The Good Teacher and The Good Pupil - A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

Pestalozzi (Schöner) 1808


A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

A  Lover of Children


...a very ugly man with bristly hair, a face lined with smallpox scars and covered with freckles, an irregular and prickly beard, with no neckerchief; a man whose badly buttoned trousers drooped over his socks as these did over his rough shoes; a man with a panting, jerky walk, with eyes which at one moment sparkled, wide open, and at another closed in inward contemplation, with features which sometimes reflected a deep sorrow and then sometimes the purest joy, with a voice which was now hesitating and now impetuous, now soft and harmonious, and now storming like thunder. ..We all loved him, as he loved us all; we loved him so deeply that we were sad when we did not see him for a time, and when he returned we could not turn our eyes away from him.1

This is how a former pupil describes Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, whose name has now almost faded into oblivion. In eighteenth century Europe, however, he was (in almost legendary, Albert Schweitzer-like figure, a guest of kings and a subject of impassioned debate.

Pestalozzi was born in Zurich on 12 January 1746, the second of three surviving children. The early death of his father, which left the family in straitened circumstances, had a great influence on Pestalozzi's education, since a very close relationship between mother and child developed. To the lack of the firm guiding hand of a father, Pestalozzi attributed his over-sensitive, even unstable character;


 1. Michael  Heafford, Pestalozzi: His Thought and its Relevance Today (London: Methuen, 1967), p. 34.

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

his tendency towards single-mindedness also showed up early. To quote his own words:

From the cradle I was delicate and weakly; from a very early age I distinguished myself in the vigour with which I developed some of my faculties and inclinations; but just as I took a warm interest in certain objects and points of view, I equally showed myself, at just as early an age, extremely inattentive anti indifferent to everything which was not in some way actively connected with one of the objects temporarily occupying my fancy.1

He was a good pupil at school, at least in regard to subjects which interested him. He grew into a young man with radical views who joined with other young men of Zurich in a "society " advocating widespread political and social reform. (It should be remembered that Zurich was a city-state at the time, strictly controlled by a few dominant families where a large number of inhabitants were deprived of political rights.) Pestalozzi was very much impressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose book Emile had appeared in 1762. Rousseau's concept of "natural education", his deep aversion for book-learning, his idea that a child grows up through definite stages, had a deep influence on him. In the preface to Emile, Rousseau writes:

We do not know children: with the false ideas we have of them, the further we proceed the more we go astray. The wisest concentrate on that which it is important for grown- ups to know, without considering what children are capable of learning. They are always looking for the man in the child without thinking of what he is before he becomes a man.2

Pestalozzi felt very much in tune with Rousseau's plea for reform. As he says himself:

I compared the education which I had received in a corner of my mother s living-room and in the school class which I had attended with that which Rousseau claimed and demanded for his Emile. Home education as well as public education everywhere and in all classes of society appeared to me to be exactly like a crippled figure which would be able to find a cure for the wretchedness of its existing condition in the fine ideas of Rousseau, and that it was there that it should seek this cure.3


1. ibid., p. 3.

2. Ibid., p. 5.

3. Ibid., p. 5-6

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

Although keen to improve social conditions in Zurich, he was not sure of how to go about it. He first thought of entering holy orders, then of becoming a lawyer;and finally concluded that to attain his social aims he should try to improve the methods of popular education. Even then, he remained undecided for quite sometime.

I knew the way which I planned to take as little as I knew myself and had no idea where it would lead me. As I was then, I was not able even to imagine it and in blind enthusiasm at my newly adopted plan, I made the decision to devote myself whole-heartedly to agriculture.1

Pestalozzi tried to combine agriculture and education. He first decided to study agricultural methods and went to work with a patrician from Berne, J.R. Tschiffeli, at his experimental farm. Tschiffeli wanted to increase the productivity of the land as a means of promoting the well-being of the peasants. He succeeded in this endeavour, but at great financial cost, a fact which Pestalozzi was not aware of when he tried to imitate him. He bought a piece of land and built a home on it that he called the Neuhof (New Farm).

