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.