Frances and David Hawkins
Frances and David Hawkins were a husband and wife team of teacher and educational philosopher, whose work transcends time and place. She was a teacher, deeply observant of children’s learning processes. He drew upon her observations and writing to develop a philosophy of education, ranging from the specifics of the adult/child learning relationship to the higher domains of public education policy. Together, their writings informed a generation of education professionals, and programs, worldwide.
The ways children learn have not changed since Frances and David wrote during the latter half of the 20th century. Because their teaching approaches and theories are independent of transient technologies, they remain as cogent and universally applicable today as when they were written.
Frances’ close observations and myriad creative interactions with her elementary-age students were expressed both in her own writing, and in David’s. Her first book, The Logic of Action, describes work with four year-old deaf children, in which she and her students learned and communicated through actions, rather than words. Her later book, Journey With Children, recounts experience in schools worldwide, often with underserved populations. Frances processed the day-to-day experiences of the classroom teacher through her penetrating insight and fierce commitment to the children and their learning.
David began his career as a scientist and philosopher. Following his position as official historian of the Manhattan Project, (which developed the atomic bomb), he became extremely concerned with the forces that scientists had unleashed, and turned to education as a means of humanizing society. Among his intentions was to provide a framework in which children could develop sustained curiosity and excitement about nature and science.
David based much of his writing on a few central tenets: that children learn most deeply when they are following their natural curiosities; that teachers are best able to engage in the child’s curiosity-based learning when they too have engaged in like experiences; that children are naturally prepared for early science and math learning regardless of social class advantages, and that early literacy in science and math is the gateway both to most other subjects, and to an ethic of lifelong learning. His works are passionate proposals for curiosity-based learning, how adults can engage in it with children, and why educational systems should support it.
While David was a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado Boulder, he and Frances founded the Mountain View Center for Environmental Education. It was a combination think-tank and hands-on workshop center for children and teachers.
Mountain View Center projects involving children were unscripted explorations of materials and surroundings. These projects did not follow predetermined curricula or textbooks. For example, “The Pond Study,” (of Varsity pond on the CU Boulder campus) found elementary-aged children exploring map-making, hydrodynamics, pond life, and many other subjects. By following aspects of the pond that interested them, the children investigated a breadth of areas that never could have been captured in one textbook or curriculum. Their deep engagement in the many areas of study drew close collaborations from the teachers involved.
Frances and David prepared teachers to engage meaningfully in projects such as The Pond Study by offering them unscripted learning explorations too. They reasoned that these experiences would encourage teachers to think outside the prescribed curricula that their profession often demanded they follow.
The Mountain View Center also produced OUTLOOK magazine, which was a forum for those working in the Center and for the many influenced by its work. OUTLOOK, received this praise from Jay Featherstone, “Our nomination for the most literate (as well as eclectic) journal in the history of education.”
David drew from his work at the Mountain View Center for his influential 1973 book, The Informed Vision. Here, he presented theories, such as “I, Thou, It,” “Eolithism,” and “Messing About” that attracted attention internationally. Loris Malaguzzi, architect of the world-renowned schools for young children in Reggio Emilia, Italy, deemed The Informed Vision essential reading for all teachers.
David’s second book, The Roots of Literacy was released in 2000, at the dawn of the current textbook, curriculum, and test-driven educational policies that are the antithesis of David’s work. Less influential than his earlier book, it contains passionate and relevant concepts that are timeless and applicable today.
Hawkins, D. (1974). The Informed Vision. NY, NY: Agathon Press, Inc.
Hawkins, D. (2000). The Roots of Literacy. Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado
Hawkins, F. P. (1969). The Logic of Action. NY, NY: Pantheon Books
Hawkins, F. P. (1997). Journey With Children: The Autobiography of a Teacher. Niwot, Colorado: University Press of Colorado
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Featherstone, H. and J. (2002). The word I would use is aesthetic: Reading David Hawkins. For the Learning of Mathematics. V22, N.2, 24-7.