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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 36

Wm. T. Harris, Esq., Supt. of Public Schools

Wm. T. Harris

, Esq., Supt. of Public Schools.

Sir,—With the view of testing more thoroughly the possible merits of Froebel's system of early education, the School Board, in the fall of 1874, authorized the opening of Kindergartens in the Divoll and Everett Schools. These page 5 Kindergartens having had a satisfactory measure of success in the summer of 1875, it was decided to open new ones in the Webster, Franklin, Carroll and Carondelet Schools. At the present time, therefore, there are Kindergartens connected with seven schools. In five of these schools, the Kindergartens have two sessions, or, more accurately speaking, there are two Kindergartens, taught by different teachers and attended by different children.

The whole number of pupils regularly attending these Kindergartens is 457; the average number to each Kindergarten is 38; the average number to each school building is 65; the average per cent, of attendance is 85. The largest number of children belonging to any single Kindergarten is 51, and the highest per cent, of attendance is 92.

The work thus far accomplished in the Kindergartens is, of course, very imperfect. The graduate of a Normal School is not necessarily and immediately a good teacher, nor does the completion of a prescribed course of training constitute a Kindergartener. Experience and independent work alone can enable any one to grasp the relation of theory and practice, and to learn the bearing of general principles on small details. The teachers now directing the Kindergartens are fully conscious of the partial and inadequate character of their work. They are their own most severe judges. They see most clearly their own short-comings, and with an earnestness and steady determination, worthy of the warmest praise, are striving to approximate gradually to a higher standard.

I ask then for the existing Kindergartens a relative rather than an absolute judgment; and I claim that their imperfections are due, not to any inherent defects in the system of Froebel, but to the general reasons which everywhere cause the wide and often disheartening contrast between the ideal and the actual, the desirable and the attainable. What the Kindergarten needs is time to develop its possibilities; and it is a very encouraging fact, that in the neighborhoods page 8 where Kindergartens have been longest established and most thoroughly tested, the interest in the system is deepest and most general. This, I think, shows conclusively, that our schools are not mere play schools, charming only by their novelty, but that they do secure results, which commend them to thoughtful and impartial observers, and that they have in them that principle of organic life, whose surest manifestation is gradual development.

The Des Peres Kindergarten alone has been in existence long enough to promote any considerable number of its pupils. With a view to testing the effects of the system upon the subsequent development of the children, I have carefully questioned the teachers of the Des Peres School upon the conduct and intelligence of the pupils promoted from the Kindergarten, and have their authority for stating the following facts:

I. The Kindergarten children submit more readily to school discipline than do children received directly into the primary room. This testimony I consider very important, as it practically disposes of the argument urged in many quarters, that the comparative freedom of the Kindergarten tends to unfit pupils for the regular school. Facts, thus far, indicate that the reverse is true, and prove the Kindergarten to be, as its advocates claim, a healthy transition from the family to the school. If any Kindergarten should promote to the primary room disorderly and insubordinate children, the fault would lie with the individual teacher, and not in the system.

II. The average intelligence of the Kindergarten pupils is greatly superior to that of children who enter school without previous training. They observe accurately, seize ideas rapidly and definitely, illustrate readily, and work independently. Thus far, the promoted pupils of the Kindergarten have led every class into which they have been received, and the teacher who has the greatest number of page 9 them under her charge tells me that the best of them learn so rapidly as to constantly exceed the work required.

III. In addition to superior general development, the Kindergarten children show special aptitude for arithmetic, drawing and natural science; have quick comprehension of language, and express their own ideas with accuracy and fluency.

That these are precisely the results which Froebel's followers claim should follow the correct application of his system, only make them the more gratifying. They indicate, that, however inadequate in degree, the work has been right in direction, and are an earnest of still more satisfactory fruit in the future.

These direct and palpable results are, however, unimportant when compared with the slow, silent, subtle, yet powerful effect which the Kindergarten training produces upon children who remain for any length of time under its influence. Froebel's central idea is the recognition of man as an active, working, creative being, and the definite intention of his system is to educate men and women who will not be satisfied with knowing unless it results in doing; who will bring all their knowledge to bear upon their activities; and who will value themselves, not by the amount of information they have absorbed, but by the original thoughts they have created, or the practical force they have applied. "What can be taught a child, Froebel repeats again and again, is something which already exists, something which humanity already possesses." But a new thought at once blesses its creator, and enriches all humanity, and each life which actualizes its own possibilities gives to the world what else it must have lost forever. The idea is not new. Many thinkers have expressed it, and perhaps all earnest persons have had an instinct of it; but it remained for Froebel to ground a system of Pedagogies upon this basis, and to strive by an organized scheme to develop and intensify creative power.

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The means employed to attain this result can only be appreciated by those who thoroughly study the Kindergarten gilts in their sequence and relation, and intelligently observe their practical effects. The results which have come under my own observation are most surprising In the Des Peres Kindergarten, predestined engineers have built bridges as remarkable in conception as they were clever in execution; little mathematicians have discovered rather than learned all the simple relations of numbers; children with more than ordinary spiritual insight have intuitively seized the moral analogies of physical facts; tiny fingers have guided the pencil to trace beautiful decorative designs; and .soft clay has been fashioned into flowers, fruits and animals by the dexterous hands of embryo sculptors. There was no child who could not find in the varied material of the Kindergarten some expression for his individuality, and the general results were the formation of habits of industry and persistency, the development of the mind through the exercise of its powers, and the production of that spirit of contentment which must follow wisely directed and applied activities.

The new Kindergartens show the same results in a degree proportioned to the length of time they have been established, and I believe we may confidently expect them in any school where Froebel's principles are even approximately carried out.

It must not be inferred from what has been said that Froebel belonged to those extremists who, in emphasizing the necessity of development, failed to see the vital importance of instruction. The age of violent reaction and destruction was drawing to its close when he began to ponder the question of education. The defects of the old system, which insisted on "facts and facts" only, had been mercilessly exposed, and the inadequacy of the new system, with its purely subjective aim, was beginning to be felt by thoughtful minds. Froebel grasped the larger view, which page 11 includes and harmonizes these opposite extremes, and his watchword is, not development or knowledge, but development and knowledge—not subjective or objective, but subjective and objective—not "How shall we teach?" as distinct from and without regard to "What shall we teach?" but "What knowledge is most valuable, and how shall we teach it that it may best nourish the mind and develop the activities?" Education must bring its subject to a level with the demands and necessities of the age in which he lives, and it can only do this by familiarizing him with the achievements of the past. The student must know what has been done before he can realize what remains to be accomplished, and the accumulated wisdom of the past is the only sale index of the possibilities of the future. To harmonize the individual with the universal consciousness—to lead each new generation over the road the race has traveled—and to bring the student by the path of personal experience to comprehension of the formulas which the race has accepted, Froebel recognized as prime duties of the true educator; and I think I am not mistaken in saying that his Kindergarten system, wisely applied, lays the best possible foundation for that culture which, including in itself the opposite extremes of knowledge and mental training, is now the ideal of our wisest thinkers and teachers.

Respectfully submitted,

Susan E. Blow.