Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sir William Petty 1647

"By all which is mostly evident, that children do most naturally delight in things, and are most capable of learning them, having quick sense to receive them and unpreoccupied memories to retain them. As for other things where unto they are now-a-days set, they are altogether unfit, for want of judgment which is but weak in them, and also for want of will, which is sufficiently seen both by what we have said before, by the difficulty in keeping them at school and the punishment they will endure rather than be altogether debarred from the pleasure which they take in things."

The following is from Charles A. Bennett:
More than any of his predecessors, Sir William Petty proposed to connect handwork with the school, though he never put his plan into practice. In his suggested literary workhouse he even went so far as to suggest that industrial occupation be an integral part of the school work. He does not seem to recognize the full pedagogical significance of his proposition, yet he did grasp the idea that in learning, the object studied--the thing--should precede the symbol of the thing--the written or printed word. He saw, too, that it gave children great pleasure to make and manipulate things with their hands and with tools. He would utilize this natural impulse in the schools.

He recognized the great value of drawing as a means of expression--as a language, and in some cases considered it superior to written language. Therefore he would give drawing, also, a place in the schools.

It is noticeable that Petty's chief aim in placing things and handwork in the school was to further general education and not to produce artisans.
And so one must wonder when we will have schools that take advantage of children's most natural inclinations rather than fighting for their attentions? It looks like here in the US, we are running about 350 years late. In Finland, where children start reading at age 8 instead of 5, they far surpass us by age 15, reading better in shorter time because their children are made ready for reading through object based learning. Here we continue to apply additional pressure for reading in Kindergarten in our ill conceived plan to catch up, as though extending the amount of time in study will override the child's natural lack developmental readiness. Are we truly a nation of idiots? The natural consequence of our current course is to teach young men and some girls that they don't like school, and aren't good at it. Their heart's desire becomes that of escaping it. In case you have wondered at our nation's epidemic of underachievement by boys, and 30 percent dropout rate and are looking for cause, this single point nails it.


  1. Your remarks remind me in some respects of the theory and practice behind Montessori education. (I'm new to your blog so I don't know if you've discussed Montessori methods in the past or not.)

  2. Montessori, and Waldorf and many other systems attempt to utilize the natural inclinations of the child.

    Clear Spring School is its own strategy, but closely related. One of our teachers is Waldorf trained, and one Montessori. The others more formally trained by enthusiastic about progressive methods.

  3. Also, Montessori, Steiner, Comenius, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Salomon, Dewey and so many others came up with their ideas by watching kids. Is it any surprise that they would observe the same things... those things that have been ignored in modern classrooms where they teach to the test and sedate students who can't conform to the classroom structure?