Tuesday, January 08, 2013

can success be measured in kindness?

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was considered the father of manual training even though he was never actually successful in utilizing manual arts in their fullest form. He did, however see their value and described that value to those who would follow, including Friedrich Froebel, Uno Cygnaeus, and Otto Salomon. In addition to the alphabet of letters, he proposed an alphabet of abilities which he considered more important and even though he was never able to establish that alphabet on his own,  he laid the groundwork for educational Sloyd's progressive development of skills. He could also be considered the father of progressive education. Charles A. Bennett said of Pestalozzi, "to call Pestalozzi the 'father of manual training' is only a fraction of the truth and that such a phrase alone does not convey the big idea for which the name of Pestalozzi stands."

And so what was that big idea? It had to do with the hands and with the senses and learning from real life. Pestalozzi from nearly any angle would look like a failed educator. He went through a series of schools, each a financial failure, and yet, his spirit as an educator, and his attention to the needs of his children was crystal clear. He was a gentleman who felt great empathy for the poor, saw the dignity and inherent wisdom of all folks and made a sincere effort to help best described in his own words:
"I had observed for a long time that behind their coarseness, shyness, and apparent incapacity are hidden the finest faculties, the most precious powers; and now, even amongst these poor creatures by whom I was surrounded at Stanz, marked natural abilities soon began to show themselves. I knew how useful the common needs of life are in teaching men the relations of things, in bringing out their natural intelligence, in forming their judgment, and in arousing faculties which, buried, as they were, beneath the coarser elements of their nature, cannot become active and useful till they are set free.

"It was my object then to arouse these faculties, and bring them to bear on the pure and simple circumstances of domestic life, for I was convinced that in this way I should be able to form the hearts and minds of children almost as I wished. I tried to connect study with manual labor, the school with the workshop and make one thing of them. But I was the less able to do this as staff, material, and tools were all wanting. A short time only before the close of the establishment a few children had begun to spin; and I saw clearly that, before any fusion could be effected, the two parts must be firmly established separately--study, that is, on the one hand, and labor on the other.

"But in the work of the children I as already inclined to care less for the immediate gain than for the physical training which, by developing their strength and skill, was bound to supply them later with a means of livelihood. In the same way I considered that what is generally called the instruction of children should be merely an exercise of the faculties, and I felt it important to exercise the attention, observation and memory first, so as to strengthen these faculties before calling into play the art of judging and reasoning; this, in my opinion, was the best way to avoid turning out that sort of superficial and presumptuous talker, whose false judgments are often more fatal to the happiness and progress of humanity than the ignorance of simple people of good sense, and I am more than ever convinced that as soon as we have educational establishments combined with workshops and conducted on a truly psychological basis, a generation will necessarily be formed which, on the one hand, will show us by experience that our present studies do not require one-tenth part of the time or trouble we now give to them."
For many concerned with measured success (whatever that is), Pestalozzi these days would be considered an old fool. He did live to be 81 years old. But he is still remembered 200 years later by some for his ideas and for his compassion. I wonder how many modern day education reformers will leave any such mark? I'd like to propose kindness as one of the best measures of success.

Still, I find the problem of gun violence a compelling issue, not unrelated to the matter of kindness and gentleness being a part of an American approach to education. This cartoon questions the kinds of school we want for our kids.

Today in my wood shop I plan to make the first boxes for chapter one of my new book.

Make, fix and create...

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