Wednesday, 21 March 2007

On Rediscovering David Hawkins

In 1993, I had the honor of meeting David and Francis Hawkins in their home in Boulder Colorado. At the time, I was an undergraduate finishing my degree in environmental studies and investigating the connection between environmentalism and education. He and Francis were remarkably generous with their time and until recently I had no idea of their incredible achievements.

David was a true renaissance thinker. He served as Oppenheimers assistant during the Manhattan project and was the project's official historian (Download the PDF of his history). He also the Hawkins of the Hawkins-Simon condition a useful macroeconomic principle for evaluating the sustainability of economies. But I knew both of them primarily through their work in education.

Both David and Francis were deeply humanist in their approach. They had a confidence in the abilities of young children and dedicated teachers which is lacking in our standards and testing driven educational culture today.

I bring this up as I have started re-reading David's two collections of essays on education, The Roots of Literacy and The Informed Vision. The central themes of these works include the value of direct experience, an openess to new experience and the unexpected, and the value of allowing children to find meaning in their activities as the primary impetus to growth. In his essay 'The Roots of Literacy' he states "children can learn to read and write with committment and quality just in proportion as they are engaged with matters of importance to them, and about which at some point they wish to read and write."

Of course, our modern educational system doesn't exactly encourage students to engage with matters of importance to themselves. Instead, we have developed the conditions for a culture of boredom and ennui. From the article "About 30 percent of the students indicate they are bored due to lack of interaction with teachers and 75 percent report material being taught is not interesting."

The real tragedy is we know what the answer is. The Hawkins are among a great tradition of humanist educators. But our factory schools are unable to change.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

And then there are days...

And then there are days when you wonder why you bother...

I know this has been around for a while, but it's new (and funny) to me. It also reminds me of a quote from a recent interview with Alan Kay:

How much learning is a person willing to do to really learn how to use a computer? The answer, over the last 25 years of the commercialization of personal computing, is almost none. Nobody really wants to put in any amount of effort. The things that people have been willing to learn have tended to be like the media they grew up with, which have really simple user interfaces. (The big exception is video games.)
(via infocult)

A true willingness to learn requires a certain amount of playfulness, a willingness to make mistakes, seem ridiculous, deconstruct the center of your beliefs, and emerge out the other side changed. I think this is as true in general education as it is in learning to use a new technology.