Early Childhood Education

Hawkins, David (1913-2002) and Hawkins, Frances Pockman (1913—)


Philosopher, mathematician, historian, physicist, educator, essayist, David Hawkins was a man of many talents. Together with his wife, Frances P. Hawkins, an early childhood teacher and writer, he made many contributions to the fields of early childhood and elementary education. David studied philosophy, physics, and mathematics, and earned a Ph.D. in probability theory at University of California in Berkeley. For most of his career, he was a professor of philosophy, science, and mathematics. He served on the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder for thirty-five years. While at Boulder and in forays elsewhere, he frequently turned his attention to the education of children and teachers. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including a MacArthur Award in 1986 for his work in philosophy and childhood science education.

Frances P. Hawkins studied education at San Francisco State College. She taught kindergarten and preschool classes for many years, with children of diverse economic and cultural backgrounds in a range of settings. A thoughtful and passionate observer of young children in action, Frances wrote articles and two books about her experiences as a teacher.

During the early 1960s, David worked on a curriculum development and science education reform project called the Elementary Science Study (ESS) in Watertown, Massachusetts. Frances accompanied him as a consultant to this project while also helping start a kindergarten in the South End of Boston, at that time a very poor section of the city. The ESS project drew together a diverse and talented group of scientists, university educators and classroom teachers (including, among others, Jerrold Zacharias, Philip Morrison, and Eleanor Duckworth), who came together to create science education materials for the young.

The idea that guided the ESS project was the notion that children could actually do science, that science was a matter of inquiry and investigation in which children could meaningfully participate. Influenced by the ideas of John Dewey and the work of Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and others, the ESS group created materials that were innovative in their time for their focus on investigation and inquiry in the immediate contexts of daily life. With titles like “Peas and Particles” and “Kitchen Physics,” ESS brought real science and scientific method, observation, inquiry, exploration, and analysis into the everyday environments of children and teachers. The science curriculum plans and activities were notable also for their playful, interdisciplinary approaches that built on and fostered an exploratory approach to learning with materials designed to engage children’s curiosity across a range of subject matters. Children were seen as capable investigators rather than as recipients of rote knowledge. Although the ESS units have not been in print since the 1980s, the work served as a foundation for decades of curriculum development materials in science and other disciplines, and its perspectives continue to be valued among some constituencies in ongoing debates about curriculum and instruction for the young.

ESS took place during a fertile and optimistic time in education not only in the United States but elsewhere. David and Frances served as consultants to related curriculum reform initiatives in science education in schools in Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, and in schools supporting inquiry-oriented learning for children in Leicestershire, England.

In the 1970s, David and Frances founded and directed a center at the University of Colorado for the professional development of teachers, The Mountain View Center for Environmental Education. This Center provided workshops and advanced learning experiences for teachers of elementary and preschool children, and for sixteen years published a journal, Outlook (1970-1986), notable for its inclusion of the voices of teachers writing about teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Later Frances and David also visited the preprimary programs of Reggio Emilia, Italy, where David became friendly with Loris Malaguzzi. Malaguzzi references Hawkins as a source of his understandings about teaching and learning (in Edwards, Gandini, and Forman, 1998, pp. 78, 86).

Both David and Frances wrote extensively. Frances’ first book, The Logic of Action (1969, 1986), vividly recounts her learning encounters with six deaf children. Her second book, Journey with Children (1997) is her memoir about her lifelong work and dedication to the education of young children.

David wrote numerous essays about teaching and learning. Collected in several volumes (Hawkins, 1974, 2000), the essays are rich with insights about the human capacity to learn. Among the most famous, “I, Thou andIt”(1967, 1974) addresses the relationship between teacher and learner and also of a third entity in this triangular relationship, the “it” of the content of learning, in which the teacher- learner relationship is focused and defined. Resonant with sociocultural theory, the essay eloquently communicates the importance of subject matter as a defining context for the teacher-child relationship. In “Messing About in Science” (1965, 1974) David was an early proponent of the value of free play as a significant element of scientific exploration. Deeply committed to the value of exploration in learning, Hawkins said of curriculum development, “You don’t want to cover a subject; you want to uncover it” (quoted in Duckworth, 1987, p. 7).

In addition to their work in education, David and Frances were both lifelong peace activists. David served as historian to the Manhattan project in 1945-1946, but turned away from its focus on weaponry. Both Frances and David were called upon to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1950, during its anti-Communist investigations. Both refused to name any names of people they had known to be Communists unless these names had already been cited by the committee (New York Times, March 4, 2002).

Frances’ activist stance was also embedded in her teaching and throughout her writing, as she eloquently fought for the opportunities that teachers have to make a difference in the lives of young children whom society has rejected or neglected. In “the Eye of the Beholder” (1979), for example, Frances addresses the failure of schools and society to adequately serve children with special needs. At the root of her approach as a teacher is her affirmation that “within the child, within the classroom, and within myself, seen altogether, there exists the potential and promise of new growth and development” (pp. 11-12).

Throughout their careers, and grounded in their experiences, both David and Frances Hawkins retained their hope for what schools can provide. They maintained their belief in the role that thoughtful teaching can play in the lives of children when combined with observation, inquiry, curiosity about children and subject matter, and, especially, joy. See also Curriculum, Science; Preschool/Prekindergarten Programs.

Further Readings: Duckworth, E. (1987). “The having of wonderful ideas" and other essays on teaching and learning. New York: Teachers College Press; Hawkins, D. (2000). The roots of literacy. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado; Hawkins, D. (1974). The informed vision: Essays on learning and human nature. New York: Agathon Press; Hawkins, F. P. L. (1997). Journey with children: The autobiography of a teacher. Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado; Hawkins, F. P. (1979). The eye of the beholder. In S. J. Meisels ed. Special education and development perspectives on young children with special needs. Baltimore, MD: University Park Press, pp. 11-31; Hawkins, F. P. (1969, 1986) The logic of action: Young children at work. New York: Pantheon Press; Lehman-Haupt, C. (March 4, 2002). David Hawkins, Manhattan Project historian, dies at 88 [Obituary]. New York Times; Malaguzzi, L. (1998) History, ideas, and basic philosophy: An interview with Lella Gandini. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, and G. Forman, eds. The hundred languages of children—Advanced reflections. 2nd ed. Greenwich, CT: Ablex Publishing Corporation, pp. 49-99.

Mary Eisenberg