Pestalozzi, Johann Heinrich

His theories laid the foundation of modern elementary education. He was director (from 1805) of an experimental institute established at Yverdon on his principle that choice of pedagogical method should be based on the individual's development and concrete experience. He opposed memorization learning and strict discipline, and pioneered in the use of tactile objects in the teaching of natural science. He also promoted broad liberal education followed by professional training for teachers.

1746-1827, Swiss educational reformer, b. Zurich. His theories laid the foundation of modern elementary education. He studied theology at the Univ. of Zurich but was forced to abandon his career because of his political activity on behalf of the Helvetic Society, a reformist Swiss political organization. From 1769 to 1798 he lived at his farm, "Neuhof,"near Zurich, where he conducted a school for poor children. He then directed a school at Burgdorf (1799-1804), and from 1805 until his retirement (1825) to Neuhof he was director of the experimental institute at Yverdon, which was established on Pestalozzian principles.

Pestalozzi's theory of education is based on the importance of a pedagogical method that corresponds to the natural order of individual development and of concrete experiences. To Pestalozzi the individuality of each child is paramount; it is something that has to be cultivated actively through education. He opposed the prevailing system of memorization learning and strict discipline and sought to replace it with a system based on love and an understanding of the child's world. His belief that education should be based on concrete experience led him to pioneer in the use of tactile objects, such as plants and mineral specimens, in the teaching of natural science to youngsters. Running through much of Pestalozzi's writing is the idea that education should be moral as well as intellectual.


Never losing his commitment to social reform, Pestalozzi often reiterated the belief that  society could be changed by education. His theories also influenced the development of teacher-training methods. Although he respected the individuality of the teacher, Pestalozzi nevertheless felt that there was a unified science of education that could be learned and practiced. His belief that teacher training should consist of a broad liberal education followed by a period of research and professional training has been widely adopted throughout Europe and the United States.


The foundations of modern education were established in the 19th century. Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, inspired by the work of French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, developed an educational method based on the natural world and the senses. Pestalozzi established schools in Switzerland and Germany to educate children and train teachers. He affirmed that schools should resemble secure and loving homes.


Like Locke and Rousseau, Pestalozzi believed that thought began with sensation and that teaching should use the senses. Holding that children should study the objects in their natural environment, Pestalozzi developed a so-called "object lesson" that involved exercises in learning form, number, and language. Pupils determined and traced an object's form, counted objects, and named them. Students progressed from these lessons to exercises in drawing, writing, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and reading.


Pestalozzi employed the following principles in teaching: (1) begin with the concrete object before introducing abstract concepts; (2) begin with the immediate environment before dealing with what is distant and remote; (3) begin with easy exercises before introducing complex ones; and (4) always proceed gradually, cumulatively, and slowly. American educator Henry Barnard, the first U.S. Commissioner of Education, introduced Pestalozzi's ideas to the United States in the late 19th century. Barnard also worked for the establishment of free public high schools for students of all classes of American society.

German philosopher Johann Herbart emphasized moral education and designed a highly structured teaching technique. Maintaining that education's primary goal is moral development, Herbart claimed good character rested on knowledge while misconduct resulted from an inadequate education. Knowledge, he said, should create an "apperceptive mass"--a network of ideas--in a person's mind to which new ideas can be added. He wanted to include history, geography, and literature  in the school curriculum as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Based on his work, Herbart's followers designed a five-step teaching method: (1) prepare the pupils to be ready for the new lesson, (2) present the new lesson, (3) associate the new lesson with ideas studied earlier, (4) use examples to illustrate the lesson's major points, and (5) test pupils to ensure they had learned the new lesson.

A. Kindergarten

German educator Friedrich Froebel created the earliest kindergarten, a form of preschool education that literally means "child's garden" in German. Froebel, who had an unhappy childhood, urged teachers to think back to their own childhoods to find insights they could use in their teaching. Froebel studied at Pestalozzi's institute in Yverdon, Switzerland, from 1808 to 1810. While agreeing with Pestalozzi's emphasis on the natural world, a kindly school atmosphere, and the object lesson, Froebel felt that Pestalozzi's method was not philosophical enough. Froebel believed that every child's inner self contained a spiritual essence -- a spark of divine energy -- that enabled a child to learn independently.


In 1837 Froebel opened a kindergarten in Blankenburg with a curriculum that featured songs, stories, games, gifts, and occupations. The songs and stories stimulated the imaginations of children and introduced them to folk heroes and cultural values. Games developed children's social and physical skills. By playing with each other, children learned to participate in a group. Froebel's gifts, including such objects as spheres, cubes, and cylinders, were designed to enable the child to understand the concept that the object represented. Occupations consisted of materials children could use in building activities. For example, clay, sand, cardboard, and sticks could be used to build castles, cities, and mountains.

Immigrants from Germany brought the kindergarten concept to the United States, where it became part of the American school system. Margarethe Meyer Schurz opened a German-language kindergarten in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1855.  Elizabeth Peabody established an English-language kindergarten and a training school for kindergarten teachers in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1860.  William Torrey Harris, superintendent of schools in St. Louis, Missouri, and later a U.S. commissioner of education, made the kindergarten part of the American public school system.

B. Social Darwinism

British sociologist Herbert Spencer strongly influenced education in the mid-19th century with social theories based on the theory of evolution developed by British naturalist Charles Darwin. Spencer revised Darwin's biological theory into social Darwinism, a body of ideas that applied the theory of evolution to society, politics, the economy, and education. Spencer maintained that in modern industrialized societies, as in earlier simpler societies, the "fittest" individuals of each generation survived because they were intelligent and adaptable. Competition caused the brightest and strongest individuals to climb to the top of the society.  Urging unlimited competition, Spencer wanted government to restrict its activities to the bare minimum. He opposed public schools, claiming that they would create a monopoly for mediocrity by catering to students of low ability. He wanted private schools to compete against each other in trying to attract the brightest students and most capable teachers. Spencer's social Darwinism became very popular in the last half of the 19th century when industrialization was changing American and Western European societies.

Spencer believed that people in industrialized society needed scientific rather than classical education. Emphasizing education in practical skills, he advocated a curriculum featuring lessons in five basic human activities: (1) those needed for self-preservation such as health, diet, and exercise; (2) those needed to perform one's occupation so that a person can earn a living, including the basic skills of reading, writing, computation, and knowledge of the sciences; (3) those needed for parenting, to raise children properly; (4) those needed to participate in society and politics; and (5) those needed for leisure and recreation. Spencer's ideas on education were eagerly accepted in the United States. In 1918 the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, a report issued by the National Education Association, used Spencer's list of activities in its recommendations for American education.