George Hillocks, Jr., teacher of teachers, 1934-2014

George Hillocks, Jr., a teacher of teachers at the University of Chicago for more than 30 years, died in hospice on Nov. 12. He was 80. A memorial service for Hillocks will take place on Saturday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. in Bond Chapel.

Hillocks, professor emeritus in English language and literature, taught in the University’s Department of Education and trained future English teachers in the Master of Arts in Teaching program from 1971 to 2002.

His daughter Marjorie, also a teacher and a former faculty member at the Lab Schools, once had an office in Blaine Hall around the corner from her father’s. She remembers Hillocks as someone who “really did love his students…He could get very easily emotional when talking about his students,” she said. He also had passionate opinions about education—“and he wasn’t afraid to voice his opinions.”

Throughout his career, Hillocks was a dedicated advocate for improving the teaching of writing in schools. His 1995 book Teaching Writing as Reflective Practice outlined both theoretical and practical elements of improving writing instruction at the secondary and early undergraduate level. That book won the National Council of Teachers of English’s David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English.

His last book, Teaching Argument Writing, was used in classrooms across the country and was one of his most popular books among fellow teachers, according to his daughter.

Hillocks also spoke out against the widespread use of standardized writing assessments; in The Testing Trap, he argued that standardized tests actually hindered students’ writing and critical thinking abilities.

His contributions to the field of education earned Hillocks the Distinguished Service Award from the National Council of Teachers of English in 2004. He also received the NCTE’s Richard Meade Award for his 2008 book Narrative Writing: Learning a New Model for Teaching.

Hillocks was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1934. He received his BA from the College of Wooster, and his MA and PhD in English from Case Western Reserve University. He taught English at the secondary level from 1956 to 1961.

The son of a Scottish immigrant, Hillocks was an accomplished bagpipe player who performed throughout the city and internationally. He was the Pipe Major for the Invermich Gaelic Society Pipe Band from 1984 to 1989. That band later became the University of Chicago Alumni Association Pipe Band, which performs at Convocation and other major University functions.

He is survived by his children, Marjorie Hillocks and George “Mac” McInnes Hillocks; and three grandchildren, Geoffrey, Cameron and Dylan Hillocks. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Midwest Palliative and Hospice Care Center.