Education in the US seems to continue in a state of self-generated crisis. As one educator said, we've addressed the starving our our children by developing accurate scales in the form of standardized testing to measure their loss...whereas we should be feeding them educational opportunities that foster real growth...
Starting with the small introduction of Kindergarten through the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876, parents throughout the US became enamored with the notion of Kindergarten for their own kids. Kindergarten wasn't limited to half days for a year and only for those children ready to enter school for the first time like the "kindergarten" of today. Froebel had recognized the mother as being the child's first teacher, and Kindergarten, a paradise of childhood, a garden of learning, would take place in the life of the child over a number of years, generally from ages 3 to 8.
Manual arts enthusiasm began for some because they became aware of how children truly learn and came to a realization that we needed to extend the Kindergarten method into the upper grades.
And yet, in time, we wishy-washied all that away in American education. First, Kindergarten became shrunk in years and all about preparation to read, and we crap-canned the manual arts. We developed senseless education out of our own senselessness, whereas all the early educators had noted that education must first arise first from the senses and the sensory experiences of the child.
Yesterday my first, second and third grade students delivered our student made toys to the food bank. The workers there were very busy serving lunch to the poor, and the reception we received was rather unceremonious. One student said, "That was boring," after we had made the delivery and were ready to leave. Children learn much too easily that they are the centers of their parent's universes, and yet, they must also learn to work hard to fit in with the rest of the world. They must learn that they have work to do in the service of others. And so the child's honest comment led to a class discussion on what the student's role is, and what the role of the school is... Our own purpose is not to entertain children or to alleviate boredom, but to provide experiences that lead to understanding. The following is from the Kindergarten in a Nutshell:
Kindergarten Work Trains the HandsBut the Froebel Kindergarten is not just for the development of the powers and understanding of the child. It is also a realm for creating social understanding and responsibility as follows:
And when they are developed to their fullest extent and managed as Froebel intended, what may we expect of them? you ask. There is a much-used saying in the kindergarten that development according to Froebel is threefold — that is, it includes within its purpose something for the body, something for the soul, and something for the mind. We should expect, then, that the kindergarten occupations would effect something for the physical powers of the child, and we find that they train his arms and hands and fingers so that they become deft servants of his will, and not only the right hand, you understand, but the left, too, for the idea is to make him ambidextrous. In securing these ends the mind receives development also, and the same thing is true of the eye-training, which is, of necessity, partly mental and partly physical.
The kindergarten is most valuable to the life of today because of the social training it gives. There is great danger in isolating children and in bringing them up too exclusively in the company of grown people. They need the society of their equals as much as we who are older, and they must learn by absolute contact with their fellows the interdependence of all life, and the fact that we are members one of an other. Every exercise of the kindergarten is of a social nature, and the child is only separated from his playmates when he has transgressed the laws which teach that the pursuit of his own happiness and the enjoyment of his own liberty are dependent upon his allowing the same rights to his companions.So, what can we do now for American education since we seem to have screwed things up? Believe me please, that the government and corporations and the foundations created by the wealth of corporations won't be rushing in to direct the necessary changes in American education. That will come only from small, revolutionary groups of mothers and fathers willing to adopt the kindergarten ideal and take matters into their own hands.
If we were to apply the 1876 model to educational change, we would be pursuing a greater knowledge of Froebel's kindergarten and Educational Sloyd and applying what we learn to our own children... then sharing what we've learned to benefit the children in our communities and in our nation at large. We have 5 making days left before Christmas.
Make, fix and create...