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Pestalozzi’s Philosophy and Method


My dear friends

A few nights ago I had a dream, a very interesting dream: I dreamt I got the chance, in spite of my great age, to be the director of a Pestalozzi school in Asia or in Africa. I was standing at the front door, and above this door there was a panel with the title „Pestalozzi School". Along came a man and asked: „Hello, old man, I have never heard about Pestalozzi, what is so special about a Pestalozzi School?" I replied: „Dear unknown friend, thank you so much for this question. Come over and sit on this bench here in our garden."

We both took a seat, and then I said: „The most important speciality of our school you can’t see with your eyes. You can only see its effects. The spirit of humanity is behind all these effects."

Then he removed his hat from his head and put it down on the bench. After a long silence he said: „That is a great word, humanity, a very great word. Please, tell me more about the real humanity in your school."

I replied: „We can not talk about humanity without knowing what human nature is."

„Oh, this is a simple thing", he answered, „the nature of a human being is to eat, to drink, to sleep and to make children." He burst out laughing.

„Not bad", I answered, „it is just as in the domain of animals. What you are referring to is the animal nature of mankind. People, feeling and acting like animals, know only one aim: to satisfy their own needs and desires. They want to be absolutely free and have the chance to do what they like."

„Oh, I understand", he said, „humanity is a very pleasant thing. Therefore in your school all the children are allowed to do whatever they like at any time. How pleasant!"

I shook my head and called out: „Oh no, that would be a terrible thing! All the children would look only to their own advantage, and all we would have in our school is fighting and quarreling."

„In that case", he said, „you have to give them several rules and forbid them to hit each other."

I said: „I see, you are an intelligent man, like Pestalozzi. Natural liberty has to be limited by laws and rules. Pestalozzi named this state of human being the ‘social state’."

Now he answered: „I see the necessity of laws and rules. But I can’t imagine that humanity is able to make a person happy. If I am hungry and I see a juicy fruit on the tree in the neighbour’s garden, I am not happy if it is forbidden to take and eat it."

I answered: „That’s exactly what Pestalozzi points out: As long as you are living with the contradiction between natural desires and social rules you can’t be happy. And unfortunately many people are unhappy, because they remain in this state of contradiction between the natural and the social state."

„But now you have to explain", he said, „how a person is able to attain happiness. Or is this the condition of humanity, to be incapable of being happy?"

I answered: „Mankind can be happy, but you have to overcome individual egoism. Then it is within your own will power to do things which are in harmony with the interests of human society and also with your own conscience."

He said: „I can’t understand that. At the beginning of our discussion we saw that a man is an animal. How should an animal be able to overcome its own egoism?"

„That’s a very good question", I said, „and the answer, given by Pestalozzi, is very important: The human being has not only an animal nature, he has a higher nature, too. That is his spiritual nature. The spiritual nature is able to speak against the egoism of his animal nature: Stop, I’m not an animal, I am a spiritual being, I have a conscience, I can follow reason, I am responsible for everything I do, and I respect the interests and the rights of other human beings and even the interests of animals and of every living thing on earth. Therefore I want to overcome my own egoism and I am willing to do what I recognize as good. Pestalozzi named this human state the ‘moral state’."

„And you think", he asked, „that such a man will be happy, living in the moral state?"

I answered: „You should not think, that the decision to live according to the moral state is only a matter of the head. It is in every case a matter of the heart. You can not live in the moral state without love. But when you feel in your heart that you are overcoming your egoism by loving other beings, then you can feel yourself happy. Then you are living in real humanity."

„In this case", he replied, „in your school the formation of a loving heart has to be the most important aim."

„That’s true", I confirmed, „but this is only possible if the teachers and all the staff in my school love children. Without love you can not attain to the aim of humanity."

„Oh, I understand", he shouted, „a Pestalozzi School is a school for love! Wonderful!" Then he took his hat and wanted to go. But I held him back and said: „A loving heart, that is really the most important aim, but you need something else to work in the moral sense. Beside a loving heart, the human being needs a clear and clever head. Otherwise he would have only good intentions for humanity, but he would not be able to work successfully."

The man replied: „You said: a clear and clever head. But I think: this is a question of natural gifts. Some children are intelligent, others are silly."

I answered: „It is true that not all men are equal. But it is also true, that all human beings have at birth strengths and abilities, and it is the task of education to develop all these abilities."