Pestalozzi s situation when he began his first experiment was already quite difficult. He was having trouble paying for the land, and moreover had to deal with an unscrupulous agent. The land was not fertile and needed a lot of money for improvement. His wife, Anna Schulthess, was pregnant and in poor health. Yet Pestalozzi was undaunted. He had a great sense of mission which made him face squarely all obstacles, including his own deficiencies. He felt that he was called to serve his country and humanity:

I had absolutely nothing in my favour except one deep-rooted purpose, one irrevocable motto: I will, — one belief which no experience could shatter: I can — and an indefinable feeling within me: I must.2

He had once written to Anna, "I will forget my own life, the tears of my wife and my children in order to be of service to my fatherland. "3

They moved to the Neuhof early in 1771, and were immediately beset by financial difficulties. Nevertheless, he soon decided to take in poor children, hoping

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

that they would be able to produce enough for their upkeep by helping on the farm. The first children arrived in 1774. There were twenty-two by 1776 and thirty-seven in 1778. They were given elementary instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic and religion. The boys were given simple agricultural jobs and weaving to do, the girls were set to spinning, gardening and cooking; initially there were many difficulties and little response from children and parents, but after some time the situation improved, and the children became more cheerful and healthy.

It is an indescribable joy to see boys and girls, who had been wretched, growing and thriving to see peace and satisfaction in their faces, to train their hands to work, and to lift their hearts towards their Creator... 1

But the growing financial problems forced him to sell some of the land in 1779. In 1780 he was forced to send the children away. He himself recognized that the ultimate failure was partly due to his tendency to precipitate action, "to try and climb to the top rung of the ladder leading to my aims, before I had set my foot firmly on the bottom rung. "On the educational level, the experiment had been a success. He had proved the validity of the two principles of education which he considered most essential for the child: security and genuine affection.

This remarkable attitude was completely at odds with the pedagogy prevalent at that time, and for twenty years Pestalozzi lived in a sort of personal no-man's land. The failure of his enterprise had shattered all the confidence people had in him. Yet, although depressed, he was unruffled: "My conviction that basically my aims were correct was never stronger than at that point in time when they were outwardly a complete failure. "3 To earn a living for his family, he reluctantly started writing, discovered that he had talent and published several essays. In the first one, The Evening Hour of a Hermit, he conveyed his conviction that man can be changed and the nature of society radically reformed by education. The book that won him sudden fame was a story about village life which, ". . . I know not how, flowed from my pen and developed out of itself without my having formed any plan of it in my head. "4 This was to be Part One Lienhard and Gertrud, a story where an official exploiting the villagers is finally defeated by Lienhard's wife, Gertrud, who appeals to the Squire against the corrupt bailiff. The book was an instant success.


1. Ibid., pp. 10-11.

2. Ibid.,p. 11.

3. Ibid.,p. 12.

4. Ibid.,p. 13.

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

This success, coming as it did after the resounding failure of the Neuhof, helped Pestalozzi to gain back in some measure the confidence of his contemporaries. But he himself was hardly satisfied with his fame as a writer.

 I was not brought up to be a writer. I feel at home when I have a child in my arms, or when a man who feels for humanity stands before me. And then I forget the poor truths ', fashioned by the pen.... For of everything which does not interest me as being indispensable to mankind I am unconcerned and the most ignorant of men.1

Furthermore, Pestalozzi felt that the real meaning of his story had been misunderstood.

He wrote other books and essays but they did not meet with the same popular success, and he found it increasingly difficult to earn a living. He corresponded with  powerful political figures outside Switzerland, hoping to convince them of his ideas, ' but even when they showed interest, they did nothing to promote his methods. In 1792, Pestalozzi was proclaimed an honorary French citizen by the French Parliament, but after having looked upon the French Revolution with hope, he f became a disillusioned spectator of the growing violence and continuous upheavals. The twenty years that Pestalozzi spent as a writer were very frustrating for a t man who wanted so much to do something/or his fellow human beings. He wrote in 1793:

It is indeed true that the existence of him who bears the interest of humanity within his breast is blessed. But if, as helpless as a lame man by the road, he must spend his life  calling to blind passers-by: "Take me on your shoulders and I will show you the way which you cannot see ", and in his whole long life not a single one takes him on his ' shoulders, then he is to be pitied.2


The impossibility of action, however, led him to look closely at his theories as well as his own capacities, and he was later to recognize the value of this arid period for his own development: "The sufferings of my life were of more value to me than ever its enjoyments can be. The sufferings of my life made that mature in me which would never have matured if I had been happy. "3

