Monday, January 14, 2013

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi—Father of Modern Education

Pestalozzi by Francesco Ramos (late 18th-early 19th century, Prado) {{PD-US}}

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (January 12, 1746—February 17, 1827) was a Swiss pedagogue and education reformer who believed that every individual had the ability to learn and the right to an education. He was also a strong believer in personal liberty and an advocate for the poor. Many of the principles of modern pedagogy have their roots in Pestalozzi’s philosophy and practice, including the ideas of student-centered, inquiry-based learning; a focus on the child’s interests and needs; cooperation and communication between the teacher and the parents; and active, rather than passive, learning.

As a boy, Pestalozzi traveled the countryside with his grandfather, who was a clergyman. On these travels, he witnessed the intense poverty suffered by the peasants and the consequences of putting children to work in the factories, as well as the ineffectiveness of the local Catechism schools. These experiences influenced the development of his future educational theories. Philosophically, Pestalozzi was most influenced by Rousseau, who was imprisoned by the Swiss as a subversive during Pestalozzi’s lifetime. Pestalozzi, himself, was imprisoned for a short time for his supposed role in the prison escape of a colleague, a charge that was no doubt influenced by his support for Rousseau and militant causes. 

Pestalozzi tried his hand in politics and farming before turning to education. He attempted to create a school for the poor in the 1770s, known as Neuhof, where peasants would be liberated from their poverty by learning to weave and by selling their products. He believed that he could prevent children’s alienation from the educational process by financing their own education through work. However, Neuhof ended in financial ruin for him and his family. The experience forced him to reconsider many of his assumptions, like the Romantic notion that work comes naturally to man—an idea that was dashed when he overheard his students reminiscing about the days when they were free to wander the countryside.
Pestalozzi with the orphans in Stans (1879, by Konrad Grob (1828 - 1904){{PD-US}}
 In 1798 the French army invaded the town of Stans, leaving many children without parents or homes and Pestalozzi was asked by the Swiss government to create on orphanage for the children. Here, with little support from the Swiss government, he became headmaster, teacher and nurse to the children.

Pestalozzi’s early pedagogy emphasized the combination of learning and industry. Initially, he believed his students could build things and sell them to help support the school. However, by the time of his involvement with the Stans orphanage, he believed crafts and work were much more valuable for their ability to develop students’ dexterity, attention, observation, memory and social interactions. Unfortunately, the French retook Stans in 1799 and commandeered the building in which his orphanage was housed.

Pestalozzi’s believed that rather than dealing with words, children should learn by doing and they should be free to pursue their own interests and draw their own conclusions. This was in marked contrast to the typical pedagogy of the day, in which the children learned entirely from books, lecture and rote repetition and memorization, often without understanding what they were repeating. Furthermore, most teachers in those days were not even trained as teachers. Pestalozzi eschewed the notion that teachers were there to give children answers. Thus, he felt it was imperative for the teacher to cultivate children’s power of observation and reasoning.

One of his early inventions was the use of cut out letters the students could use to construct words. He also etched letters into transparent horn-leaves, which the students could superimpose over their own letters to see if they wrote them correctly. Pestalozzi had so much success with his innovations that a school inspector in Burgdorf wrote that his children learned as much in half a year as the other teachers’ students were learning in three years.

By 1804, Pestalozzi’s fame had spread to and people began to study and emulate his methods in Germany, France, Italy, England, Russia and the U.S. He even received a job offer from the Czar of Russia. He refused, and later told the Czar he should abolish serfdom and open schools for the peasants.

Pestalozzi’s pedagogy was also based on respect for his students’ individual personalities and their personal dignity, as well as a deep sense in social justice and personal liberty. He encouraged classroom visits and participation by parents and believed strongly in regular communication with them about their children’s progress. Yet he opposed the concept of report cards, saying “No child is to compare himself with others.” He accepted children from all backgrounds, including those with emotional problems, and even opened a school for hearing impaired children. These ideas became the basis for the pedagogies of Friedrich Froebel (inventor of kindergarten and Froebel Gifts), Francisco Ferrer (founder of the first Modern Schools) and many of the libertarian educators that followed.

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