Reminiscences of Froebel
. Emily Shirreff writes about the book
Emily Shirreff writes
about Reminiscences of Froebel (Erinnerungen an Fröbel) by Baroness Bertha Marie von Marenholtz-Bülow
"In these days," he says in another place, "men while dwelling upon the spirit have forgotten nature and objects in abstractions. Words are separated from things, and as mere words are mostly misundrstood."
Madame von Marenholtz quotes with approbation Middendorff's opinion that the long perverted and misunderstood spirit of Christianity will kindle with new and higher light among men whenever Fröbel's system of education shall have found its full application. But how, she asks, with some discouragement, is this to come to pass? And Middendorff replies, "It can only be if we patiently nourish small beginnings, and cast abroad the seed which perhaps long after we are gone will spring up." Truly it is no small thing to cultivate the human seed by ever better and higher methods at each succeeding stage ofhuman development. Rather is it the greatest and most momentous work each generation has to perform.3)
As with religion, so with the study of Nature; it was not in Fröbel's view a mere branch of knowledge that might or might not be taken up; it was the necessary initiation into all other knowledge, as affording at once the direct manifestation of God's laws in the universe, and the field of practical training for all those faculties whereby man takes possession of the world of matter, lives in it and by it, and makes it subserve the higher law of his spiritual being. Fröbel ever contended, as we have seen above, against the mischievous opposition between nature and spirit, for to his apprehension the spirit of the Most High still brooded over the world of matter, and informed its every part; but the conviction that man, the moral being, owes highest allegiance to the moral law, that his spiritual nature is what lifts him to a region above mere earthly things, however grand or beautiful - this, it need hardly be said, was in one sense the very understanding at the same moment that he has acquired a new power. The exercise of thought and the exercise of the hand and the senses are thus combined and associated with a new sense of enjoyment. The creative faculty in man - one of the highest marks of the God-like in his nature - can only in childhood be exercised among the objects of the material world of which it is his privilege to take possession. Man is not destined only to think and to know; he must act, and produce; his thoughts must be expressed in outward form, his concictions in conduct; and practical activity and ability give to such expression both power and independence.
Madame von Marenholtz, who has so admirably interpreted the views of Fröbel in former works, reports in repeated conversations his earnest conviction of the necessity of correction by active work the one-sided intellectual culture givven in school education. One whole class of human faculties is in such education set aside and neglected, the logical faculty is cultivated at the expense of observation, accuracy of the senses, practical judgments, and originality. It is through the study of natural phenomena and laws, and through work in which those laws must be obeyed, that this valuable part of human culture is achieved, and also that the disire for knowledge ca be awakened. Rarely indeed can it be kindled in children save through external objects.
Doubtles the impulse to seek knowledge is inborn in man, but to cultivate and direct it is the main work of education. ""ould," said Fröbel, "that we could open the way for this one conviction, that the pure impulse to seek truth is the only real grounkd for mental culture; that love of truth is the only real ground for mental culture; that love of truth alone makes knowledge fruitful, which without it remains lifeless." 4)
It is hardly necessary to remind the reader that the idea of utilising, for the purpose of methodical eductaion, not only the earliest childhood, but even the first unconscious period of infancy, is the fundamental and original idea of Fröbel's system. Again and again in this volume does the subject recur. He was never ewary of repeating that the mother's training must precede the Kindergarten, as this must precede the school; they are the natural steps in a natural process of development. "The infant soul;" as he said, "awaking in this world does not wait till school-time to use its senses, its natural organs ... the unfolding of the spiritual faculties begins with the first breath, and ends with the last; and the assistance given according to nature to this development is education." 5)
In another place he says, "What then can we do towards the right unfolding of this germ of the future life, which contains the whole future man with all his highest and finest capabilities? We must give the child from its birth the free and multifarious use of its powers; and such is the prupose of my games and occupations, which exercise in ervery way the yet veiled faculties of the infant. But we must not, as it has often been erroneously understood, train at first the bodily faculties only through exercises of the limbs and senses, and then later, when school-time is come, bring the mental faculties alone into exercise; but at all times and through the whole period of childhood must both be exercised and trained together. The mind unfolds with and through its physical organs, which during the earthly life are inseparably bound up with it. The play of childish years will strengthen both the powers of the mind as well as of the body, when we know how to transform the first activity of the child to a free-productive, or creating activity. The will is strengthened trough free achtion, the moral disposition developes thorugh the effort to search and to produce good and beautiful things, and the mind is fashioned as it gradually learns to think and to act according to law. Such free activity, however, sets aside the direct instruction and training by others which is not in harmony with this stage of development, and places selftraining and self-teaching in their places ..."