At long last, Pestalozzi got the opportunity he was waiting for. A new federal


1. Ibid., p.14

2. Ibid., p.16.


A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

government set up in Switzerland by the French offered Pestalozzi the charge of a home for orphans and homeless children at Stans, which had nearly been destroyed by battles between Swiss patriots and the occupying French Army. Pestalozzi accepted the proposal enthusiastically. He was fifty, and felt it was his last chance, the "death or success of my aims". He moved into a half-built convent, still swarming with masons and carpenters. There were many difficulties. Not only was he considered as a representative of a highly unpopular central government, he was a Protestant in a predominantly Catholic area. He had hardly settled when the children began to arrive. Soon there were eighty, some from good families, some destitute, a number of them quite violent. Pestalozzi threw himself body and soul into the task of winning their confidence.

From morning to evening I was virtually alone in their midst. Everything which benefited their bodies and souls came from my hand. Every piece of help, every form of succour in need which they received came directly from me. My hand lay in theirs; my eyes rested on theirs. My tears flowed with theirs and my smile accompanied theirs. They were outside the world, outside Stans, they were with me and I with them. Their soup was my soup, their drink, my drink. I had nothing, no servants, no friends, no helpers with me, I had only them. If they were healthy, I stood in their midst, if they were ill I was at their side. In the evening I was the last to go to bed, in the morning I was the first to get up.1

The dampness of the convent caused many children to fall sick and Pestalozzi was blamed for it by their parents. It took many months to manifest, but finally Pestalozzi won the confidence of most of the children. "They felt that through me they were getting further than other children; they realized the inward connection between my guidance and their future life. "2

And finally, by early 1799 a triumphant cry: "It is succeeding, it is succeeding in every way. I am blotting out the disgrace of my life. . . . I see and feel that my destiny is equal to that of other men, I myself have become a human being again and reconcile myself so gladly with my race. "3

Pestalozzi s success was based on a relation of love with the children. With love he found that the number and age of the pupils did not matter; they were ready to help each other. Through his devotion to the children he was able to stimulate the


1. Ibid., p. 20.

2. Ibid., p. 20.

3. Ibid., p. 21.

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

desire to learn. He had realized that the actual process of learning was more than a means to an end: it was something of value, interest and enjoyment in itself. In June 1799, unfortunately, the convent was turned into a military hospital and the experiment came to an end. But Pestalozzi had proved to himself the validity of his approach to education.

A few weeks later, he started to teach in a school in Burgdorf, but his unconventional methods resulted in a crisis which led to his departure from the school. Finally, in October 1800, Pestalozzi was able to run his own institute with an assistant and again met with success. At the beginning of 1801, he wrote to a friend:


Imagine how it stirs my heart when alongside their great intellectual progress I see love, profound goodwill, and interest developing with equal rapidity in children who a few weeks before had been complete strangers. Imagine how it stirs my heart when  even parents, with tears in their eyes, declare: I can see that my child is better; is more good-natured and kinder than before.1


A public inspection by a two-man commission resulted in a glowing tribute which helped to spread Pestalozzi s reputation beyond Switzerland. With fame came a great change. Assistants who wanted to learn about the new method began to arrive, and Pestalozzi became more and more dependent upon them. In 1804 he wrote to one of these assistants: "As long as you live our cause is not deserted. My conviction that you and Krusi have been sent to me as saviours cannot be stronger. Daily I surrender myself up more and more to your strength. Your joining me makes me into something which I am not really and which, at my age, I never can become "2 ' There were more and more visitors to Pestalozzi s institute at Burgdorf. He felt very happy about it. "Foreigners arrive daily from all parts to see, to examine, and even to participate, and I now contemplate the approaching end of my career with calm, as honest and careful attention is being almost universally paid to the essence of my activity. "3

There were still detractors and their attacks grew along with his reputation, but what he considered more dangerous were the misconceptions many had regarding his method and principles. In 1801 he wrote his most famous educational essay,


1. Ibid., p. 24

2. Ibid, p. 25.

3. Ibid., p. 25.

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

How Gertrude teaches her Children, where he explains the development of his educational ideas and how he hoped to/it them into one simple system. "For months I had worked at the elementary stages of instruction and. done everything to reduce them to the greatest simplicity; yet I did not know how they fitted together, or at least I was not clearly conscious of how they did; with every hour, however, I felt that I was moving forwards, that I was moving quickly forwards. "1

Even this book does not give a full account of Pestalozzi s method. Such a definitive work was never produced. His basic conception, which he explained till the end of his life, is that learning processes must be reduced to the simplest patterns and that these patterns should be seen as parts of a harmonious whole.

