Hymes, James L., Jr. (1913-1998) - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

Hymes, James L., Jr. (1913-1998)


James L. Hymes Jr. was an avowed developmentalist committed to addressing children’s social, emotional, and physical needs as a means of enhancing children’s cognitive growth. Hymes believed that healthy socioemotional relationships with children were the starting point for effective education and constructive social change. James Lee Hymes, Jr., was born August 3, 1913, and grew up in New York City. After graduating from Harvard University in 1934, he subsequently earned his Master’s and Doctorate in Child Development and Parent Education from Teachers College, Columbia University in 1936 and 1946, respectively. In 1936, he was Assistant State Supervisor of the Works Progress Association Nursery Schools in New York under Ruth Andrus (Hymes Personal Papers). He then worked as Assistant Executive Secretary for the Progressive Education Association (1937) and later as editor of Progressive Education (1940-1942) and Frontiers of Democracy.

As World War II escalated, the need for child care for the children of working mothers increased. Shipyard owner Edgar Kaiser hired Hymes as Director for two 24-hour child-care facilities in Portland, Oregon. The Kaiser Child Service Centers opened in November 1943 and were groundbreakers on several fronts. The Centers had quality indoor and outdoor play equipment and all teachers were degreed. An on-staff nutritionist developed meals and snacks and shipyard medical staff administered immunizations. Hymes collaborated with former Teachers College Professor Lois Meek Stolz to lead the Centers and much of his future philosophy sprung from his Kaiser experience. After the war, Hymes worked with Caroline Zachry and Lawrence Frank at the Caroline Zachry Institute of Human Development in New York City. Hymes’ work was to develop a means of sensitizing teachers to the emotional needs of children entering schools.

Hymes wrote A Pound of Prevention and not only used the pamphlet for his doctoral dissertation but also founded with it the simplistic writing style that became his hallmark. Hymes continued to write prolifically over the years, producing How to Tell Your Child About Sex (1949), Being a Good Parent (1949), Teacher Listen, the Children Speak (1949), Understanding Your Child (1952), Effective Home-School Relations (1953), Behavior and Misbehavior (1955), and A Child Development Point of View (1955).

Hymes held several organizational posts, serving as Vice-President representing Nursery Schools for the Association for Childhood Education (now the Association for Childhood Education International [ACEI]) from 1949 to 1951 and working to establish the Southern Association for Children Under Six (now the Southern Early Childhood Association [SECA]). He served as the President of the National Association for Nursery Education (now the National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC]) from 1945 to 1947 and buoyed the association at its nadir, the postwar years. Beginning in 1946, Hymes held three different university posts as Professor of Early Childhood Education: New Paltz State Teachers College (1946-1949), George Peabody College for Teachers (1949-1957), and the University of Maryland (1957-1970). Students noted Hymes for his informal yet challenging and inviting teaching style. During his time at Maryland, Hymes took a six-month leave to serve on the National Planning Committee for President Johnson’s War on Poverty program, Head Start. Hymes and D. Keith Osborn were the only two early childhood professionals on the National Planning Committee. Both emphasized educational goals and teacher training for those preparing to teach in Head Start. Through Hymes’ persistence, a teacher-to-child ratio of one teacher to fifteen children was additionally secured. Upon his return to the University of Maryland, Hymes became increasingly frustrated with the diminishing emphasis upon children’s total development. He retired early, began speaking and writing full-time, and opened Hacienda Press in Carmel, California. His popular works written after 1970 include Early Childhood Education: Living History Interviews (1978, 1979) and Early Childhood Education: Twenty Years in Review (1991). Hymes died March 6, 1998.

Further Readings: Anderson, Charlotte Jean (2003). Contributions of James Lee Hymes, Jr., to the field of early childhood education. Doctoral dissertation. Austin, TX: The University of Texas; Graham, Patricia Albjerg (1967). Progressive education: From arcady to academe, a history of the progressive education association, 1919-1955. New York: Teachers College Press; Hymes, James L., Jr. (1979). Early childhood education: Living history interviews Book 3. Carmel, CA: Hacienda Press; James L. Hymes, Jr., Personal Papers. Talking Over Old Times-Up to 1976. Unpublished manuscript. Pasadena, CA: Pacific Oaks College.

Charlotte Anderson