The Educational Theories of Herbart and Froebel: I. The Period and the Point of View
by John Angus MacVannel - 1905
I THE PERIOD AND THE POINT OF VIEW 1.It is a matter of common knowledge that there cannot be any adequate appreciation of the educational theories of the present without some understanding of the foundations of such theories in the needs and aspirations, the intellectual and social tendencies of the past. To reach any definite conclusions in regard to fundamental tendencies in the present, a study is necessary of the previous conditions through which they passed in order to reach the present. For in any study involving personal and social progress there may be recognized certain well-defined conceptions formerly maintained, which, compared with the present, will indicate with a fair degree of security the line of future advance. Education is a dynamic, growing process, a part of a changing social situation: its theory is in turn a function of the wider intellectual and spiritual life of the particular period.
THE PERIOD AND THE POINT OF VIEW
1.It is a matter of common knowledge that there cannot be any adequate appreciation of the educational theories of the present without some understanding of the foundations of such theories in the needs and aspirations, the intellectual and social tendencies of the past. To reach any definite conclusions in regard to fundamental tendencies in the present, a study is necessary of the previous conditions through which they passed in order to reach the present. For in any study involving personal and social progress there may be recognized certain well-defined conceptions formerly maintained, which, compared with the present, will indicate with a fair degree of security the line of future advance. Education is a dynamic, growing process, a part of a changing social situation: its theory is in turn a function of the wider intellectual and spiritual life of the particular period.
2.Educational theory, even while having its especial and clearly limited object, is closely involved in the life of each civilization, and, indeed, in the life of every people. In each age it acts upon the spirit of the people, and is in turn reacted upon by that spirit. In its development it is continuous with the development of other intellectual and social movements, of literature, art and science, of economics, politics and religion. In looking back over the history of the intellectual and social life of mankind it would appear to be true that transitional eras in scientific, ethical, political or religious thought were also eras of corresponding changes in educational theory and practice, e.g., as the present outline will attempt to show, the development of educational ideas from Rousseau to Froebel is continuous with the simultaneous transformation and development of philosophical and social theories, the intellectual, moral and aesthetic products, of the period from Rousseau to Hegel.
3.It is still in many quarters an open question whether great educators should be thought of as heroes to be worshipped, as Carlyle would demand, or as representative men who are to be followed because they express what all are thinking, as Emerson would have us believe. Though, in many cases, not philosophers in any technical sense, the great educators inevitably became vehicles of philosophical ideas and of social tendencies. Indeed, their essential originality in most instances consists in the degree to which they were able to synthesize their educational beliefs with the dominant intellectual movements of their time. While, therefore, in the present outline, the emphasis is concerned with the evolution of ideas rather than the biography of writers, it would not underrate the necessity of maintaining a balance or proportion between persons and ideas. It is easy to overemphasize either, and thus tend to give a very misleading view of a period such as the one under consideration. For in the thought and teachings of the great educational leaders, embodying, as we have seen, the philosophical and social tendencies of their period, is found a unique confirmation of the personal as well as the organic nature of human life: from the interdependence, moreover, of many and varied tendencies in literature, philosophy, political theory, ethics, and theology, one is inevitably led to a deeper view of human thought and activity, and of the spiritual foundations of both.
4. The period 'From Rousseau to Froebel lies between what may rightly be regarded as two great events in the evolution of educational ideas, (a) the indictment of civilization and culture by Rousseau, and (b) the unique reconstruction of educational theory attempted by Froebel. The development of educational ideas in this period may be regarded either (a) as the expression of intellectual and spiritual tendencies and of recognized practical needs, or (b) from the point of view of the actual definitive clearness with which the problems themselves were stated, and solutions offered by educational leaders. In the present outline the attempt is made to indicate the possibilities of the study of the period from the twofold point of view.
