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L. Thomas Hopkins (1889–1982)

Noted Progressive education theorist, consultant, and curriculum leader, L. Thomas Hopkins completed his major writings while a professor and laboratory school director at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Born in Truro, Massachusetts, Hopkins received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Tufts University in 1910 and 1911, respectively. Hopkins claimed that the central ideas of his philosophy of education derived principally from the influence of his mother, careful observation of nature, and inter-action with students he taught.

In 1922 he completed the Ed. D. degree at Harvard University under the mentorship of professors Alexander Inglis and Walter Dearborn. Following his work at Harvard, Hopkins accepted an offer to become a tenured faculty member at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Through that post he began an extensive consulting career. One of his first major consultations was with the Denver Curriculum Revision Project, 1923 through 1925; its notoriety launched consultations with many other school districts across the country. His consulting and curriculum ideas are explicated in his Curriculum Principlesand Practices (1929), which was built heuristically around a wide array of questions to guide curriculum leaders, school administrators, and teachers.

In 1929 Hopkins was invited to join the faculty of Teachers College, Columbia University, as professor of education; he remained there for twenty-five years. At Teachers College he also held the position of director of Lincoln School.

Following his retirement from Teachers College in 1954, Hopkins was a Fulbright scholar in Egypt (1956–1957). He surveyed Italian schools in 1957 and taught at Wheelock College in Boston and at the University of Maine in the 1960s. In 1960 he chaired the Committee on Schools and Moral Values for the White House Conference on Education. In 1971 he retired for a second time with his wife, Hester Hopkins, to Truro on Cape Cod. There, he continued to write, speak, complete his memoirs, and organize his papers until shortly before his death in 1982. His papers are located at the University of Colorado Library in Boulder, Colorado.

Hopkins's major ideas are outlined in three of his numerous books. In Integration, Its Meaning and Application (1937), he argued, contrary to many current interpretations of integrated curriculum, that integration is much more than merely combining subject matter areas around a common theme (i.e., the thematic unit). For Hopkins, integrating the curriculum meant integrating the person; thus, the organizing center for the integrated curriculum was not principally subject matter, but the individual. Drawing analogies from the study of physiology and embryology, Hopkins saw educative growth as moving through three phases: expansion, differentiation, and finally integration. He labeled these phases the normal learning process. In his view of integrated curriculum, subject matter and informal personal knowledge are to be acquired through inquiry that is expressly directed to build the self into a more diverse and integrated human being. An integrated person was, for Hopkins, one whose personal development incorporated the physical, social, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the human organism into a functioning whole.

In Interaction: The Democratic Process (1941), Hopkins incorporated a social dynamic to expand the idea of the development of the individual or personal organism. Again, the process of the interacting forces of the normal learning process (expansion, differentiation, and integration) come into play in a social or political realm that argues for a democratic society as well as for the individual. Like John Dewey, Hopkins saw curriculum, writ large, as a dynamic interaction of school and society, experience and nature, and democracy and education. In the Emerging Self in School and Home (1954), Hopkins showed that education is not a function of schooling alone. In this book, he developed the image of an organic group, contrasting it with a mere aggregate group, to depict the integration of school, home, and community. Therein he argued that the needs and interests of the individual and those of the community and society are reciprocal. In fact, he argues for the home as a major site for education to take place, leading to speculation about the need to study other societal venues in which education takes place, which could include homes and families, nonschool organizations, mass media, peer groups, vocations and avocations, and more.

In the early twenty-first century, consistent interpretation of Hopkins's work can be seen in the writings of James A. Beane and in curriculum leadership. Hopkins condemned much that is fashionable in education (memorized knowledge, standardization, external control, extensive testing), calling it the "was curriculum" and characterizing it as useless. In contrast, he advocated the "is curriculum," which "celebrates the experiential … deals with the whole pupil who develops through internal control of the learnings that he or she self-selects … for personal growth." The is curriculum "is what each pupil can take from the teacher-pupil relationship to help him or her better understand and develop the self, for growth toward the highest possible maturity is the direction of all living organisms" (1970, p. 213).


BEANE, JAMES. 1997. Curriculum Integration: Designing a Core of Democratic Education. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

HOPKINS, L. THOMAS. 1929. Curriculum Principles and Practices. New York: Sandborn.

HOPKINS, L. THOMAS, ed. 1937. Integration, Its Meaning and Application. New York: Appleton-Century.

HOPKINS, L. THOMAS. 1941. Interaction: The Democratic Process. Boston: Heath.

HOPKINS, L. THOMAS. 1970. The Emerging Self in School and Home (1954). Westport, CT: Greenwood.

SCHUBERT, WILLIAM H. 1995. "Toward Lives Worth Living and Sharing: Historical Perspective on Curriculum Coherence." In Toward a Coherent Curriculum, ed. James A. Beane. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

SCOTTEN, GREGORY. 1977. "A Study of the Formulation, Promulgation, and Defense of L. Thomas Hopkins's Position on the Curriculum." Ph.D. diss., State University of New York at Albany.

WOJCIK, JENNY T. 1992. L. Thomas Hopkins (1889–1982): Profiles in Childhood Education. Wheaton, MD: Association for Childhood Education International.



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