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Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

(1746—1827) Swiss educational reformer


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(1746–1827)

The founder of what became known as the ‘Pestalozzi Method’ for the education of young children, Zurich‐born Pestalozzi believed that children should learn through activity and through the handling and use of material objects rather than simply through words. He argued that children should be encouraged to follow their own interests, make their own discoveries, and draw their own conclusions. In this, he was exploring and developing the educational ideas of Rousseau, and particularly Rousseau's recognition of the potential conflict between the pursuit of individual freedom and the necessity for civic responsibility. His approach emphasizes the importance of allowing children room for spontaneity and the freedom to generate their own ideas and activities, and of allowing them to arrive at their own answers. In order that they may do this, their ability to reason, judge, and perceive for themselves must be nurtured and encouraged. In this sense, his method has much in common with the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education which was developed in Italy over a century later. A key underlying principle of the Pestalozzi approach is that it is not enough to provide children with an education which is purely cognitive or intellectual; that they should be given a balanced, whole‐child approach to learning based upon psychomotor, affective, and cognitive development, or, in Pestalozzi's phraseology, ‘hands, heart, and head’.

Pestalozzi developed the concept of Anschauung, or object lesson, which was the principle that no word should be employed until it was thoroughly understood by concrete observation or perception, whether it referred to a material object, an action, or a means of distinguishing one thing from another. From this his proponents have developed principles which inform much of modern‐day pedagogic practice at all levels, such as the necessity, in effective teaching, of starting with the concrete before moving to the abstract, and starting with the simple before moving to the complex.

He also placed great emphasis on the personal dignity of the child as learner, and the importance of preserving the integrity of each individual personality. He viewed education as a means of improving conditions for the socially marginalized, and for society generally. This concern with social justice and with kindness, positive regard, and a mutually respectful teacher–learner relationship also led him to ban flogging in his schools. In seeing each child as the potential, or ‘seed’, of the adult they will become, Pestalozzi was concerned that no undue pressures or influences should warp the development intended by nature and thereby prevent the child from growing to fulfil their inherent promise. He also emphasized the potential of everyday life as a source of learning experiences, claiming that ‘There can be no doubt that within the living room of every household are united the basic elements of all true human education across its whole range.’ Nevertheless, he saw the school as a central part of the education process, and in this respect his thinking diverged from that of Rousseau, who was of the view that the one‐to‐one tutor–pupil relationship was the optimum means of ensuring a meaningful education.

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Subjects: Education — Literature.


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