In Fröbel's view of harmony throughout the universe and of the supremacy of the moral law, it is natural that the destruction of selfishness should become the highest object of the educatior. For selfishness isolates the individuals from the community and kills the living principle of love. Thus to learn to love is one of the highest results of a right education; to break the selfishness of the individual, and to lead him from the first stage of social life in the family, to all successive stages up to the love of mankind, or to the highest self-denial; through which he rises to harmony with God.
Universal moral progress depends greatly, he felt, upon the early creation of pure associations in little children, upon the effort made from the very dawn of life to awaken and set free the ideal side of the human being, in order to give a counterpoise to the imperious wants of the senses, and as far as possible to hinder the springing up of lower desires. The awakening of the sense of beauty offers the means best adapted for this purpose, so long as thought still slumbers in the childish soul. For this reason, from the earliest years the child's eyes, through form, colour and the play of light, and his ears through sounds, should be opened to all lovely things, and the feeble, childish powers thus used and prepared to receive the perception of the beautiful.
Closely connected with the subject of infant training is that of the fitness of women to undertake it; and no subject comes more frequently forward in the conversation recorded by Madame Marenholtz than the sacred character of women's mission as the educators of the race. Vain must be every hope of reform, if they do not rise to the height of the duties they have too long but half understood.
"Women," said Middendorff, "must learn to look upon their educational mission as a sacred, priestly office."
Fröbel repeated continually: "The fate of nations lies far more in the hands of women-of-mothers- than in those of rulers, or of the numerous innovators who are scarcely intelligible to themselves. We must train the educators of the human race, for without them the new generations cannot fulfil their mission."
Middendorff said one evening, as the friends werer conversing in Fröbel's room, "You, Frau von Marenholtz, must found a union of women who shall look upon the holy cause of human education as their Apostolate, and shall apprehend the mission which falls to women in our days. No greater one exists than that of perfecting the human race through a truly worthy education." Fröbel took up the word. "Women," said he, "must learn that childhood and womanhood, the care of children and women's life, are inseparably bound together; that they make one, and that God and Nature have placed in the hands of women the nurture of the tender human plant. Hitherto the female sex could play only a more or less subordinate part in human history, because great struggles were going on, and the political organisation of nations was not ready for her action; but the present state of civilisation requires nothing more imperatively than culture - the culture of every human power for the work of peace, for the labour of a higher civilisation. The culture of the individual, however, and therewith the culture of a whole people, depends mostly on the earliest training of the infant. For this reason women have to undertake the most important half of the problems of our time, a half which men are not able to solve. As educators of mankind, women, who till now have been only the physical mothers of the race, have the highest task yet ot accomplish." Madame von Marenholtz objected one day, with only too much truth, that "The greater number of women have not received the culture that fits them to apprehend the ideas that lie at the root of your system of education. The bare practical exercise of the thing, without the idea (the principle), is not fitted to draw out great mental power, of to satisfy the lively imaginations of women. Their minds must first grasp the conception of how their own education, if conducted according to Nature and the wants of their own being, will be the means of unloosing the fetters of centuries, and will make them capable of admirable work such as we have no idea of now." 6)
The delight that Fröbel's pupils took in their Kindergarten work was expressed often and warmly in letters that came to him on his birthday, and the words were often repeated, "I can hardly express how happy I am in the midst of my children." 7)
In later years it was, says Madame von Marenholtz, the same with her scholars. One of them said, "How difficult it was for me formerly to manage children, to make them obedient, while now, with Fröbel's occupations and with his educational principles, I succeed with the greatest facility, and can soon win and improve the most spoilt and unruly children." Another said, "If only mothers would learn Fröbel's method of education, and practise it simultaneously with us, how they would improve, and how much trouble, care, and struggle would be spared on both sides!"
