Monday, February 22, 2010

Dewey and Kindergarten

In his laboratory school at the University of Chicago, Dewey spoke of the influence of kindergarten as follows:
One of the traditions of the school is of a visitor who, in its early days, called to see the kindergarten. On being told that the school had not as yet established one, she asked if there were not singing, drawing, manual training, plays and dramatizations, and attention to the children's social relations. When her questions were answered in the affirmative, she remarked, both triumphantly and indignantly, that that was what she understood by a kindergarten, and she did not know what was meant by saying that the school had no kindergarten. The remark was perhaps justified in spirit if not in letter. At all events, it suggests that in a certain sense the school endeavors throughout its whole courses--now including children between four and thirteen--to carry into effect certain principles which Froebel was perhaps the first consciously to set forth.
In reading about the early days of kindergarten and its influence on primary education, I was referred to the work of Lewis M. Terman and his use of the Stanford-Binet test to study children's intelligence. At one point, Terman concluded the following:
“High-grade or border-line deficiency… is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come… Children of this group should be segregated into separate classes… They cannot master abstractions but they can often be made into efficient workers… from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding” (The Measurement of Intelligence, 1916, p. 91-92).
I present Terman to my readers as a matter of curiosity. It can be shocking to read such things from a more enlightened perspective. Now we know that the tests he used were culturally biased, and that the effects of nutrition, parental support, and community all play roles in the development of intelligence. But very sadly, Terman's judgments had a profound effect on schooling, were used to justify, discrimination and segregation. Needless to say, Terman didn't think much of kindergarten. He wanted to give the (gifted) child "an unbroken path which he may travel from the first grade to the university." "The kindergarten alone," he said, "holds aloof, worships at the shrine of a special methodological cult, and treats its children as belonging to a different order of human beings."

I know some of my readers may ask, "What does this have to do with the hands?" And for that question, I'll ask you to use the search function at upper left. Type in "Cygnaeus," the founder of educational sloyd, and you will discover that the idea for manual training for all, wood shops in schools began with Kindergarten.

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