I, Thou, It – THOU

This is the third in a series on frameworks. The introduction to I-Thou-It is here. The post on IT is here.

“Without a Thou, there is no I evolving. Without an It there is no context, no figure and no heat, but only an affair of mirrors confronting each other.” David Hawkins http://hawkinscenters.org/exhibitmu/i-thou-it

Me  Myself   I, You  You guys  ThouThe Syllabus  The Material  It

I wonder if Hawkins did some preliminary brainstorming to figure out just the right combination of words for his I-Thou-It concept. Did he think about the connotations of each word before putting them together? I would be very surprised if he didn’t.

One reason that I like “I, Thou, It” is because Hawkins chose to use the word “Thou.” Unless we’re singing hymns in church or watching a Shakespeare play, we don’t really come across “Thou” very often these days. For me it is a word that has some important connotations for teachers.

Thou = respect

“Thou” is a word that implies that you view the other person with dignity and respect. The teacher does not look down on any student, but respects each student for who he or she is. Every student is a human being with a unique combination of skills, abilities, and the potential to learn.

Thou = unconditional positive regard

“Thou” implies an attitude of accepting the students where they are on their language learning journeys and supporting them as they work to reach their goals. They are doing the best they can and if they need second or third or fourth chances, then that’s all right.

Thou = love

Is it too risky to use this word? Love in this sense is a verb. It’s when the teacher is always working for the good of the students in his class. It’s when he meets the students where they are at and helps them make connections between what they already know and what they need to learn. It’s when he works to create a secure environment where mistakes are not failures, but “portals of discovery”.*

Thou is a wonderful word that represents a much healthier way to think of the teacher – student relationship than one that seems all too common – Us vs. Them.


* “portals of discovery” is a cool way to think of mistakes. I discovered it in Peter Buffett’s book Life is What You Make It.

I, Thou, It — IT

This is the second in a series on frameworks. The introduction to I-Thou-It is here.

I, Thou, and It – a three-way relationship in which “I and Thou” are the people (often a teacher and child, though not always) and “It” is the content that compels both.     http://hawkinscenters.org/exhibitmu/i-thou-it

A lot of what I’m doing in this blog is thinking through beliefs that I’ve held for a long time and ideas that I may not have challenged for awhile, if ever. This process of clarification means that I might write something this week that contradicts what I posted last week (or will post some time in the future). I don’t have all the answers but I will be honest about what I believe and think.

A couple of things struck me as I read about David Hawkins’ philosophy on the Hawkins Centers of Learning website linked above. I used to think of the “It” as simply the subject matter that the teacher and students come together to focus on. In that case the subject in the model could easily be switched with any other subject. But I-Thou-It isn’t a model for the efficient delivery of content. Instead it is a framework that sees education as exploring a common interest or passion. The last part of the quote above says, “…”It” is the content that compels them both.”

So the content is something that is compelling to both students and the teacher. In such wonderful classes the teachers have a keen interest in their subject and the students are intrinsically motivated to learn that subject.

At this point some teachers might be thinking that this framework has nothing to offer them because their students are unmotivated or their curriculum is prescribed and not compelling to either them or their students.

It seems that most models for teaching describe the ideal situation – in this case teachers and students who come together to study something that’s compelling and that they love. Not all of us teach in those ideal circumstances. No matter the circumstances, I believe it is the teacher’s responsibility to help students make connections between their own lives and interests and the content of the course. It is the teacher’s responsibility to help their students overcome less than ideal situations. But that doesn’t have to mean that the teacher doesn’t have the opportunity to be a reflective teacher.

Carol Rodgers offers an expanded way to think of the “It” from the teacher’s point of view.

Whatever the circumstances, with motivated or unmotivated students, with prescribed curriculum or lessons based on dogme principles, there is always something for the teacher to do. We need to thoroughly know the content we are teaching, understand how the learners are learning that content, and observe how our teaching is affecting their learning.

It seems that I-Thou-It provides a framework for the reflective work necessary to deeply understand all that is going on between the these elements in the classroom.


Rodgers, C. (2002) Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking, Teachers College Record. Vol. 4, Number 4, pp. 842-866.