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Pestalozzi: his life and work online

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the joy and faith of a Christian.

The earth has now covered his mortal remains for sixty
years, and during that time men's opinions of him have
been considerably modified. His work is being slowly
understood, and people are beginning to see that he was
misjudged, only because he was ahead of his time.

During the last thirty years, even the most orthodox
Protestants have repudiated the narrowness of view, Puri-
tanical harshness, and petty intolerance that so long existed
among the partisans of the religious revival, and it is now
understood that there are different ways of being an evan-
gelical Christian. And so in recent works on Pestalozzi,
which have been especially numerous in Germany, we find
no trace of doubt as to the Christian character of his work.

This character, as we have seen, was evident enough in


Pestalozzi's treatment of the children he sought to befriend,
but it stands out most clearly when we compare his educa-
tional doctrine with the teaching of the Gospel. What
Jesus asks for is an inward development in spirit and in
truth, something which conies from the heart. When He
seeks to make us one with Him, it is that we may be nourished
by His love, His faith, and His humility, as the branch is
nourished by the sap of the vine. He always judges of an
act by the feeling behind it, thus making the hidden motives
of the human soul a measure of the real value of its external

And if we look at the comparisons by which Jesus teaches
His disciples, we shall find Him constantly taking vegetable
life as a type of the moral and religious life. The kingdom
of heaven is like a tree that has grown from a small seed.
The word of God is like a seed that falls upon good ground ;
it takes root and develops in a well-prepared heart. God
punishing the sinner is like a gardener pruning a tree that
it may bring forth more fruit. Every tree is known by its
fruits; men do not gather figs of thorns, etc.

Everywhere, in short, He explains the development of the
human heart by likening it to the organic development of
the plant. We might indeed call this the philosophy of the
Gospel ; we are about to see that it was certainly the
philosophy of Pestalozzi.



PESTALOZZI was, before everything else, a man of feeling
and imagination ; it was his feelings that led him to put
himself in the place of the unfortunate, it was by his power-
ful imagination that he so identified himself, as it were,
with children and poor people as to discover in them the
truths he was destined to reveal to the world.

He was, at the same time, a man of action. In devoting
himself to the people, it was by deeds and practical experi-
ments that he sought to serve them. He only began to
write when he could no longer act, and afterwards he only
wrote for the sake of making known certain views which he
was not in a position to test practically.

He would never admit that he had a carefully thought-out
system, his intuitions being so simple and so clear that he
thought they must be shared by everybody. It is true that
he was unable to formulate them in any general manner,
because, having so long forsaken books and the society of
scholars, he had no power of philosophical expression. And
yet he was delighted to hear from Fichte that his ideas
were in harmony with the philosophy of Kant.

It is somewhat difficult, then, to think of Pestalozzi as a
philosopher. And yet when we see his whole life animated
by on,e idea, an idea which enables him first to discover the
faults of the schools of his time, and the dangers to civili-
zation resulting therefrom, and then to apply remedies,
many of which, despite his awkwardness, met with admir-
able success, we can no longer doubt that some new and
fertile philosophical principle had been revealed to his

As a matter of fact, all the originality of his genius con-
sists in a new conceptipn of man and man's nature, of his
powers, their mode of action, and development. This is


what we venture to call Pestalozzi's philosophy ; and when
it is once understood, his whole doctrine is seen to result
naturally from it.

In Pestalozzi's view, man is created by God and comes
into the world possessing in germ all the moral, physical,
and intellectual powers which, if exercised and developed
by the natural means the world offers him, will, by Divine
grace, enable him happily to accomplish the destiny to which
he is called.

In many of his writings, Pestalozzi formally recognizes the
necessity of God's grace, but he knows, too, that if it is
man's duty to ask for it as being powerless without it, he must
none the less work as if he could do everything for himself,
and apply his whole strength in the sphere of activity to
which God has called him.

The only means that the educator can make direct and
practical use of are those offered by the world in general
and the child's nature in particular ; it is these that Pesta-
lozzi studied and co-ordinated, for the purpose of employing
them in accordance with the natural law of the child's

This law is the essential part of his discovery ; it is a
consequence of his philosophical conception of human nature ;
it became the fundamental principle of his educational

It appears in his mind as an intuition of his early youth.
As a general rule he does not so much state the law as take
it for granted, but he always observes it and acts in accord-
ance with it. We may say, indeed, that his whole life bears
its stamp. It is true that he nowhere formulates it as a
whole, but he gives its principal features in all his writings.
Wo find it, for instance, in the Evening Hour, his first
pedagogical work, and again in the Song of the Swan, the
last production of his old age.

