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Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, known as the Father of Modern Education, was a Swiss philosopher, educator and social reformer. He believed all students, especially the poor, deserve an equal opportunity for education despite any perceived differences and was one of the most dedicated philosophers to fight to have this concept incorporated into the everyday school environment. His many life influences, failures and struggles shaped his views on educational reform, and he eventually developed an approach to learning known as the Pestalozzian method. This whole-child approach involves all aspects of a person, including head, heart, and hands. He felt, by cultivating these three important elements, the intellect, the will and the body of a human being we could greatly reduce and possibly prevent crime, injustice, poverty, and societal misfortunes (Gutek, 2011). He also believed schools should resemble a safe, secure and loving environment through which students feel comfortable. Once an emotionally stable school environment is achieved, students can acquire knowledge, which he believed began with their senses. He developed a special method of learning involving two elements, senses and objects, which came to be known as “object lessons.” He believed this was the proper beginning of education, not memorization, as he witnessed in many conventional schools. His Pestalozzian method is a two-part method. The first part is establishing an emotionally secure and loving environment and then once that is achieved proceeding to cognitive learning, utilizing direct concrete observations. This is his most recognized achievement which has continued significance in our schools today (jhpestalozzi.org, 2019).
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
The Father of Modern Education – A Whole-Child Approach
I chose to research the philosopher, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, for many reasons. First, he was a man who, for much of his life, wanted to improve the conditions of the poor. He hoped to provide them with an education which he believed would improve their lives immeasurably. He saw education as a central element to improving their situation and made this his focus. Secondly, he wanted to instill in students the knowledge of right and wrong and wanted them to act accordingly. He felt by empowering individuals to be responsible citizens their overall well being would be improved. His theory of education aimed to lead students in practical ways, based on love. He stated, “the love of those we educate is the sole and everlasting foundation in which to work” (Kilpatrick, 2013). I connected with this statement and saw many of Pestalozzi’s qualities in John Wooden’s book The Pyramid of Success. He was a very persistent and determined individual, he was a doer without fear of failing. He was intent and aware, always eager to learn and improve his ideas and way of thinking. Lastly, he believed in educating the whole child not just their intellect but gain an understanding of the child’s entire world, emotionally, physically, spiritually and socially.
Many of his ideas and principles have continued into today’s classroom environment. I especially was drawn to the idea of inclusion, this is a term used often today in schools, and he was one of the most persistent educators to fight for this concept. His childhood experiences and later life struggles, and relationships greatly influenced his educational philosophy. My hope is that you will gain a better understanding into the life of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and how his influence has impacted our school system today and why he is known as the Father of Modern Education.
The Early Years
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi was born January 12, 1746 in Zurich, Switzerland. He had a difficult childhood confronted with his father’s death when he was five years old. He also had four siblings whom died when he was very young. Conditions worsened after his father’s death, and even though he and his other two siblings were well cared for by his mother, the poor conditions and over-protective parenting led him to feeling isolated, socially awkward, and physically uncoordinated (Gutek, 2011). In a letter he wrote as an adult, he recounts “I totally lacked the ordinary and everyday experiences that most children are taught that prepares them for certain skills of life” (Bruhlmeier, 2019). Pestalozzi connected with his grandfather, a minister, who would often take Pestalozzi to visit areas where children did not go to school due to their impoverished state. His grandfather’s influence, motivated Pestalozzi to devote his life to educating poor children, which remained his focus throughout his lifetime.
Despite his unhappy childhood, Pestalozzi attended school and made lifelong friendships. He became a young, intelligent citizen interested in political activism and journalism. He at different times in his life expressed a desire to be a clergyman, like his grandfather, a politician, and even a farmer before focusing on education and social reform.
Educator of the Poor
One of Pestalozzi’s most influential mentors was Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an avid writer and philosopher. He identified the power of love as an inherent trait of a child. He also believed all children are born good, and evil is caused by a corrupt society (Gutek, 2011). Pestalozzi was intrigued with Rousseau’s thoughts about a human being’s senses as a source for ideas and the importance of a natural education. Pestalozzi developed his theory of education based on much of Rousseau’s leading, he believed in the individuality of each child being supreme and utilizing concrete learning experiences.
By 1773, Pestalozzi was married to an upper-middle-class woman, Anna Schulthess. They had one son, Jean-Jacques, named after his mentor, Rousseau. It was at this time he committed himself to educational reform and created a school for poor children which was known as Neuhof. Pestalozzi’s plan was to bring children to his farm to live, work and be educated. His focus was on the production and selling of goods which he hoped would bring financial stability. The children would receive an education funded through their own work (study.com, 2019). He believed this was a means of escaping a life of poverty. He fed them, clothed them, and cared for them like a father. His intentions were to provide a place of love and security. At the school’s peak, about 50 children were enrolled. Although he was forced to close the school by 1779 due to financial debt, Pestalozzi learned a great deal at his first attempt to reform education. He was more convinced than ever that being an educator was his true calling and life’s vocation (Gutek, 2011).
