How Gertrude teaches her children

Mona Hatoum, Misbah, 2006-7


Presentation of the newly translated book by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

It is at a good time that the Brazilian Society of History of Education and Editora da Unesp publish a canonical work on education, translated from the original German How Gertrude teaches her children, from 1801, which transformed Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, still alive, into the great reference of modern pedagogy. Removing the linguistic difficulty that stood in the way of Brazilian readers will contribute to the circulation of the text among teachers, students and researchers, but also among the general public interested in educational issues and their emancipatory potential.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was born in Zurich, Switzerland, into a Protestant family whose main occupations were medicine and religion. He learned to read, write and count within the family and continued his formal studies at reputable schools. Around the age of eighteen, he studied Theology, in order to follow the same career as his grandfather. However, his first attempt at this role did not prove satisfactory and he studied in the area of ​​Law without, however, defining himself professionally.

In 1774, he took up residence in Neuhof to take care of the family property and became involved in education for the first time, creating a school that, in addition to instruction, offered industrial and agricultural activities for poor and orphaned children in the region.

The school operated for six years and proved to be an opportunity to channel the liberal and republican ideas experienced in the academic environment, as well as the desire to alleviate human suffering, experienced through the professional activities of the father and grandfather.

Although accustomed to a life of small possessions, Pestalozzi was unable to avoid the bankruptcy of this venture and, to ensure family survival, he wrote a bucolic novel which, achieving great success at the time, was continued in three more volumes, between 1781 and 1787. thirst Leonardo and Gertrude, in which the theme of human improvement through education manifests itself in initial strokes alongside the description of the customs, difficulties and values ​​of the simplest people. In the same period, he organized, in book form, the studies he carried out on human development in accordance with the principles of nature (Meine Nachforschungen über den Gang der Natur in der Entwicklung des Menschengeschlechts), a work that did not have the same impact as the previous one.

In the following years, Pestalozzi's professional groping would gain marks and definitions due to the war and its consequences. It was to the orphans of war that he began to dedicate himself, it was the movements of the battles that sometimes displaced him from his schools, sometimes impelled him to open new establishments and, finally, the constitution of national states made clear the need to create systems educational materials for popular schooling and pedagogical practices suited to the new social order, which boosted the dissemination of his ideas and the work he carried out.

In war against Austria to expand its domains, the Napoleonic army invaded the territory where Switzerland is today and, victorious, created, in 1798, the Helvetic Republic. In 1799, Pestalozzi began working in an abandoned convent in Stanz, a city devastated by fighting and the massacre of the insurgent population by French troops. He faced a lack of resources, precarious building conditions, distrust from the population and the poverty intrinsic to the lives and health of the children he dedicated himself to.

This experience is described in the famous Stanz's letter, from 1801, which opens the present Brazilian translation. Considered a pedagogical heritage, this text narrates in dramatic tones the conflicts that affected the school, but also the strengthening of Pestalozzi's convictions about the possibilities of education, as long as it was developed in a way different from that then in use.

Guided by principles in which religious and philosophical convictions about human nature are mixed and supported by daily observation of children, Pestalozzi outlined the bases of his educational action. It was about developing learning without the arbitrary imposition of pre-established knowledge and values, but using the strengths inherent in human beings since childhood: perception, attention, the ability to form clear judgments.

The author's essays on the procedures and materials to be adopted in instruction reinforced his purposes, despite the growing doubts about the most viable ways to provoke lasting and autonomous knowledge in children. In a short time, around six months, the results of this experience could already be seen. However, they were interrupted when the convent was requested to function as a hospital to care for war wounded.

Recognition of the innovative nature of Pestalozzi's proposals came with the invitation to work in an existing school in Burgdorf, where he remained between 1800 and 1804. With the creation of the Swiss Republic, an educational system was thought of to provide popular education and experiences already carried out by him showed promise for this objective.

