“There is a time, much greater in amount than commonly allowed, which should be devoted to free and unguided exploratory work.” - David Hawkins
A personal reflection from Marion Emmanuel who, after several years of research at NCAR, and because of a sincere interest in how children learn, became part of a CU college level program influenced by the teachings of David Hawkins and the Socratic approach to education.
The interview for this position consisted of one question. "What caused the fall of the Roman Empire?" I was dumbstruck. What did this have to do with teaching science I wondered. When I acknowledged that I had no idea because I had never thought of it, the interviewer looked at me and said I was hired. This is the part that struck me. I had been asked to teach an undergrad astronomy class to non-science majors who needed to fulfill a science requirement for graduation. I had never studied nor taught astronomy. What would I do in a class where there were few or no instructions? What would I do if the students, and their parents who footed the bill for education, realized I did not have the experience that was deemed necessary to hold this position? Would this create chaos? Or is the only reason we do not know about something because we have not given the subject matter any thought or experienced it. This must be where the real learning takes place.
How does one encourage young minds to think about something? Place them in an environment where young people can investigate and think about things without outside interference. The environment is created and then the exploration of what is there is left to the students. It was this unguided part that really struck me. The self assurance that comes from personal investigation and time to think about things.
I had taught Physics at Boston University and at Wheaton College. Some of these older students would say, “Well, I am not certain what this lab and equipment is about. Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.” I realized that the effort to free up thinking had to be made at younger and younger ages. Teaching in high school, I found the same attitudes.
As a volunteer, I continued progressing backwards until I realized success was easiest during the pre-school and elementary ages when children were so inquisitive on their own. They would benefit from this time, this unguided time. It was and is during their free time that their powers of observation and creativity in thinking really come out.
As for the CU students, the environment was created for them. The first class session looked like lab tables with "a pile of junk" on them. But this pile of junk had been carefully selected to help them learn about some basic concepts in Astronomy as they worked together in finding out what to do with light sources, various objects which blocked or transmitted light, etc. "Did you see the colors in that shadow? How is that possible?" As time in this course progressed, the questions became more and more complex. The realization that non-science majors in business, and liberal arts classes could "do" science gave them a feeling of accomplishment. In fact, I was not allowed to tell them that I had no clue about astronomy until the end of the course. During the course, I didn't answer their questions directly, because I didn’t know either. We had to explore and learn together. At the end of the class, when I told them of my lack of experience, they refused to believe that this was my first attempt at astronomy too. Teachers, parents, students...we are all learning together and from one another.
You know, at the end of all the exploration, I had learned so much and they had as well. I felt my initial concerns about this class had been eradicated. The process had been justified, really justified. Prior to the August Commencement, sitting in the audience at the Shakespeare Festival, one of the students came up to me to inform me that he would graduate in August and said, “Thank you. In four years, this was the only class that asked me to think critically. To think for myself.”
Isn't this really what true education is about? Isn't this what we really want for our children? For all children?
During last week's Grandparent Luncheon at Boulder Journey School, one guest shared with her granddaughter's classroom teacher that she had been a colleague of David Hawkins. We were put in touch, and Marion (Yia-Yia) Emmanuelle shared the following reflection:
Hawkins Centers of Learning
Hawkins Centers of Learning (HCoL), a 501C3 chartered in 2005, serves the educational community by preserving, articulating, and translating into practice the ideas of Frances and David Hawkins.