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Pestalozzi and Pestalozzianism

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Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, one of the greatest pioneers of modern education, born at Zurich, Switzerland, 12 January, 1746; died at Brugg, 17 February, 1827. Descended from a Calvinist family and destined to become a preacher, Pestalozzi abandoned this project for the study of law. He was greatly influenced by Rousseau's "Social Contract" and "Emile", and tried to carry into practice some of that author's ideas. He first took up farming at Neuhof (New Farm), but failed through lack of practical talent. He then gathered at Neuhof (1774) waifs and castaways, who were to work in his spinning-mill and to receive in turn some industrial and moral training. Unbusiness-like methods led to financial difficulties and the closing of the establishment in 1780. Evil days then followed for Pestalozzi and his heroic wife who had sacrificed all her property for his schemes; sometimes they lacked bread and fuel, and illness added to their suffering. Sympathizing with the poor peasantry, Pestalozzi developed a plan for elevating their condition through education. In 1781 appeared his "Lienhard und Gertrud", a simple story which shows how a village was regenerated through the efforts of a good pastor, an able magistrate, a zealous teacher, and chiefly through the influence of Gertrude, a perfect wife and mother, who becomes the Good Samaritan of the village. This book, eagerly read wherever German was understood, made its author famous. In 1798 Pestalozzi determined to become a schoolmaster himself. The village of Stanz had been burnt by the French soldiers, and many children wandered about destitute, exposed to physical and moral ruin. Pestalozzi was made the head of an institution at Stanz in which the orphans were to be trained. When, in the following year, the French army needed the building for a hospital, the orphans' school came to a sudden end.

Pestalozzi then opened a school in the Castle of Burgdorf, and there laboured zealously from 1799 to 1804, though hampered by jealousies and misunderstandings. With this institution he connected a normal school, the first in the Protestant cantons of Switzerland; the Catholics already possessed one, in the monastery of St. Urban, Canton of Lucerne; At Burgdorf Pestolazzi wrote "Wie Gertrud ihre Kinder lehrt" (How Gertrude Teaches her Children), which, better than any other of his books, explains his educational aims and methods. When sent to Paris as one of the Swiss delegates, he tried to interest the First Consul in his educational work, but Napoleon declared that he would not be bothered about questions of A B C. In 1804 Pestalozzi, driven out of the Castle of Burgdorf, transferred his school to Munchenbuchsee, and thence to Yverdun. Eager students of pedagogy flocked to Yverdun from Prussia, Russia, France, Italy Spain, England, and other countries, among the rest Fröbel, Herbart, von Raumer, and Ritter. But Pestalozzi's lack of organizing talent and dissensions among his teaching staff led to the decline and finally to the closing of the establishment (1825).

Pestalozzi's career is almost a puzzle. All his undertakings proved failures, and yet he is the most influential of modern educators. There was nothing attractive in his external appearance. He had read very few books, possessed neither philosophical penetration nor mastery of method, and entirely lacked talent for organization. A keen observer at Yverdun declared that he would not have been able to conduct successfully a small village school. That; in spite of all these drawbacks, he exerted a profound influence on modern education was due chiefly to his self-sacrificing love for children, and his enthusiasm for educational work. This enthusiasm became an inspiration, almost an infection for all those who came in contact with "Father Pestalozzi", as they affectionately called him. He created a new educational spirit, interest in education, and a new school atmosphere, namely, love for the children. He himself said that he intended to "psychologize instruction", and he may be called the originator of the modern psychological tendency in education. The foundation of instruction he finds in Anschauung, which has been inadequately rendered in English by "sense-impression" or "observation", and is perhaps better expressed by "intuition". The object lesson is the core of the whole system, and exercises are based more on the study of objects than of words. Pestalozzi's system has been severely criticized by some and extravagantly praised by others; his work is overestimated by those who call him the "father of the elementary school", although it must be admitted that he did much to improve it. Some of his principles involved contradictions, not a few of his methods were one-sided and even unsound; but his ideas, stripped of their eccentricities by his disciples, became prominent features in modern education. Herbart and Fröbel supplemented his work—the former by developing the psychology of education, the latter by originating the kindergarten system. The school systems of Prussia and other European states embodied many of Pestalozzi's ideas; in England a modified Pestalozzianism was carried into practice by Dr. Mayo. Pestalozzian ideas were transplanted to America by one of Pestalozzi's assistants, the Alsatian Joseph Neef (wrongly called a priest, e.g. in Schmid's "Gesch. der Erz.", V, ii, 580), who opened a school in Philadelphia in 1808, and later taught at New Harmony, Indiana. Horace Mann was influenced by Pestalozzian principles; so was the "Oswego Movement", which emphasized the use of objects as the foundation of instruction and greatly determined the character of American normal-school training. "For the most part, so far as principle is concerned, American schools are yet upon the Pestalozzian basis, though the special methods of applying these principles have been much improved" (Monroe, "Hist. of Ed.", 669).

One of the weakest points in Pestalozzi's system was his attitude towards religion. Through the influence of the writings of Rousseau he had lost the strict religious views of his Calvinist family, and, while he still believed in a personal God and Divine Providence, his was a rationalistic and merely natural religion. Although he always spoke most reverently of the Bible and of Christ, he never attained to a clear recognition of the Divinity of Christ, but remained outside dogmatic Christianity. His disciples are divided into two schools—one rationalistic, led by Diesterweg, the other Christian, which follows Pestalozzian methods of instruction without adopting his religious views. To the latter school belong some prominent Catholic educators, as Bishop Sailer of Ratisbon and Bernard Overberg, the reformer of education in Westphalia. In dealing with Catholics, and in speaking of things Catholic, Pestalozzi invariably showed tact and consideration; he never forgot that he had received kind treatment from Catholics at Stanz at a time when he was distrusted by some and ridiculed as a visionary by others. "You will hardly believe", he wrote to a friend, "that it was the Capuchin Friars and the nuns of the Convent that showed the greatest sympathy with my work."


The Vast bibliography on Pestalozzi is collected by ISRAEL in Monumenta Germanioe Poedagogica, XXV, XXIX, XXXI; PESTALOZZI, Sämtliche Werke, ed. SEYFFARTH (12 volumes, 1899-). Many separate editions of Lienard u. Gertrud, and Wie Gertrud ihre Kinder lehrt—English translation (Boston, 1855; Syracuse. 1898); ed. BÜRGEL AND BECK, with German notes for Catholic teachers and normal-school pupils (Paderborn, 1887, 1892). Translation of other works and articles of Pestalozzi, in Barnard's Journal, II-VII, XIII, XXX, XXXI. Biographies, etc. in English by DE GUIMPS (Syracuse, 1889); KRUESI (New York, 1875); PINLOCHE (New York, 1901); HOLMAN (London and New York, 1908). Consult also QUICK, Educational Reformers (New York, 1890); MONROE, Hist. of Education (New York, 1906). Of the numerous biographies in German, the latest, and probably the best, is that by HEUBAUM (Berlin, 1910).

About this page

APA citation. Schwickerath, R. (1911). Pestalozzi and Pestalozzianism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Schwickerath, Robert. "Pestalozzi and Pestalozzianism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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