Friday, December 12, 2008

From the concrete to the abstract

There is a principle in the theory of Educational Sloyd that learning should move incrementally from the concrete to the abstract... experience in the real world provides the foundation that leads one to an understanding of abstract concepts.

The following story from Pestalozzi illustrates this concept:
Sometime in the late 1700’s a child in Pestalozzi’s school challenged his teacher, “You want me to learn the word ladder, but you show me a picture. Wouldn’t it be better to go look at the real ladder in the courtyard?” The teacher was frustrated by the child’s remark and explained that he would rather not take the whole class outside the building just to look at a ladder. Later, the same child was shown the picture of a window and again interrupted the teacher. “Wouldn’t it be better to talk about the window that is right there? We don’t even have to go outside to look at it!” The teacher asked Pestalozzi about the incident and was informed that the child was right. Whenever possible children should learn from real objects, the real world and the experiences it offers (Bennett 1926, 119).
I doubt that you could find any educational theorist who would disagree with Pestalozzi on this. We can follow the long line of theorists from Commenius, Rousseau, and Froebel, through William James, John Dewey, and Howard Gardner. But still, schools create artificial, abstract learning environments for our children, without providing sufficient concrete foundation in real experience.

Is it any surprise that most schools have become boring places for children? In which they feel most of what they are required to learn is irrelevant to their own lives?

The wood shop is one of those places within the school environment where real experience is offered.

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