focused on hard work and creating a self-sufficient family.

After his children left for college, he served as a Mendocino County supervisor for three successive terms. A staunch leftist, he advocated for environmental causes and was a reliable vote against development and deforestation. Equal parts raconteur and activist, he spent his life fighting for the underdog. He is survived by Micki Colfax, his wife of 64 years, his sister, Margie Pekala, his four sons–Grant, Drew, Reed, and Garth–and nine grandchildren. 

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Anderson Valley Housing Association, PO Box 341, Philo CA 95466. A celebration of his life is planned for the spring of 2024.


  1. Jennie Moore I work at Lemons November 30, 2023

    So sorry for your loss .Prayers to you all

  2. Phillip Crist November 30, 2023

    A good man gone, RIP David.

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