Foundations of Education


Chronicles the 19th century educational experiments of Pestalozzi.

Graded Tasks

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Early Experiments in Educational Reform

CREDIT: Some of the text below is adapted from: Hutchison, David. (2004). A Natural History of Place in Education. New York: Teachers College Press, pp. 1 - 3.
Direct instruction approaches have dominated teaching and learning schools for centuries. Yet, since at least the 1800s, educational reformers have experimented with alternative teaching methods that recast the roles of teachers and students, freeing them up from the more rigid roles proscribed by the direct instruction approach.

In the 1800s, such educational reform experiments were mostly limited to Europe. They included efforts to broaden the curriculum of schools (to include the arts for example) and give students more freedom of choice over their learning. Teachers were recast from having an authoritarian role in the classroom to more informally serving as the facilitators of student learning.

The early experiments of educational reformers in the 1800s had limited impact on how most students were taught. Direct instruction approaches continued to dominate. Nevertheless, these early pioneers of educational reform did attract the attention of other reform-minded educators throughout the world, many of whom in turn brought similar progressive ideas back to their home countries, including the United States and Canada.

By the early 1900s, the early experiments of educational reformers in the 1800s served as exemplars which inspired modern day educational reformers throughout the 20th century.

Among the most renown of the early educational reformers was Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746 – 1827), a Swiss educator whose experiments in education, at the small European private schools (and teacher training institute) he opened throughout his life, challenged the direct instruction approaches to teaching and learning that were in vogue at the time ():

"Pestalozzi gave all his energy into finding a method to teach the pupils in a natural, more spiritual way. He put away all school-books and let the children experience their physical surroundings with all their senses. Learning, he believed, is predominantly about thinking first, then reading. After eight months his pupils took an examination and the success rate was so high that he was entrusted with one of the higher boys school in town…It became the combination of a school for boys, a school for the poor, a boarding school for pupils living out of town, and a forum for teachers. The teaching of the powers of head, hand and heart, he believed, should be embedded in a community and developed harmonically. Pestalozzi soon had a line of people including the Helvetic government who supported and aspired to his beliefs. Very soon pupils were flocking to the scene."
Cover page for book.
Like many educational reformers in the 19th century, Pedatalozzi wrote widely about his theories of education. His most influential book is Leonard and Gertrude.
Throughout Europe during the 1800s, there was a genuine interest in experimental and innovative approaches to child education, even at the highest levels of national governments. The educational reformers who visited Pestalozzi’s school from around the world were heavily influenced by his thinking. They brought his ideas home and began implementing them in their own experimental schools across Europe, the U.S., and Canada.

In a historic turn of events, one such reformer, a young German student-teacher, sat at the back of Pestalozzi's class for several weeks, carefully observing the practice of the master teacher. Soon to be one of leading reformers of the next generation of educational progressives, Friedrich Froebel embraced and then later extended Pestalozzi's method, inventing the kindergarten along the way. ()

It was a spirit of ‘place’ which characterized the experimental schools of Pestalozzi, Froebel, and other early reformers. A coherent fusion of spirit, assuredness, freedom, and educational innovation characterized the experimental reform projects of the period. In Pestalozzi's day, there was no such thing as a school district or department of education with oversight responsibilities for schools. Pestalozzi, and other educational reformers, founded their experimental schools in small villages across Europe. They invited local children to attend them, often free of charge.

The intersection of an experimental temperament, a romantic philosophy, and unbridled optimism marked the beginnings of the progressive movement in education from which many educational reformers have never looked back.

Pose Your Own Question

In preparation for your seminar this week, write out an answer to the following question. Your TA may call on you to share your answer in the seminar:
Q10.2: 19th century experiments in education often endeavoured to give students more control over their own learning. In the spirit of this, pose your own question which relates directly or indirectly to the content for Week 10. (Answer Length: 25 - 75 words | Format: Sentences)
Potential Seminar Question