As we have seen, this law of man's development is an
organic law ; that is to say, our true progress cannot result
from a mere combination of external circumstances, but only
from the work that goes on within us. In the physical or-
ganism the organs are increased and strengthened by use and
exercise only ; each of them profits chiefly and directly from
the exercise which is suited to it, but also to some extent
indirectly from the exercise of certain other organs, on


account of the harmony and solidarity which exist between
the different parts of the same organism. Progress follows
progress in an unbroken sequence. The development, in
short, at whatever point it may be supposed to stop, always
forms a whole which is harmonious and complete.

Such are the essential features of this law, discovered by
Pestalozzi, and applied by him in all the enterprises of his
long life, so long, at least, as circumstances allowed him to
freely follow his own impulses. 1

It is the law of the natural development of man ; we may
therefore expect to find it living and active whenever this
development has not been interfered with by the prejudices
or passions of men and the artificial means they so generally
adopt. Hence Pestalozzi sees the type of the law in the
action of a good mother in her relations with her infant

He wishes the mother to learn to continue and complete
this work she has so well begun, to teach always in the
same spirit all that the child is capable of learning, and to
make him discover for himself the elements of the knowledge
that he will afterwards acquire in the school. The work of
the school, in fact, is to be but the continuation of the work
begun by the mother. This work embraces moral develop-
ment, physical development, and intellectual development,
all of which were included by Pestalozzi in what he called
his " idea of elementary education."

In moral development each individual faculty of the heart
must be set in action and exercised, that it may not perish
but gain strength and breadth ; thus, all faith must proceed
from a first act of faith, all love from a first prompting of
love, all justice from a first sentiment of justice, and it is in
ordinary life and especially in the home that the means and
opportunities for this development of the heart are to be
found ; " for," says Pestalozzi, " it is life that educates."
For the development of the moral nature the philosopher of
education did not propose any special and definite series of
exercises, for it would have been impossible to draw one up ;

1 In The Philosophy and Practice of Education we have shown that
this law results strictly from the observation of facts, we have formulated
it in its entirety, and we have endeavoured to apply it to all branches of


but he organized all the child's activity in such a way as to
give him no other motive power than feelings and desires
consistent with Christian morality, and in doing that he
freed the education of the heart from the subversive in-
fluences of the school.

In physical development the organic law had naturally
not been entirely ignored, but public education took little
notice of it. Pestalozzi revived gymnast.cs at a time when
Europe had allowed them to fall into complete neglect. Ill
his institutions he graduated these exercises in a manner
which has since been imitated and improved upon.

But it was above all in what he did for intellectual develop-
ment that Pestalozzi obtained the success most calculated to
strike the public, a success which amazed his visitors and
brought general attention upon his undertakings. He sought
out the simplest elements of our knowledge in the form in
which they engage the attention of the little child ; he made
him acquire them by that direct and personal experience
which he calls sense-impression, and developed them by a
series of exercises which proceeded by almost imperceptible
degrees in one unbroken chain. This is what has generally
been called the "Method " of Pestalozzi. But however far
he and his fellow-workers may have carried their labours in
this direction, however remarkable their success may have
sometimes been in mathematics, drawing, geography, etc.,
Pestalozzi was not satisfied. He used to say that that was
not the end to which he had devoted his life, but simply
one of the special means by which he hoped to reach it, and
BO he worked on and never ceased in his search.

In reality, in wishing to show his doctrine in the light of
its practical results, he had set himself a task for which a
man'.s whole life would hardly have sufficed, even had he
possessed all the strength and resources that Pestalozzi
lacked. Often and often in the coarse of his experiments
he had recognized their defects and insufficiency, he had
seen that they were not giving an exact and complete idea
of his doctrine, and he had tried to make up for this by his
writings. It was in this mind and with this intention that
he published most of his books, but in none of them did he
concentrate his ideas or co-ordinate his principles in such a
way as to make a connected whole of his thought. And
thus the world has never found in his works a clear answer


to the often-repeated question : " What is the Pestalozzian
method ? "

The Song of the Swan was the last of these attempts, but,
notwithstanding the luminous touches in which it abounds,
it was no better understood than the others. The fact is,
that in order perfectly to understand Pestalozzi's philo-
sophical thought, it is necessary to follow him throughout
his life, and above all throughout his long series of writings.
There can then no longer be any doubt that what he aimed
at, what he preached, and what he partially realized in his
practical work was, if we may use the word in an immaterial
sense, an organic education.

But the benefits of a true philosophy are not confined to
those alone who are able to formulate it. Whole nations
are almost unconsciously penetrated by philosophical ideas,
which, gradually influencing feelings, opinions and conduct,
lend to each civilization its distinctive features.