Pestalozzi s problem in Burgdorf was that he was personally ill-suited to run such an organization. He later considered the Burgdorf institute to be a turning point for the worse in his life: "With the first step my foot made on the staircase in Burgdorf castle I was lost to myself in that I had entered on a career in which I could not be other then unhappy, for by accepting this post... I put myself in a position which presupposed as essential and necessary the capacity to wield authority which I lacked. "2

Up to 1803, the experiment was a success, with more than seventy pupils taught by twenty assistants. But a change in the Swiss political scene cost Pestalozzi the support of the central government, and he was soon asked to vacate the castle. He found alternative accommodation in an empty convent at Munchenbuchsee, not far from the institute and experimental farm of another educational pioneer, Danielvon Fellenberg. Von Fellenberg being a very able administrator and Pestalozzi a genial educator, it seemed ideal to combine the two institutions. But their differing attitudes soon came into conflict and the partnership broke up. As Pestalozzi wrote to Von Fellenberg, after their separation in 1804:

I saw your strength but also knew of what I, with my weaknesses, was capable. I esteemed your sense of order but knew also the value of the unconstrained atmosphere which had been the hallmark of my institute until then. I valued your internal and external methods of administration, but at the same time I knew that without any of these methods the hearts of my household were drawn to me. I recognized the advantage of allocating responsibility, 'but knew of the effects of love which can surpass anything that mere responsibility can do.3


1. Ibid., p. 26

2. Ibid., p. 26

3. Ibid., pp. 27-28.

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A Lover Of Children

 Pestalozzi was given the charge of a home  for orphans and homeless children at  Stans, which had nearly been destroyed by battles between Swiss patriots and the  occupying French Army.

(painting by Anker)


Fortunately, when Pestalozzi left Burgdorf, he had accepted the charge of a castle at Yverdon as well as the convent at Munchenbuchsee. Pupils and staff were divided between the two places. As his relations with Von Fellenberg became increasingly difficult, Pestalozzi spent more and more time in Yverdon, finally regrouping everything there by the end of 1804.

From the start, Yverdon was very different from the happy experience of Stans, where he had looked after the education of a large group of children on his own. How, with so many assistants and under constant public scrutiny, Pestalozzi became an admired source of inspiration but he had no illusions about the degree of control that he could exert. "I am in my enterprise like a boat lost in the raging seas. The control of my enterprise rests no more in my hands; I am in its power and must let myself be swept along wherever it wishes. So far its course has been smooth and strong, yet I follow it with a trembling heart — it is beyond my strength to resist. "1

By 1809 there were more than a hundred and forty pupils and candidates had to be refused. Pestalozzi considered that the best age to enter was six, but accepted pupils up to twelve. The number of teachers had greatly increased, including a large


1, Ibid., p. 29.

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A Lover Of Children

group of teachers in training sent by the Prussian Ministry of Education for three full years. There were teachers ' meetings three times a week after the evening meal, one devoted to discussing the children, one about problems met by the teachers during the week, and one about the "method", principles of which were applied by the assistants to various subjects.

Things went smoothly for a while, until a personality conflict between two of Pestalozzi's main assistants, Niederer and Schmid, led to the departure of Schmid. Schmid later published a work which brought the whole institute into disrepute, and an official inspection requested by Pestalozzi did not produce the results he had hoped for. The inspectors, while praising the work accomplished, particularly in the field of moral education, also pointed out many deficiencies, and concluded that it was not an example to admire and emulate. This marked the beginning of the decline of the institute. Financial difficulties also increased and finally Pestalozzi was persuaded to ask Schmid to come back. Unfortunately, after his return in 1815, Schmid did not limit himself to administration but set out to organize everything, changing the happy freedom previously enjoyed by the staff into the strictest discipline.

This led to a crisis in 1816 and many teachers resigned. Pestalozzi, now seventy years old, threw in his lot with Schmid till the end, in 1825, when Schmid's enemies managed to get him expelled from the Canton of Vaud. Pestalozzi spent the last two years of his life in Neuhof, where he died in February 1827, after receiving a last defamatory pamphlet about himself and his work.