A Whole-Child Approach
It was the Age of Enlightenment, during this time Pestalozzi spent time writing stories, essays and publishing a novel to make ends meet. His book, Leonard and Gertrude, was a best-seller and captured many of his educational principles. It was during this period of Enlightenment that he began to construct his philosophy of education. He believed an education was the means for individuals to enter a state of harmony, morality, and happiness (Gutek, 2011). The idea of developing a child’s character, mind, and life skills was the basis of his whole-child approach to teaching and learning. Pestalozzi stated, “it is vital when educating our children’s brains that we do not neglect to educate their hearts and hands, neither can proceed in isolation from the other” (Pestalozziworld.com, 2019).
At age 54, Pestalozzi was appointed by the government as head of an orphanage in Stans, Switzerland. He was placed in charge of 80 children, most of whom were displaced during the French Revolution. He focused on providing for their physical needs and emotional stability and once this was secure he was able to concentrate on their cognitive learning. He was determined to put into practice his principles of education he had developed over the past two decades, concentrating on the whole child. He was especially concerned with creating feelings of self-worth and self-esteem in the children he cared for in the orphanage. He was successful in improving the lives of the children and learned education must first be built on a caring and trusting environment. Unfortunately, after only six months the orphanage was forced to close due to the war.
In 1800, he was assigned a head position at a new educational institute at Burgdorf Castle. He directed the institute, which included a boarding school for students and a teaching program (Gutek, 2011). It was here that he developed his theory of sensory learning. He believed students learn best if they feel, smell, hear, and see objects (Knight, 2006). He thought conventional schooling of memorization and reciting words was meaningless, since often children have no understanding of the words. But with “object lessons” as this direct concrete observation came to be known as, the concept is clearly present in the child’s mind before a name is given to the object. Teachers would guide the student through the lesson of examining the form, shape, quantity, number and weight of objects. Once this was mastered, he would begin the conventional learning of reading, writing, and arithmetic. His Pestalozzian method of incorporating a whole-child approach to learning and utilizing object lessons was successful among his students and soon became very popular. Educators and politicians from all over the world came to Burgdorf to witness Pestalozzi and his colleagues at work. Even, Friedrich Froebel, who founded the kindergarten, came to be taught the Pestalozzian method. Horace Mann, a leader in public education in the United States, also was among those as well who came to observe. His method became known throughout Europe and in North and South America (Gutek, 2011).
Pestalozzi started a new institute in the town of Yverdon, after the government forced him to leave Burgdorf castle in 1804. His institute became famous very quickly as witnessed by a stable and emotionally healthy school environment utilizing the Pestalozzian method. During its prime, his institute had 165 students ranging from age 7-15, thirty-one teachers, plus staff and family members, totaling 250 people (Bruhlmeier, 2019). Pestalozzi was known for accepting very low enrollment fees with nearly one third of students not paying at all due to poverty. The teachers were not paid wages but did receive room and board for their services. Again, Pestalozzi found his school suffering financially. Pestalozzi was known for his unselfish ways and loving intentions but lacked the necessary organizational skills needed to run a school. Many visitors came daily to observe classroom learning/teaching of the Pestalozzian method and the overall school environment. He often told visitors “not to judge his school based merely on the success of the class or what one learns externally but look at a student’s character, behavior and disposition” (Gutek, 2011). He stated, “the power of the brain and the power of the heart do not have the same value” (Bruhlmeier, 2019). Pestalozzi believed that a child’s capabilities should only be measured by their own individual merit, so the normal standardized tests and reports common to most schools today and introduced during this time did not exist at his school. Another important aspect he brought to the classroom was the creation of the group process of instruction. He believed for children to individually stand and recite a lesson before the teacher was not only inefficient, but it failed to promote socialization among the students (Gutek, 2011). Eventually, the Yverdon school closed due to lack of structure and executive direction.
Pestalozzi continued in his writing and moving his theory of education forward. He was first and foremost a humanitarian, making love the center of his educational method and life. His ideas are very relevant today, especially witnessing children from dysfunctional or abusive homes often requiring a safe place free from violence and fear. This can and often does start in our school environments. He continued to advocate that teachers need to provide a caring and emotionally stable classroom environment before teaching any type of subject or skills. This is commonly observed in our elementary schools. He also stressed the desire of collaboration between home and school which again is very relevant to today’s school environment, stating “every household should hold the basic elements of all true human education within its walls” (Kilpatrick, 2013).
Many of his innovations are now a part of todays educational landscape especially among our elementary schools. His Pestalozzian method has been a great influence on education and has tremendous relevance today. For these reasons, he has been given the title, Father of Modern Education.
- Bruhlmeier, A. (2019). Heinrich Pestalozzi: A Comprehensive Documentation. Retrieved from: http://www.en.heinrich-pestalozzi.de
- Gutek, G. (2011). Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education. 11, 157-177. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
- Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, (2019). Retrieved from: www.jhpestalozzi.org
- Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, (2019). Theory and Impact of Education. Retrieved from: www.study.com
- Kilpatrick, W. (2013). Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi: Pedagogy, Education, and Social Justice. Retrieved from: www.Infed.org
- Knight, G. (2006). Philosophy and Education: An Introduction in Christian Perspective. 3, 51-54. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press.
- Pestalozzi World, (2019). Retrieved from: www.pestalozziworld.com
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