Pestalozzi's philosophy has already begun to produce an
effect of this sort. It is very little known and yet its
influence is spreading. Among the men who occupy them-
selves with education, there are few whose minds do not
bear some trace of it, even though they may know nothing
of Pestalozzi's labours.

The fact is, that the large numbers of men who in some
way or another came into contact with his work , all carried
away something valuable with them, many perhaps without
knowing it. And then afterwards, these same men, scattered
over many countries as teachers, writers, or even as private
individuals, diffused around them, as it were, some portion
of the master's spirit, even when criticizing and condemning
his method as they had seen it practised.

And so we are struck to-day by the fact that in hardly
any country is anything written upon education, or any edu-
cational institution founded or reformed, without principles
being invoked which we owe in a great measure to Pestalozzi.
They are, indeed, rarely attributed to the Swiss philosopher,
but generally to Rabelais, Montaigne, Charron, the Port
Royalists, or Rousseau, to mention French writers only.

It is indeed true that Pestalozzi's philosophy contains
many truths which had been discovered and proclaimed to
the world long before him, but before him these truths had
not been seen to depend upon a common central principle,


they had not been applied to a rational system of teaching,
they had not been built up into a system of elementary
education suited to the wants of the people. Further, these
truths had not been proclaimed without a great admixture
of error, so that they had been of little practical value for

But when the influence of Pestalozzi's work, an influence
indeed often unsuspected, began to make itself felt by open-
ing men's minds to a conception of rational education, the
true principles to be found in the older writers excited more
attention and were better understood, and society was
seized with a desire to apply them to the reform of a system
of education, the defects and vices of which it was no longer
possible to ignore.

The time has come, then, when it is of the highest im-
portance to obtain an exact and complete knowledge of Pes-
talozzi's work, that we may confer upon nations the benefits
of a rational education, and thus ensure the future of



General statement. Distinction between this method and th&
different ways in which attempts have been made to apply
it. Regarded by its author as an indispensable means for
raising the people, and establishing order and harmony in
society. Still the chief remedy for many social evils.

FROM his childhood Pestalozzi had been profoundly touched
by the poverty and sufferings of a great number of his
fellow-countrymen, and especially by their state of moral
and intellectual destitution ; he had longed to rescue them,
and make " men " of them, and had worked for this noble
end with all the power of his ardent, loving soul. It was in
concentrating his desires and actions on this single object
that he arrived at the philosophical conclusions which in-
spired his whole after life.

It was to elementary education that he first applied his
principles ; and his marvellous success proved the truth of
his views. We will not here enter into all the details of
his methods, but merely call attention in a few words to the
many improvements which are owing to him, and which,
adopted by most of our schools, are to-day rendering impor-
tant and incontestable services.

Pestalozzi's philosophical doctrine has certain immediate
and obvious consequences which regulate the elementary
method of teaching.

To learn, the child must be always active. He learns only
by his own impressions, and not from words, which must
accompany his ideas to fix them, but are impotent to produce

Words apart from the ideas they represent have no value,
and, inasmuch as it is possible for the child to connect them
with ideas to which they do not belong, are even sometimes


dangerous. The child nmst, as it were, be provided with
fruitful nnd salutary impressions, following each other in a
natural and carefully graduated order. He must then be
required to express clearly in speech all the ideas these
impressions suggest; and, lastly, he must be made to obtain
a thorough mastery of each idea before being introduced to
a new one.

These principles had been recognized by Pestalozzi as
early as 1774, at the time that he was endeavouring to bring
up his child, then between three and four years of age, in
accordance with the ideas of Rousseau. He had seen in
them a means for regenerating society by the reform of
elementary education ; and without considering his strength,
he conceived an irresistible desire to put his hand to the
work. This is the explanation of those successive enter-
prises in which, so firm was his faith in these principles
that, despite failure and ruin, he steadily persevered in his
endeavour to give a practical proof of their truth.

In reviewing the different means for elementary teaching
that we owe to Pestalozzi, we shall follow the order of their
use in the course of the child's development.

The exercises of sense-impression and language, after-
wards called object-lessons, are intended to teach the child to
observe and to talk to recount, that is, all the impressions he
receives from the objects which surround him, and to which
the master calls his attention. In this way the child's words
and sentences, which may be corrected, if necessary, are really
his own work, and express his own thoughts.

Sense-impression was also applied to arithmetic, the child
learning numbers and their relations by the sight of objects
that he could count. Pestalozzi employed for this purpose his
table of units and table of fractions. The series of these
exercises being rather long, people tried to shorten it, and
Pestalozzi's tables have been replaced by other similar inven-
tions. These changes, however, have brought more loss than
gain, for the best pupils of the schools of to-day are very far
behind Pestalczzi's in mental arithmetic.

