EDUCATION DURING THE ENLIGHTENMENT
Jean Jacques Rousseau
One of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau argued that individual freedom is more important than state institutions. His political writings helped inspire the French Revolution (1789-1799). He also wrote eloquently on education, arguing that children learn best by interacting freely with their environment. His thoughts on education anticipated 20th-century reforms in schooling.
The Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century produced important changes in education and educational theory. During the Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason, educators believed people could improve their lives and society by using their reason, their powers of critical thinking. The Enlightenment’s ideas had a significant impact on the American Revolution (1775-1783) and early educational policy in the United States. In particular, American philosopher and scientist Benjamin Franklin emphasized the value of utilitarian and scientific education in American schools. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, stressed the importance of civic education to the citizens of a democratic nation. The Enlightenment principles that considered education as an instrument of social reform and improvement remain fundamental characteristics of American education policy.
EDUCATION IN THE 19TH CENTURY
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi is widely considered the pioneer of early childhood education. His teaching philosophy, which he first proposed in the 1770s, was based on the principle that children were naturally good and that education should nurture and preserve this innate innocence. Pestalozzi established several schools for poor and orphaned children in Switzerland.
The foundations of modern education were established in the 19th century. Swiss educator Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, inspired by the work of French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, developed an educational method based on the natural world and the senses. Pestalozzi established schools in Switzerland and Germany to educate children and train teachers. He affirmed that schools should resemble secure and loving homes.
Like Locke and Rousseau, Pestalozzi believed that thought began with sensation and that teaching should use the senses. Holding that children should study the objects in their natural environment, Pestalozzi developed a so-called “object lesson” that involved exercises in learning form, number, and language. Pupils determined and traced an object’s form, counted objects, and named them. Students progressed from these lessons to exercises in drawing, writing, adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and reading.
Pestalozzi employed the following principles in teaching: (1) begin with the concrete object before introducing abstract concepts; (2) begin with the immediate environment before dealing with what is distant and remote; (3) begin with easy exercises before introducing complex ones; and (4) always proceed gradually, cumulatively, and slowly. American educator Henry Barnard, the first U.S. Commissioner of Education, introduced Pestalozzi’s ideas to the United States in the late 19th century. Barnard also worked for the establishment of free public high schools for students of all classes of American society.
German philosopher Johann Herbart emphasized moral education and designed a highly structured teaching technique. Maintaining that education’s primary goal is moral development, Herbart claimed good character rested on knowledge while misconduct resulted from an inadequate education. Knowledge, he said, should create an “apperceptive mass”—a network of ideas—in a person’s mind to which new ideas can be added. He wanted to include history, geography, and literature in the school curriculum as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Based on his work, Herbart’s followers designed a five-step teaching method: (1) prepare the pupils to be ready for the new lesson, (2) present the new lesson, (3) associate the new lesson with ideas studied earlier, (4) use examples to illustrate the lesson’s major points, and (5) test pupils to ensure they had learned the new lesson.
German educator Friedrich Froebel founded the first kindergarten in 1837 in Blankenburg, Prussia (now part of Germany). Froebel based his educational philosophy on a belief in the innate creativity of children. Accordingly, his kindergarten stressed that children should spend part of each day engaged in play to naturally develop their creative and intellectual potential.
German educator Friedrich Froebel created the earliest kindergarten, a form of preschool education that literally means “child’s garden” in German. Froebel, who had an unhappy childhood, urged teachers to think back to their own childhoods to find insights they could use in their teaching. Froebel studied at Pestalozzi’s institute in Yverdon, Switzerland, from 1808 to 1810. While agreeing with Pestalozzi’s emphasis on the natural world, a kindly school atmosphere, and the object lesson, Froebel felt that Pestalozzi’s method was not philosophical enough. Froebel believed that every child’s inner self contained a spiritual essence—a spark of divine energy—that enabled a child to learn independently.
In 1837 Froebel opened a kindergarten in Blankenburg with a curriculum that featured songs, stories, games, gifts, and occupations. The songs and stories stimulated the imaginations of children and introduced them to folk heroes and cultural values. Games developed children’s social and physical skills. By playing with each other, children learned to participate in a group. Froebel’s gifts, including such objects as spheres, cubes, and cylinders, were designed to enable the child to understand the concept that the object represented. Occupations consisted of materials children could use in building activities. For example, clay, sand, cardboard, and sticks could be used to build castles, cities, and mountains.
Immigrants from Germany brought the kindergarten concept to the United States, where it became part of the American school system. Margarethe Meyer Schurz opened a German-language kindergarten in Watertown, Wisconsin, in 1855. Elizabeth Peabody established an English-language kindergarten and a training school for kindergarten teachers in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1860. William Torrey Harris, superintendent of schools in St. Louis, Missouri, and later a U.S. commissioner of education, made the kindergarten part of the American public school system.
British sociologist Herbert Spencer strongly influenced education in the mid-19th century with social theories based on the theory of evolution developed by British naturalist Charles Darwin. Spencer revised Darwin’s biological theory into social Darwinism, a body of ideas that applied the theory of evolution to society, politics, the economy, and education. Spencer maintained that in modern industrialized societies, as in earlier simpler societies, the “fittest” individuals of each generation survived because they were intelligent and adaptable. Competition caused the brightest and strongest individuals to climb to the top of the society. Urging unlimited competition, Spencer wanted government to restrict its activities to the bare minimum. He opposed public schools, claiming that they would create a monopoly for mediocrity by catering to students of low ability. He wanted private schools to compete against each other in trying to attract the brightest students and most capable teachers. Spencer’s social Darwinism became very popular in the last half of the 19th century when industrialization was changing American and Western European societies.
Spencer believed that people in industrialized society needed scientific rather than classical education. Emphasizing education in practical skills, he advocated a curriculum featuring lessons in five basic human activities: (1) those needed for self-preservation such as health, diet, and exercise; (2) those needed to perform one’s occupation so that a person can earn a living, including the basic skills of reading, writing, computation, and knowledge of the sciences; (3) those needed for parenting, to raise children properly; (4) those needed to participate in society and politics; and (5) those needed for leisure and recreation. Spencer’s ideas on education were eagerly accepted in the United States. In 1918 the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, a report issued by the National Education Association, used Spencer’s list of activities in its recommendations for American education.