Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Froebel's concept of Gliedganzes or "member-whole" was an important part of his educational philosophy. It means that a child is not merely a child but also a member of a family, a community, a state and a nation. Aristotle and Hegel both discussed the same notion, and for Froebel the idea helped to explain what he had observed in nature.
"The fundamental law of vegetable life is that each successive stage of development is a higher growth of the preceding one--e.g., the petals are transformed ordinary leaves, the stamens and pistils transformed petals. Each successive formation present the essential nature of the plant in a more subtle garb, until at last it seems clothed only in a delicate perfume."
Consistent with this thought, Froebel believed that "to become conscious of self is the first business of the child and the whole business of man."

What if we as teachers, parents, guardians and promoters of wisdom and growth were to see children in their full dimensions, not as mere children, but as growing into membership of family, community, state and nation, and more? Assisting that unfolding of consciousness is the most important goal of education. The following is from Susan E. Blow who founded the first public school kindergarten in the US.
The greatest mistakes in education are rooted in the failure to recognize and conform to the different stages of natural development. Educational theorists are constantly pointing out this error; educational practice is constantly repeating it. Notwithstanding all that has been said and written, we still make knowledge our idol, and continue to fill the child's mind with foreign material, under the gratuitous assumption that at a later age he will be able, through some magic transubstantiation, to make it a vital part of his own thought. This is like loading his stomach with food which he can not digest, under the delusive hope that he may be able to digest it when he is a man. It is forcing the mind to move painfully forward under a heavy weight, instead of running, leaping and flying under the incitement of its own energy and the allurement of its own perceived ideal. The attempt to force a premature activity of reason can result only in repulsion of his sympathies and the stultification of his mind.
There have been a number of articles recently about how desperately misinformed people are, how little they know about science, geography, and/or any other subject. They have a huge number of deeply held opinions about everything, nonetheless. Much of what we see in the media regarding moronic political discourse, anger toward academia and science, the calling of names like leftist and socialist, the fixation in the media with characters like balloon boy, Joe the plumber and Sarah Palin are the direct consequences of the schooling that Susan E. Blow describes. Her words were written in 1894. Can it be that by neglecting the education of our children's hands, we are turning their minds to mush? There is a direct one-to-one correlation between the decline of the manual arts in education and the rapid rise of the American pinhead.

Froebel, like other German educators of the time, was influenced by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who said, "“Each has his own happiness in his hands, as the artist handles the rude clay he seeks to reshape it into a figure; yet it is the same with this art as with all others: only the capacity for it is innate; the art itself must be learned and painstaking”

I will harp on a point I have made many times in the blog that relates to Ms. Blow's point of conforming to natural stages of development. In Finland students become better readers in 37 1/2 percent less time by beginning at age 8. Here in the US, we seem desperate to reside in idiocy. Make, fix, create, instead.


  1. Anonymous11:30 AM

    Doug. Just wanted to say thanks for all your work. This is truly a profound piece of writing. I try to turn on as many people as I can to what say here. Your blog has changed my life as a woodworker, father and teacher of the manual woodworking arts.


  2. Scrap, thank you for your kind words. I don't know if we will ever get where we need to go with this, but if you are passing along what you learn to your kids, they will be better hands at life.

  3. I, for one, just love it when you get plucky!

    As for your post, this is the number one reason that I started to understand, in first grade, what I would come to hate about public education and why I could never teach in the "system" despite the fact that I am a natural teacher.