The graphic exercises without rule or compass served
equally well as a preparation for linear drawing, elementary
geometry, or writing. For these exercises Pestalozzi used
slates, which, from the ease with which they can be cleaned,
have been of immense service in primary schools.


In drawing the children were taught to judge of the length
of lines and size of angles by the eye, and to work out a
certain number of combinations on a given plan. They were
not limited to copying models, but had to design symmetrical
and graceful figures ; and thus they were exercising at the
same time, not only their eye and hand, but their taste and
inventive faculties.

Pestalozzi called relation of forms or sense-impression of
forms those graphic exercises which served as an introduction
to geometry. The child had first to distinguish between
vertical, horizontal, oblique, and parallel lines ; right, acute,
and obtuse angles ; different kinds of triangles, quadrilaterals,
etc. Then he had to find out at how many points a given
number of straight lines could be made to cut one another ;
or how many angles, triangles, or quadrilaterals could be
formed from them. These exercises gradually led the child
to the first problems of theoretical geometry, which he at-
tempted with all the more pleasure that he was able to find
most of the demonstrations for himself.

Writing gives little difficulty to children whose hand and
eye have been already well trained. Pestalozzi taught it
side by side with reading, but he did not begin these exer-
cises till after those we have already mentioned. Before he
taught at Burgdorf, he had already drawn up a manual for
teaching to read, in which he had first suggested the use of
movable letters. His method, which has to-day been gener-
ally adopted, was to teach from a series of groups of letters,
arranged in order of difficulty.

Pestalozzi's method of teaching geography has completely
revolutionized the teaching of. that science. The child is first
taught to observe the country about his home, not on the
map but on the land itself ; it is the child himself who draws
the map, correcting the mistakes in his first attempt after
another visit to the spot. Having thus learned to understand
and read maps, he continues his study by the help of large
blank maps hung on the wall.

From the very first day geography is connected with other
sciences, such as natural history, agriculture, local geology,
etc., which make it very attractive even for children.

Pestalozzi taught the elements of natural history by his
exercises of sense-impression and language ; that is to say,
the master brought different objects under the children's


direct observation, and by judicious suggestions encouraged
them to talk about them. Preference was given to those
objects that the children brought home from their walks, but
these were supplemented by collections of minerals, plants,
stuffed animals, etc.

In the exercises that we have described, Pestalozzi's chief
means for maintaining the attention and activity of the whole
class, and for fixing names in the memory of the children, was
to make them repeat each correct statement several times in

When this is done in strict time, the result is a sort of
chant which is not particularly agreeable to listen to, but
which has no serious disadvantages. The children must
be taught not to shout, and care must be taken that each
one takes part in the exercise, any who seem inattentive
being questioned separately. But Pestalozzi's mind was so
often full of other thoughts,, and he so often allowed his zeal
to carry him away, that these precautions were often entirely
neglected, the result being a noise and confusion which not
only spoilt everything, but led many who had no other data
to guide them to utterly condemn the method. And yet the
plan in itself was excellent ; nor has anything yet been found
to replace it. It had too a hygienic advantage, inasmuch as
it strengthened the children's chests by constantly exercis-
ing the organs of speech. But it has had bad imitators, who
have copied the form without catching the spirit, making
children repeat statements which they had not themselves
formulated, which were not the expression of their own
observation, and which sometimes even had not been ex-
plained to them. This practice, diametrically opposed as it
was to the method of the man whose name it bore, must have
been the cause of many an unsound judgment upon the
master's doctrine.

Singing played an important part in all Pestalozzi's estab-
lishments. The youngest children first learned to sing as
they had learned to talk by imitation. In this way they
formed their voice, ear, and taste, before knowing their
notes. When they came to theory and notation, time was
taken first, sound being left till afterwards. The reason of
this was, that time being, as it were, a mathematical part
of music, the children easily grasped it, having been well
prepared for it by their previous training in counting


Every lesson in theory ended with a few songs by way of

The admission of gymnastics into the programme of a
school was another innovation due to Pestalozzi. He attached
quite as much importance to this exercise as to any of the
other lessons. It was in gymnastics too that the value of
gradation, that favourite principle of his, was brought out
most clearly.

We cannot here speak of the other branches of instruction,
because the works in which he sought to apply his method
to them were never finished. We will merely add a few
words on the subject of the study of language, on account of
its great importance.

Pestalozzi's pupils learned to use their mother-tongue by
constant and varied practice. In his first undertakings the
language learned in this way was German, but at Yverdun
French was added, and after that time the children were
exercised in both languages. But it was also necessary to
teach them grammar, and as Pestalozzi had not applied his
method to that particular branch of study, the masters had
to be satisfied with the books already in use. Pestalozzi

Online LibraryRoger de GuimpsPestalozzi: his life and work → online text (page 39 of 43)