Pestalozzi was a true pioneer who opened a new road for education. He took risks, he suffered setbacks, he sometimes failed; but above all he loved children deeply, and in this deep love he undoubtedly found the inspiration to serve them.

Throughout my life I have sought the basic elements of the faculties and capacities which my country needs more urgently now than ever before. Often I went astray, often I made mistakes, but often I seemed to have gone astray, I seemed to have made mistakes just because I was alone, and here and there there have been those who more than smiled when, quietly sitting on their chairs in their rooms sipping their tea and smoking their pipes, they saw the poor toiler running about looking for a good and advantageous path over mountain and valley, and saw him neglecting and destroying himself in bog and thicket for his cause. I was seeking the path for their children and for a country which was their country and my country.1


1. ibid., p. 35.

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A Lover Of Children

Neuhof, Engraving by J. Aschmann, 1780

What was it in the teaching methods of his time against which Pestalozzi reacted so violently? A description of a school period by a contemporary of his should give a clear indication:


Every day the first period was devoted to reading the Bible. We began at the place where we had left off the day before until we had "finished" the Bible. Then we immediately restarted at the first word of the first book of Genesis and continued through to the last word of the Revelation of John. Thus we went through the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament; not a single word was left out. We really achieved something, for in about eight months we had got through. That is good going. It can be explained, however, when one realizes that absolutely nothing was clarified, and that it was the "done thing" to read away as quickly as possible without any expression or a single hesitation. For this reason we always looked forward to the Books of Chronicles, in which there were so many difficult names one after the other and one did not have to think. In

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A Lover Of Children

Teaching children how to count

fact in other places too one very rarely did because everything rushed past far too quickly. The pupils read in turn and during the period the Headmaster seldom said more than the word: "Next!" when another pupil had to continue. At the most he corrected a word which had been pronounced wrongly or called to someone who had not been following, "Next!" even though it was not his turn. If he stumbled, he was struck a few times with the cane. For us the Bible was no more than a reader which was only of interest to us because with its help we could show how well and quickly we were able to read. The contents were mostly incomprehensible to us, especially to the children who spoke dialect; moreover we did not pay much attention to the contents. Of course, we knew the Bible was God's word; but we did not really understand what

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

that meant. For us the title-page, the prefaces, and the chapter headings were equally God's word because they were in the Bible, and if the bookbinder had felt like binding another book in with the Bible we would not have doubted but that it was equally God's word.

The cruelty of the schoolmasters, the severity of the discipline have possibly been exaggerated as causes of Pestalozzi's attitude. Certainly he was completely opposed to all forms of inhumanity in the classroom, yet by no means all teachers would have depended on rule by force of the cane. Pestalozzi's criticism was far more basic and universal than the maltreatment of pupils in certain schools, for he accused the whole system — both the methods and the content — of having become fettered by routine and tradition, to the point where teaching had degenerated into cramming and where school subjects had become no more than a particular selection of facts to be learnt by heart. Teaching methods had become so rigid that they took into account neither the capacities of a child to learn what was placed in front of him, nor the purpose for which he was expected to do so.


The most important mistake of present-day education is undoubtedly the following: Too much is expected of the child and too many of the topics only appear to be something but are nothing.

Schools instead of acting with nature, and stimulating and encouraging the child, seemed to do everything to stunt originality and the imagination. For children entry to school after some five years of freedom was a form of punishment:

Suddenly the whole of nature around them is made to vanish from their sight, the attractive expression of their spontaneity and their freedom is tyrannically stopped; shoved into groups they are thrown like sheep into a stinking room, they are chained mercilessly for hours, days, weeks, months, and years, and forced to look at miserable, unattractive and monotonous letters and to follow a whole way of life capable of driving them mad, so different is it from their previous existence.

Schools had become no more than "artificial machines to stifle all the achievements of strength and experience which nature herself brings to life within them".

