Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the hearts and souls of learners

Unified Kindergarten and First Grade Teaching by Parker and Temple, Ginn and Co. 1925 describes the early enthusiasm for Kindergarten as it was first introduced:
A striking feature of the movement to establish kindergartens in America was the enthusiasm of its proponents--their intense interest and belief in its values and possibilities. We may note briefly four reasons for this enthusiasm; namely, (1) the natural interest, particularly of women, in happy expressions of child life; (2) the philanthropic interest in relieving suffering and in increasing happiness; (3) the practical, usable system of materials, games, songs, etc; (4) the interest in a mystical cult with a more or less meaningless, incomprehensible language and ritual.
And so you can see both sides in a nutshell. Good, Good, Good, but the academic elite wondered why the educational method couldn't be described in plain, precise language that a scientist might use? Symbolism was a bit too much. The Rudolf Steiner Waldorf schools have faced the same challenge. A viewer might like what she sees in the classroom, but what's this anthroposophy stuff? That word isn't even in spellcheck!!! And so, human beings attempting to explain the inexplicable often resort to language that is more symbolic than precise. It is the same with everything we are just learning. When I learn something new in the woodshop, it can be very difficult to explain to others what I am doing, but lack of adequate explanation is not cause for denying the validity of my efforts.

What follows is from Miss Vandewalker having visited the model kindergarten at the Philadelphia exposition in 1876,
"The enclosure for visitors was always crowded, many of the on lookers being hewers of wood and drawers of water who were attracted by the sweet singing and spell bound by the lovely spectacle."

And yet, Parker and Temple noted the following:
"High-sounding Froebelian symbolism kept kindergarten isolated. -- Froebel himself was an expert in this sort of mystical juggling of words...."
Friedrich Froebel was notorious for having great difficulty in explaining himself in clear language and those in academia had a tendency to treat his methods harshly and with some disdain as a result. The world-wide spread of kindergarten was through the hands of educators who were completely enamored with Froebel and shared a cult-like devotion to his method. And so, as I read this interesting book, I can see the resentment that the widespread enthusiasm Kindergarten stirred up. "What's so special about the kindergarten years?" Teachers asked. Unfortunately, these days, kindergarten has become too much like the rest of schooling, with growing pressures on testing and curriculum that can be easily measured and enforced. Perhaps we would do better to make the rest of schooling more like what kindergarten was in the first place.

Educational Sloyd woodworking developed in Finland and Sweden in the last half of the 19th century was intended as a means through which to extend the wonders of Froebel's object based learning throughout a child's formative years. Making things from wood was to take over where manipulation of materials and play with blocks left off, providing the means through which a child might use what he or she learned in benefit of family and community...

The following is from Miss Vandewalker, 1876:
The primary teacher who visited a kindergarten could not fail to be impressed by the kindergartner's attitude toward her children -- by her cooperation with them in the spirit of comradeship, and by her sympathetic insight into their interests and needs. She was impressed no less by the children's attitude toward their work, by the spontaneity of their interests, and by their delight in the use of the bright-colored material. The games were a revelation to her, since they showed that there could be freedom without disorder the interest which the children took in the kindergarten songs made here own drill on scales and intervals seem little better than drudgery; and the attractiveness of the kindergarten room gave her helpful suggestions concerning the value of beauty as a factor in education. In short, recognizing that there was possible an order of things very different from that to which she was accustomed, she determined to profit by the lesson. If kindergarten procedure could be made so interesting, why not school procedure as well?
And so it makes a tremendous difference in speaking to an academic audience that you use terminology that they can relate to. Froebel didn't. But when you begin to understand that the arts and science are two important views of physical and social reality that cannot stand alone, that are in essence the same, you begin to understand the value of symbolism and might even read Friedrich Froebel without scientific discomfort. I know I should be hesitant to discuss the "hearts and souls of learners." But there are things that we as human beings cannot fully explain as yet without resorting as did Froebel, to symbolism.

The photo above is from the book. The authors's objections to Froebel's use of language was not strong enough for them to deny the validity of his method.

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