The government's intentions in Burgdorf were great and included the creation of a seminary to train teachers, a primary school, a boarding school and an orphanage, that is, care for both children who could pay for schooling and those without financial means. To achieve these intentions, the pedagogical proposal to be implemented in Burgdorf should be systematized and structured in terms of methods, materials and content so that the work could be widely disseminated. It was agreed that part of the income obtained from Pestalozzi's writings would be donated to the maintenance of the institution itself.

How Gertrude teaches her children is a work resulting from this agreement and, in it, Pestalozzi describes the foundations that should govern education, the structuring principles of the teaching method, the organization of school content, the new materials created for this purpose, the essential collaboration of other teachers in this endeavor, the results obtained and the joy that obtaining them caused in the author.

The book, published for the first time in 1801, brings together fourteen letters addressed to Heinrich Gessner, a friend who encouraged his work and an important editor, also recipient of the Stanz's letter. The epistolary style produces a very vivid impression of the process of constructing a theory of education. The objectives of social transformation and reducing inequalities lead all the cards; in the philosophical foundations, resonances of Jean-Jacques Rousseau are perceived indicating possibilities; The dilemmas faced to transform principles into teaching procedures involve trials and failures, but always express confidence in the human capacity to develop, fueling the author's perseverance.

The great rupture caused by Pestalozzi – basing teaching on sensitive intuition and not on memorization – permeates, to a greater or lesser extent, a large part of the text, as well as the articulation between the cultivation of perceptive faculties, linguistic expression and the progress of knowledge in children.

The author explains a meaning for the teaching method that contradicts the notion that understands it as a set of rules to be applied to obtain certain results; for him, the method is an inventive process that encourages the development of materials and new procedures in response to students' needs; it also involves the inversion, alteration or careful selection of the content to be taught, that is, it concerns major cultural changes.

The understanding emerges from the text that, if pedagogy is an activity that must be implemented in practice, practice is not mechanical; it is the translation of a movement that involves both abstract conceptions and the monitoring of the effects produced on the individual himself and on others. The letters are, therefore, a kind of field diary accompanied by profound reflections.

In the description of this process, Pestalozzi names his partners (many of them would work in other countries, also becoming promoters) and clarifies the circumstances of the preparation of complementary works, such as ABC of intuition (1803) and The Mother's Book (1804). The set of letters allows the reader to come into contact with a thinking Pestalozzi, who formulates justifications for the establishment of the primary school that, because they were intrinsically shaped, ended up obscured.

The dissemination of Pestalozzi's work is surprising, considering the limited communication conditions of his time. The translator's notes, Cauê Polla, inform about an extensive network of relationships mentioned in the letters, which include authorities and intellectuals with whose ideas or propositions the author dialogues. The printed material resulting from his activities obviously contributed to awakening interest in the experience that was developing in Burgdorf, creating a circle of readers attentive to the innovations produced there.

The presence of visitors at the institution to learn about on-site visit the new organization was also frequent: the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, among others, was in Burgdorf; Daniel Alexandre Chavannes, one of the first promoters of Pestalozzi in France, and Johann Friedrich Herbart, a German pedagogue who, simultaneously, dedicated himself to theorizing children's learning from a more idealistic perspective. It can be said that the attempts started in Neuhof and continued in Stanz, even under very adverse conditions, were matured, systematized and disseminated from Burgdorf.

Pestalozzi left the institution in 1804 under unclear circumstances, possibly related to administrative conflicts arising from the attempt to serve very different audiences. In 1805 he began working in the city of Yverdon, in what would be his most lasting experience, remaining there until 1825.

With the reputation as a reformer already established, the end of the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars and a more complex school structure that included adequate buildings, many teachers and different levels and modalities of instruction (elementary, secondary, industrial, normal and education for deaf-mutes) , the Pestalozzi Institute became a European reference in education, where visitors continued to flock, who enthusiastically described what they had observed. The second edition of How Gertrude teaches her children (1820), among many other texts.

In subsequent decades, the education project described in this seminal work was taken as a synonym for modern pedagogy, spread in other countries and “adapted to local conditions”, in the expression of its supporters. This adaptation, inherent to the dynamics of knowledge circulation, had as its priority focus the training of teachers, preparing them to work in primary schools according to the Pestalozzian method.

