Contributions of James Lee Hymes, Jr., to the field of early childhood education

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2003-08

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This work follows the life, career, and contributions to early childhood education of James Lee Hymes, Jr., 1913-1998. Born in the Bronx, New York City, Hymes attended Harvard University and Teachers College, Columbia University. His subsequent work with the Works Progress Administration nurseries and the Progressive Education Association during the 1930s along with his brief but highly significant experience with the Kaiser Child Service Centers during World War II forged his educational philosophy. Hymes’ postwar career consisted of three professorships at the institutions State Teachers College, New Paltz, New York (1946-1949), George Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee (1949-1957), and the University of Maryland, Bethesda, Maryland from 1957-1970. Additionally, Hymes served as President of the National Association for Nursery Education (1945-1947), now the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and served on the original thirteen-member Planning Committee for Head Start in 1965. Hymes’ prolific writing and effective speaking manner were cornerstones of his career. Reasons for the prominence of his books and for his popularity as a speaker include his strong interrelational skills, personal intelligence, and keen sense of humor. Hymes also exerted a unique influence upon his students during his time as instructor at New Paltz, at George Peabody College, and at the University of Maryland. In order to assess some of the reasons for Hymes’ effectiveness, personal interviews were conducted with over fifty of his former students and colleagues. Interviews reveal that Hymes’ teaching methodology was clear and memorable and that his intense dedication to the field of early childhood education was lived out through his interactions with other professionals in ways that not only instructed but inspired. Throughout his career, Hymes strongly held to his original educational philosophy of child development. Known as the child development point of view, this theory postulated that curriculum should always suit the child’s current developmental abilities and immediate capabilities. Respecting the process of growth, whether physical, intellectual, social, or emotional, was of utmost importance, and growth was never to be rushed. Hymes was fully committed to the nurturance of ‘the whole child’ through attendance to emotional, social, and intellectual needs. For Hymes, making school a ‘friend’ of the child by respecting and giving ample berth for the processes of growth as well as attending to all domains of the whole person were methods by which the child could have the highest quality school experience. Furthermore, such an approach served as prevention against moral and social ills as it nurtured healthy future citizens. Attention to all that affected the child and a sensitive teaching approach fostered moral values and, more broadly, enabled democracy to stand firm for succeeding generations.1 Curricular emphases turned to more cognitively oriented issues during the postwar years, but Hymes remained devoted to his developmentalist viewpoint. Hymes disregarded much of what came into vogue educationally during the latter half of the twentieth century, thus causing his status as a scholar to lessen. Despite the fact that his work remained in the developmentalist camp during the years of increased attention to cognition, however, his popularity escalated and he continued as a coveted and much sought-after speaker and visiting professor during the 1970s and 1980s. Each chapter of this work covers a distinct portion of Hymes’ life. Chapter One surveys his growing up years through his college days at Harvard. Chapter Two reviews the onset of his vocational educational career starting with his continued years of study at Teachers College, Columbia University where he earned his Masters degree in child development and parent education. Chapter Two includes his work with the Works Progress Administration nurseries and his time with the popular Progressive Education Association. Chapter Three is a detailed account of his very significant time spent in Portland, Oregon working with mentor Lois Meek Stolz at the Kaiser Child Service Centers during World War II. Chapter Four covers his doctoral work at Teachers College

1 Evelyn Weber, Ideas Influencing Early Childhood Education, A Theoretical Analysis (New York: Teachers College Press, 1984), p. 142-148. that surged forth his writing career when he produced A Pound of Prevention: How Teachers Can Meet the Emotional Needs of Young Children as his doctoral dissertation under the direction of Lawrence Kelso Frank at the Caroline Zachry Institute of New York. Hymes’ Presidency of the flagging National Association for Nursery Education, present-day National Association for the Education of Young Children, and his work to fortify that Association is included in Chapter Four. Chapter Five analyzes his agonies and ecstasies with university life at all three institutions; portions of his popular literature are reviewed. Chapter Six explores the creative works of his retirement years including experimentation with the use of media, his continual speaking and visiting professor engagements, and the last of his writings. The prologue establishes the stage for Hymes’ entrance into the field of child development as it flourished over the first thirty years of the twentieth century. The epilogue examines Hymes’ practices and philosophy in order to evidence ways that we as professionals can influence educators for the cause of improved educational opportunities for children of all ages and reflects upon ways in which his practices can be practically implemented today. Methodology and Sources Sources used for the study include archives, dissertations, fifty-six original oral history interviews conducted in person, via telephone, or via mail, monographs, periodical literature, written correspondence, and electronic mail messages.

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