movement flowered into prominence as 19th century innovators linked sensory and early
childhood learning. Paris physician Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard and his student Edouard
Seguin first devised graduated exercises to achieve dramatic results for youngsters
previously thought mentally retarded. Johann Pestallozi, a Swiss follower of Rousseau,
felt that the senses should be trained through successive stages of learning by formal
exercise. And in the mid-19th century, the German Friedrich Froebel took both
Rousseau's and Pestallozi's ideas, added his own, and established a school for
very young children. He called it Kindergarten, based on the concept that young
children grow like flowers.
Early this century Italy's first female doctor,
Maria Montessori, put many of these theories into practice to show that the years from
birth to age six are the most vital of all. She added her own revolutionary insights: that
creating the right environment, at critical "sensitive periods" of early
development, will enable children to "explode" into self-learning. Her results
were equally revolutionary: with "retarded" preschool children learning to read,
write, spell and do complicated mathematics, as we will cover later.
Starting mainly with America, but spreading quickly to
other countries, has come the main counter-trend to the British and Western European
traditions. Some call it the pragmatic curriculum, or the child-centered
concept of education.
Herbert Spencer was one of the first to ask anew this
century: "What knowledge is of most worth?" His answer: "Knowledge which
enables young people to tackle problems and prepares them to solve the problems they are
likely to meet as adults in a democratic society."
American education professor John Dewey took this
answer and turned it into a widely popular movement.
Inside that "progressive" theory, however,
have developed two broad strands. One says education should be child-centered, and that
the curriculum should be planned to build on the needs of each individual child.
The second is "society-centered"- promoted by
educators such as Latin America's Paulo Freire who considers the main purpose of
schools should be to reconstruct society.
New Zealand has also pioneered a succession of primary
school and preschool initiatives that generally fit under the heading of
"child-centered" but which have been much more content-structured than many
so-called "progressive" American ideas.
Contents Page Preface