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

To replace old methods Pestalozzi wanted to introduce a new system of education which would take fully into account the child himself, what he was capable of achieving mentally and physically, and what he was capable "of experiencing spiritually. While bearing in mind a child's future station in adult life, education was to become "child-centred" and adapt itself to the intelligence, feelings, and enthusiasms of the children. This system, which he hoped would be established universally, Pestalozzi called his "method". The "method" was far more than a system of recommended classroom procedures:

People are completely mistaken in assuming without good reason that my aims are limited to facilitating the elementary skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. They are not! My purpose does not stop here but probes deeply into the very essence of higher intellectual and moral education and into the most thorough investigations of human nature itself.

The "method" was a philosophical concept,, an ultimate value, which can perhaps best be defined as "the ideal method of developing a child's personality and It capacities to the full and of preparing him to live a full and happy life as an adult". Of course, such a definition is not very revealing, but it does emphasize two features of Pestalozzi's "method". It recognizes an ideal which every effort should be made to approach; the existing passive acceptance of old forms should be replaced by active interest in the educational field. The structure of society was changing and education could and should play an important part in these changes. The second feature which needs to be stressed is the empirical approach to education allowed by a system where there are no definite boundaries. The test of any educational theory lay in its practical application, and therefore Pestalozzi did not concern himself whether any idea was new or original nor whether it could logically be fitted into existing theories, as long as it proved to be beneficial to the child.

  A reputation can be a dangerous thing to have, and that of Pestalozzi's "method" was such that people came to imagine that it was some entirely new magic formula. Yet on examination many of the theories seemed to have been advocated before, and the men who were attempting to put them into practice seemed anything but magicians. And so, not finding what they had expected, critics blamed Pestalozzi for their own misconceptions, pointing out that many of his ideas were not original, and deeming this a fault. In fact, Pestalozzi had never claimed that his theories were entirely new, nor did he regard originality for its own sake as a virtue:

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A Lover Of Children

It is in no way my intention to stress any one of my points of view because it is new; I hold fast to my system because I believe it consistent with human nature, and I am convinced that educational theory in all aspects in which it is fully developed, corresponds to that which is true in my system. I am convinced that every good educationist was more or less on the scent of my most important ideas. Indeed I believe even the Greeks employed methods of teaching which in spirit and in form were similar to mine. It is absolutely certain that every good father and every good mother will be naturally forced within the family circle to make use of the whole range of my method's elementary principles.

Even if Pestalozzi's ideas considered singly were not all original, and despite efforts of critics to play them down, the impact of the ideas is undeniable. For Pestalozzi not only had positive ideas but also had the personality and perseverance to force them on the attention of an age which hovered between revolution and conservatism, an age which needed yet feared change.

It is fairly generally felt in towns and villages alike that schools are not what they should be.

Indeed! But when it is a matter of changing them, everyone cries out: 'The old system is good!' and clings to it for grim death.

Pestalozzi never produced a comprehensive description of all his educational theories. Despite this, certain ideas recur again and again in his works. It is therefore possible to talk of the general principles which Pestalozzi made into a foundation for his educational theories and practice. In Hov Gertrude teaches her ChildrenPestalozzi explains how he was exposing his views to a friend without being able to sum up his main aim in any simple catch-phrase when the friend suddenly exclaimed: "You want to mechanize education." Pestalozzi found the description apt, but, like all over-simplified definitions, it must be interpreted correctly. If the friend had said to Pestalozzi: "You want to humanize education", his definition would have been equally valid. An outline of Pestalozzi's general principles should help to show that the apparently contradictory definitions are useful and can be reconciled.

Pestalozzi was the first to acknowledge the heritage he had received from

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A Lover Of Children

Rousseau — the man who had been "the turning point between the old and the new worlds of education". It was Rousseau who had condemned contemporary educational methods as "unnatural":


Powerfully gripped by all-powerful nature, realizing as no other the separation of his fellow-men from the strong influence of the senses and from intellectual life, he broke with Herculean strength the chains of the mind, and gave the child back to himself and education back to the child and to human nature.

Pestalozzi took over the concept that education must harmonize with nature. However simple such a plan might seem when one bears in mind the rigid, stultified system of the time, Pestalozzi and his followers regarded it as outspoken and revolutionary. Their attitude emerges clearly in the following description by Niederer of the method's aim:

The principle of Pestalozzi when he took over the castle and founded the Institute (i.e. at Burgdorf) was revolutionary. By word and deed he wanted to tear down and build up again: tear down the whole school system as it had existed up to then, a system which appeared to him monstrous; then to build up a new school system in which he wanted to entrust the subjects taught to the basic elements and methods of nature. The subjects taught had to be adapted to the nature of the child, to the range of activity of which he was capable, to the stage of his development and to his individual needs. The basic elements of instruction he wished to educe from the physical, mental, moral, and religious nature of the child, from its elemental appearances. The course of instruction had to be brought into complete harmony with the stages of development of human nature.

