Saturday, December 21, 2013


Gliedganzes was a term that Froebel combined from two German words glied meaning member and ganzes meaning whole. Readers will likely know that the advocates of progressive education talk about the education of the whole child... that education should not only be concerned with teaching a child to read and do math, but to also to become engaged as a creative member of society.

Froebel's odd word gliedganzes was devised to show simultaneous concern for both directions education must proceed at exactly the same time. Froebel's gifts were designed to illustrate this. For example, the gift number 3 consisting of a cube shaped box, containing a larger cube composed of 8 smaller ones illustrates that while each cube is complete in itself, it is also a member of a larger form, just as the child itself is a member of a larger form.

I have been reading a number of books on the subject of Kindergarten, and had originally been led on this study by the realization that Kindergarten and Educational Sloyd were partners in a larger transformational movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. Both the true meaning of Kindergarten and the purpose of manual arts training were subsequently forgotten and ignored in American education. I discovered the connection between the two when I was visiting at Otto Salomon's original teacher training academy in Sweden in 2006. I had been particularly interested in reading an early educational journal, Hand and Eye, copies of which are only available from Otto Salomon's library and the British Library in London. As I first held these journals in my hand, I discovered to my surprise that they were not only about Sloyd, but also about Kindergarten and that the two were members of a larger whole, just as one small cube in collection with others, would constitute a larger cube and fill a box, itself a part of a larger whole. The official listing in the British Library is: "Hand & Eye. A monthly journal for the promotion of Sloyd Kindergarten and all forms of manual training. Vol. 1. no. 1.-vol. 10. no. 105. Oct. 1892-April 1902."

Froebel had come to his understanding of the interconnectedness of all things through his study of rocks and minerals when he worked in the Mineralogical Museum at the University of Berlin under the supervision of noted crystalographer Christian Samuel Weiss. There, he worked with trays of minerals and crystalline forms, classifying and organizing. He wrote of this experience:
I continually proved to be true what had long been a presentiment with me, namely, that even in these so-called lifeless stones and fragments of rock, torn from their original bed, there lay germs of transforming, developing energy and activity. Amidst the diversity of forms around me, I recognized under all kinds of various modifications one law of development... And thereafter, my rocks and crystals served me as a mirror wherein I might descry* mankind, and man's development and history... Geology and crystallography not only opened up for me a higher circle of knowledge and insight, but also showed me a higher goal for my inquiry, my speculation, and my endeavor. Nature and man now seemed to me mutually to explain each other, through all their numberless various stages of development.
This morning as I was writing these words, I was thinking about my friend Hans who had been my guide to Salomon's school, and had led my exploration into Salomon's archive. Within minutes I received an email from him offering his holiday greetings.  Physicists now say that if two atoms are introduced to each other (as Hans and I were and remain), they can then be placed at the furthest extremes of the universe and still have a "consciousness" of each other, in that what happens to one affects the other. My friend Lothar Schäfer, who writes about quantum physics says that "consciousness" is not exactly the term he would apply to this phenomenon. Perhaps "gliedganzes" would fit.

What we are missing these days in American education is an organizing principle that calls each child, each classroom, each school and each community, each state and our nation to a larger mission, and a better understanding of the interconnectedness that affects all. Call it gliedganzes if you like or can find no better term for how we are connected. When we begin to see that the activities of our hands have the power to connect us in ways that lead to transcendence, and that each child is a part of a larger whole, with a crucial mission to fulfill in service to a greater whole, we will find our feet falling on the right track.

Make, fix and create.

1 comment:

  1. The sad thing is that the educational "experts" say that they are calling students to a greater mission, but it's one that makes no sense. It's just numbers.