The creation of educational systems organized in graduated schools projected the expansion of services to children, mainly from the popular classes, and the response to the need to standardize procedures and content came with the proliferation of manuals designed to briefly summarize the principles formulated by Pestalozzi and present models of lessons to be used in the classroom to develop the perception of senses and language mediated by objects placed for children's observation. The change in scale shifted the emphasis from principles to methodological rules, from ideas to modes of use, from Pestalozzi's method to Pestalozzi's method.

In countries of Protestant confession, the reception of the Pestalozzian method was more positive than in France, where How Gertrude teaches her children it was only translated in 1882. Charles Mayo, an English pastor who was at the Yverdon Institute between 1819 and 1822 to learn how it worked, upon returning dedicated himself to implementing the method in teacher training courses, starting in 1836. Elizabeth Mayo, his sister, created manuals consisting of lesson models that gained wide circulation: Lessons on Shells, in 1838, and Lessons on Objects, as Given to Children between the Ages of Six and Eight, in a Pestalozzian School at Cheam, Surrey, which, in 1855, had already reached 14a. edition.

In the United States, Edward A. Sheldon's manuals adapted Elizabeth Mayo's prescriptions to local conditions, adding lessons prepared by H. Krüsi, son of one of Pestalozzi's first collaborators in Burgdorf, hired to work in Oswego County (New York ): A Manual of Elementary Instruction, for the Use of Public and Private Schools and Normal Classes; Containing a Graduated Course of Object Lessons for Training the Senses and Developing the Faculties of Children, which, in 1862, was in its sixth edition.

In Brazil, reception occurred mainly via the North American route; originating from the same educational system in the city of Oswego, the manual by Norman A. Calkins, Lessons from things, was translated in Brazil in 1886 by Rui Barbosa, from its fortieth edition onwards, and, after the proclamation of the Republic, the intuitive teaching method became one of the symbols of the pedagogical renewal established in the state of São Paulo. The Model School practice was led and taught by teachers who acquired experience and training in the United States – Miss Marcia Browne and owner Maria Guilhermina Loureiro de Andrade – and published in the pages of the magazine The Public School.

Throughout the XNUMXth century, Pestalozzi was the great reference invoked to introduce educational reforms closer to children's experience, to justify the adoption of common objects as teaching materials and to base teacher training on a set of specific knowledge: child development, the content to be taught and the means for conducting teaching.

However, the prescriptions for pedagogical practice in school systems, put into circulation through different printed materials, prevailed over what could be called the spirit of the method described in How Gertrude teaches her children. Criticisms of methodological rules were not long in coming and Charles Dickens was one of their spokesmen, satirizing their rigidity in the figure of Mr. Thomas Gradgrind in the pages of Hard times (1854)

Thus, the work now released in Brazil allows us to regain contact with Pestalozzi's ideas without the mediation of his interpreters and, therefore, the publication becomes so relevant. The investment in popular education, the breaking of social inequalities, the inventive force that must govern pedagogical action and the dilemmas faced by teachers are presented here with the drama and joys that accompany them. The work also outlines a field of knowledge – pedagogy – based on its constituent elements and the dynamics of its functioning, which remain valid and can ensure the maintenance of “reasonable hopes” in the future.

The historical limits of Pestalozzi's thought – religious mysticism and knowledge of child psychology – do not invalidate the power of education that he expresses in Letter 7: “I do not wish and have never wished to teach the world any art or science – I know none – , but I wished and wish to facilitate the learning of the people in relation to the initial elements of all arts and sciences, to awaken the forgotten and brutalized strength of the poor and miserable of the earth with access to art, which is access to humanity”.

Vera Teresa Valdemarin She is a professor in the Department of Education at Unesp-Araraquara. She is the author, among other books, of Stories of teaching methods and materials: the new school and its ways of use (Cortez). []


Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. How Gertrude teaches her children. Translation: Cauê Polla. São Paulo, Unesp, 2023, 260 pages. []

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