The passage already gives an impression of the methods Pestalozzi considered necessary in order to render education more "natural". The early part of the passage underlines the vigour with which Pestalozzi felt they would have to be propagated if they were to replace the old methods.

It is not surprising to find that Pestalozzi uses a natural image to convey one of his most fundamental principles:

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

Pestalozzi surrounded by war orphans

Man, imitate the action of great nature which from the seed of even the largest tree pushes at first but an imperceptible shoot, but then by a further imperceptible growth which progresses smoothly every hour and every day unfolds the young trunk, then that which will grow into the main branches, then the subsidiary branches, and finally the smallest twigs from which will hang the ephemeral leaves. Notice how nature tends and protects each single part formed and how she attaches each new part to the strong life of the old.

Pestalozzi did not see the new-born child as a rough-hewn stone into which parents and educators could carve the image they wanted, but as a seed which already contained the essence of the child's intelligence and personality. The aim of his method was to provide the stimulation necessary to enable the elementary

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A Lover Of Children

potential of the child to be developed to the full. Thus Pestalozzi's view of the influence of heredity on the one hand and environment on the other corresponds, to the modem assessment of their relative roles. Heredity does have a vital influence on mental, personal, and physical characteristics — but this influence can be almost completely annulled if during the first years of life the child's environment represses his capacities.

The belief that talents were inborn and not imposed from outside did not in any way reduce the importance of parents and teachers. Indeed the art of education lay in providing the correct exercises and a satisfactory background for the child's talents to develop to the full. Pestalozzi's claim was that in presenting material in an educational form to the child, there was an ideal order in which to present it. To establish what this order was, it was necessary to reduce a topic to its most fundamental elements and then build it up gradually from there step by step. The development of a topic from the most simple to the most difficult should be divided up into as many gradations as possible. To do this did not involve discovering any new material but merely laying bare and interpreting facts which were already known. The method aims at finding and grasping essential elements, i.e. the unalterable points of departure and links of all instruction and all education. It aims at uncovering, not discovering, the elements.

By grouping facts and experiences together in the right way, by arranging them in the right order, it should be possible to establish a natural progression from the most simple to the most difficult without there being any gaps. Pestalozzi gave a clear indication of how this progression was to be established:


First of all learn to arrange your observations and to complete the elementary before proceeding to something complicated. In every aspect of education try to organize a progression of experiences in which each new concept is a small, almost unnoticeable addition to former experiences already firmly engrained and never to be forgotten by you.

The progression from simple to difficult could not emerge merely from studying the relevant material; if it were to be used to teach children it must take child psychology into consideration. For Pestalozzi the art of the teacher lay in

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

ensuring that the level of difficulty of the subject matter corresponded exactly to the child's developing capacity to comprehend. He insisted that instruction had to be based on a child's understanding, not on that of an adult. Hence education was for him child-centred, and to be successful depended on close observation of children and on deep insight into the way a child's mind works and develops. Pestalozzi therefore proposed empirical methods to educe the ways in which educational material should be presented to the children:


That which he (the teacher) wishes to impart to his children, he must have mastered himself as thoroughly as he wishes them to master it. He can best achieve this if he often learns with and alongside the children, and thereby places himself in a position not only to gain a complete grasp of the subject with which he wishes to become acquainted, but also to observe the children themselves and all their reactions when learning; he should notice how he can stimulate and direct the awakening faculties of each child and how he brings them step by step closer to the goal which he has decided upon.

If close observation was to be the means of discovering the ideal method of education, the interest shown by the child would be the best indication of the success of any method. For a child would only be interested by that which he could fully understand and that which was presented to him in an exciting form:

His desire to develop his mental powers by exercising them will necessarily diminish if the means whereby it is hoped to teach him to think do not appeal in an attractive way to his mental faculties, but only irritate him by their tedium, and subdue and confuse him rather than stimulate and arouse him by their harmony.