5. The purposes of the present outline may now be given a somewhat more formal statement as follows:
(a) by the use of the comparative and historical method, within a limited area, to indicate what were the more important problems with which the writers on education dealt, and what were the conditions, intellectual and social, which determined the various statements of the problems and the attempts at their solution. Since educational theory is an organic part of the wider history of culture, a syllabus can, at best, indicate in very schematic form the directions and interrelations of the intellectual and spiritual movements of a period to which its educational ideas were organic. Its peculiar danger lies in depriving the period of its natural continuity of movement and life.
(b) to outline the relation of the work of Herbart and of Froebel to its historical setting, and the dependence of their theories upon the philosophical movements of the period. This will necessitate some indication of the philosophical content of Idealism, Romanticism, and Realism.
(c) to indicate the contributions of Herbart and Froebel to a philosophy of education.
6. Before passing on to the outline of the period it may be well for purposes of simplification to indicate in somewhat dogmatic form what are to be regarded as the more important phases of the social problem in the period as a whole:
(a) The period is marked, first of all, by attempts at the reconciliation or adjustment of the two elemental human tendencies, that of individual freedom and collective organization. The worth of the individual and his right to self-realization came to fuller and fuller recognition. This movement at first took the form, for the most part, of reaction against all existing institutions; gradually, however, the lesson was learned that the individual life in itself is naught; only as a member of the great institutions of the race can the individual become truly human, spiritual and free.
(b) The period is marked, in the second place, by a gradual change from mechanical and static to organic and developmental modes of viewing nature and human society. In the place of the atomistic view of things, in politics, philosophy, theology, and education, the organic view of society, of experience, of the entire cosmic process, came to prevail. The mental gaze was transferred from the categories of 'being' to those of 'becoming.'
(c) In the period there may be noted a gradual transformation of the deistic to the theistic view of God's relation to the world. The mechanical Deism gave way to the more imma-nental and spiritual view of Theism, a view, at times, closely approximating to Pantheism.
(d) Closely connected with the preceding is the new conception of the relation and significance of nature to the human spirit. In place of the view which held to the absolute dualism of nature and spirit came the view of nature as the manifestation of the Absolute and as a medium through which the human spirit attains to self-knowledge and self-realization.
(e) As a final aspect of the social problem during this period may be noted the gradual change from an individualistic ethics to an ethics based upon the demands of the social whole. Closely connected with this, and contributing to it were those ideas and ideals of equality, humanitarianism, of an aristocracy of intelligence rather than birth, and of the new developments in psychological, historical, and physical science, in literature and art, in education and philanthropy. Corresponding to the new religious and ethical ideals there emerged in this transitional period new attitudes to nature, to humanity, to the responsibilities as well as the opportunities of life.
The more important sources of material for the study of the period will be indicated in connection with the respective chapters. It is needless to say that the important sources are the works of the writers themselves. The study of the period is fundamentally a study of the influence and continuous action of works on works. The various lists make no pretension to completeness. They aim to be suggestive merely, not in any sense exhaustive. There are certain books which it is necessary for the student to know if he is to be saved from making discoveries which later turn out to be not discoveries at all. A few of the more important books, which, in addition to the writings of Rousseau, Kant, Goethe, Fichte, Hegel, Pestalozzi, Herbart, and Froebel, naturally form the nucleus of source-material for the study of the period (for the reason that they inevitably become incorporated sooner or later with our idea of the period) are the following:
Boyesen, Essays on German Literature; Caird, The Critical Philosophy of Kant; Dewey, The Child and the Curriculum; Erd-mann, History of Philosophy, Vol. II; Falckenburg, History of Modern Philosophy; Francke, German Literature as Determined by Social Forces; Harris, Psychologic Foundations of Education (Part III); Hoffding, History of Modern Philosophy; Merz, History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century; Robertson, A History of German Literature; Rosenkranz, The Philosophy of Education; Royce, The Spirit of Modern Philosophy; Scherer, A History of German Literature; Taylor, Studies in German Literature; Ueber-weg, History of Philosophy, Vol. II; Willmatm, Didaktik; Windel-band. History of Philosophy; Wundt, Ethical Systems.