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.


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