There is an interesting similarity between Pestalozzi's approach and that of the modern Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, who by extensive observation and experiment, has tried to show how a child's capacity to comprehend the world around him develops, pointing out that often a child's comprehension of certain phenomena and concepts follows a strict chronological order. It follows that a child cannot understand what one might call concept C until he has understood concepts A and B. Pestalozzi's view that all experience and information must be provided in

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

a certain order which corresponds to a child's age and ability to understand is, therefore, upheld by modem opinion.

Because the method was based on developing the natural talents of the child, it had not only to take child psychology into account, but also had to examine thecharacter and intelligence of the individual child:

In as much as the method is positive, it bases itself directly on the individual child which it has in its care; indeed there is nothing positive in education and in teaching but the individual child and the individual talents he has.

Instead of presenting material to children and leaving it to chance what they retained, the teacher's function, according to Pestalozzi, was to find out the capacities of each individual child and thereby which stage in the natural progression from simple to difficult within each sphere of education he had reached. No longer would the child have to adapt himself as best he could to the material presented to him; instead he would be taught in a class where his individual needs would be catered for.

So far we have considered the analytical aspect of Pestalozzi's theories: his desire to reduce educational topics to their ___ basic elements and then build them up again in a natural progression from simple to difficult in accordance with a child's growing capacity to comprehend. For this purpose Pestalozzi recognized three basic aspects of education: Intellectual education, moral education, and practical education (i.e. physical education in the broadest sense).... Here, however, it should be noted that while Pestalozzi attempted to break the educational process down into basic elements in order to simplify and rationalize it, he insisted that it was the whole personality which had to be educated:


A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

Nature forms the child as an indivisible whole, as a vital organic unity with many-sided moral, mental, and physical capacities. She wishes that none of these capacities remain undeveloped. Where nature has influenced and the child is well and truly guided by her, she develops the child's heart, mind, and body in harmonious unity. The development of the one is not only indivisibly linked with the development of the other, but each of these capacities is developed through and by means of the others.

Again we find Pestalozzi upholding a modem view — for in the past it has often wrongly been maintained that abilities compensated for each other: for example, a good athlete would often prove a poor pupil in the class-room, a bright pupil would often prove bad at games. It has now been shown that there is a high correlation between the various human abilities, i.e. the bright pupil is likely to do quite well at games, the poor pupil is likely to be weak at them. In trying to educate the whole personality, Pestalozzi was interested in every aspect of education — hence the interest of so many of his contemporaries in his work.

The aim of Pestalozzi's method was not only to develop the individual to the full, but also to benefit every child whatever his age or class or future profession. By basing his system on the natural growth of a child's capacities, he could rightly claim that it was universally applicable. Through the method the various types of education — general and professional, private and public, working class and middle class — would be seen to have a common basis. Pestalozzi had no desire to make the system more uniform, but felt that every type of teaching could be related to every other type and that by so doing, the aim and limits of each type would become more clearly defined. He did not believe that each individual was capable of reaching the same standards of attainment, but he did insist that each and every child should have the chance to develop those talents which he had to the full. Of the treatment of pupils in Yverdon he wrote:

In our dealings with the children we make no distinctions which are based on outward things or on matters of chance. In these respects we recognize absolutely no superiority in the merit of one child over another except to be and to become that which, according to the strength of his will and the degree of his effort and self-control, he can be and should become. We acknowledge humanity, i.e. human nature, in all alike.

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

By emphasizing that which every child had in common, not that which spearated them, Pestalozzi manitained that his methed could help everyone in every stage of development.

From this summary of pestalozzi's general principles, the humanizing and mechanizing elements in his theories should have become clear. By ordering knowledge and experiences, he hoped to find an ideal way in which to teach children, and methods which would prove universally applicable. At the same time by continually stressing that education was for the child and not the child for education, he showed that the needs of the individual child had to be taken into account. Education was to become at the same time more human and more scientific.


From Michael Heafford, Pestalozzi, His Thought and its Relevance Today (London:

Methuen, 1967), pp. 39-49.


There are many books about Pestalozzi in German, but very few in English. A thorough account of his life and work can be found in:

Silber, Kate. Pestalozzi, the man and his work. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,1960.

A Lover Of Children

A Lover Of Children

Pestalozzi and his grandson ( by Schöner )

A Lover Of Children

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