And the man: „Oh, I understand, all children have the capability to think, and you try in your school to develop this."

„Yes", I said, „but the capability to think is only one of many strengths and abilities. Pestalozzi took all these human abilities and classified them into three groups."

At that point the man shouted: „Oh, yes, now I remember, this is a thing I heard about Pestalozzi: Head, heart and hand!"

And I answered: „Very good! At the beginning of our discussion you said you didn’t know about Pestalozzi’s thoughts… But you have to understand the exact meaning of these three words: „Head" stands for the possibility to think, to use all the senses of reception, to remember and to judge. „Heart" stands for love, for thankfulness, for confidence, for religion, for goodwill, for conscience and for all feelings which are the base of the moral state of mankind. And „hand" stands for all practical abilities, for body power, for craftmanship skills and for the body’s agility."

The man shook his head and said: „And in your school you have the task to develop all these abilities? What a great task! Then you need a lot of books, where the children can read about developing strengths and abilities."

Upon hearing these words I laughed and called out: „Oh, no, what a silly idea! Of course we need books like every school. But for developing abilities you have only one instrument: to use your strengths. Only by thinking, can you develop the ability to think. Only by using your hands and your body, can you develop power and handicraft skills. And so on."

Then he asked: „And you think that would be the same with the strengths of the heart?"

„Of course", I confirmed, „only by loving can you develop the ability to love. Only by being conscious, can you develop the ability of consciousness."

And he said: „But how can you encourage the children to use the strengths of their heart?"

I answered: „A very good question again! The only chance you have is by loving the children yourself. By providing love you encourage love. But in the development of the head and the hand, you have an additional chance: You can see to it that the children solve problems or do manual exercise."

He replied: „But what can you do if the children don’t do what they are told?"

„What you need", I said, „is natural authority. If you have a lack of it, you can’t be a teacher."

Then he asked: „Can you give me an example, what instructions did you give today in your classroom?"

I said: „This morning I wanted the children to get familiar with the flowers blooming behind our school house. An important part of Pestalozzi’s theory is to begin with local things, nearby. But my intention was not only that the children should know the names of the plants, but that they also learn to open their eyes, to use all their senses and appreciate nature. Therefore I instructed them to observe very precisely the shapes and the colours of the leaves and the blossoms and to draw these parts of the plants exactly on white paper."

Whereapon he asked: „And the children – did they like this task?"

„Most of them", I said, „and they liked it more than before. I’ve done this kind of exercise several times before, because without repetition you can’t develop the children’s strengths. In my experience, they begin to like their task the moment they are successful. Therefore it is the teacher’s job to enable the children to reach success."

He said: „I see, you are combining two subjects: drawing and natural science."

I nodded my head and confirmed: „Not only two subjects but as many as possible. In this case I asked them to write an observation. This is a very important foundation stone of Pestalozzi: to combine science with learning and exercise of one’s mother tongue. But often I combine science with arithmetic and even music."

„Music!", he cried, „you have music everywhere the whole day! I can’t see why it should make sense to listen to it at school. During this time children would be better off with learning, reading, writing and calculating."

„Oh, no, dear man", I said, „most people have not learnt to listen to music attentively. And in our school children learn not only to listen in the correct way, they also learn to make music and to sing. This is very important in forming the strengths of the heart. Men without a sense of beauty are not able ..."

At this point I could not finish my sentence, because from behind the house came the sound of heavenly music and song. The music became louder and then a lot of girls and boys appeared in the garden. I noticed, these were all children from our Pestalozzi School. After the end of the song they began to laugh very loudly, and to shout: „Oh, dear director, this is only a dream, only a dream!"

I was outraged and cried as loud as I could: „No, this is not a dream, good schools are not a dream, humanity is not a dream, it’s reality, it’s true, it’s reality!" But the children shouted louder and louder: „Oh, yes, it’s only a dream, wake up, mister director, wake up!" Then one of the boys held a little bell in his hand and began to ring it – and at that moment I heard my alarm clock. I opened my eyes and recognised that I was lying in my bed. I said to myself: „Yes, I see, it was a dream. But no, good schools and humanity are not a dream, they can be reality, they will be reality."

Arthur Brühlmeier


Authors address:


Dr. Arthur Bruehlmeier

Luxmattenstr. 1

CH - 5452 Oberrohrdorf





I think this text would be helpful for many teacher in any country round the world. If you agree with this theory I ask to make links on your own website.