Another theory, which is indeed the central point of Fröbel's system of instruction, namely the law of contrast and their connections, holds a large place in the converations recorded by Frau von Marenholtz; but I refrain from entering into it here, as too long and too abstruse for this slight notice of a book that deserves serious study. It would indeed be impossible in these few pages to touch, however briefly, on many subjects of gravest importance and interest which Frau von Marenholtz has brought together. One more trait only of Fröbel's mind I must mention, as characteristic of the true philosophical reformer; this was his calm patience under misunderstanding, his willingness to bide the proof of time, his unshaken belief in ultimate success, never to gladden his own eyes indeed, but to lighten the work of life for other generations.
As regarded his contemporaries, Fröbel was so conscious that his deepest views could not with advantage laid before the world in its present state of opinion, that he refused to speak of them even to those who were most devoted to him, even to Madame von Marenholtz herself, till long and intimate intercourse had proved the congeniality of their minds. "The last word of my theory I shall carry to my grave," he had said, "the time is not ripe for it." "If, three hundred years after my death," he said, "my system of education is completely, and, according to its real principle, carried out through Europe, I shall rejoice in heaven." "How little could the greatest reformers," he would say, "men even like Stein and Hardenberg, see of the fruits of their efforts during their own lifetime!" "The contemporary world," adds Madame von Marenholtz, most truly, "is never ripe for understanding the thoughts of minds that have outstripped their age; only after-times can comprehend these thoughts and work them out."
"If," said Fröbel, "we can in this generation win a small number of childish souls for what is right and good, the next will double that number, and so on through future generations, till all have been raised up to a new stage of human development, and shall then be fitted to reach a newer one."
Doubtless he was aided in this patient attitude of his mind by his habitual contemplation of human history as a whole. As he could not sever Nature, humanity and God in his philosophy, so neither did he dwell upon past, present and future as separate things, but as linked everlastingly by the unconscious operation of natural laws and the conscious action of man; the duty of each generation as of each individual being to gather up the ineritance of the past to serve the present, and to prepare better things for the future.
"I know," he said, "that centuries may yet pass before my view of the human creature as manifested in the child, and of the educational treatment it requires, may be universally received. But that no longer grieves me. If only the seed be cast abroad, its springing up will not fail, nor the fruit be wanting."
This hope supported him to the end, even through the bitter trial caused by the despotic imbecility of the Prussian Government. Sustained by confidence in the ultimate triumph of truth, he could afford to wait while men scorned and passed him by, leaving him to play with children and instruct the mothers, who should carry his teaching in their hearts for the good of a new generation.
Madame von Marenholtz again spent the summer of 1851 at Liebenstein, and had made arrangements to have a permanent summer dwelling under the same roof with the Kindergarten. She was thus with him when the news came of the Berlin decree forbidding any Kindergarten. She was thus with him when the news came of the Berlin decree forbidding any Kindergarten in the Prussian States. It was communicated to her by the Duke, and it seemed so incredible that she thought it was a joke, but too soon found that it was bitter earnest; and men of influence, whom she spoke and wrote to, said it was vain for the present to hope for any change. One small compensation came to Fröbel in the course of the following winter; he was asked for the first time to attend the German meeting of schoolmasters at Gotha, showing that his views were beginning to be known and to attract attention. He went, and his wife wrote to Frau von Marenholtz, "As Fröbel entered the room in the middle of a speech, the whole assembly rose. He was cordially greeted by the president, and later spoke amidst profound attention, and was loudly applauded."
In April, 1852, Frau von Marenholtz was preparing to join the circle of friends at Liebenstein to celebrate Fröbel's birthday, and to bring as her gift on that occasion the hardly-gathered proceeds of a subscription made to assist young women in attending the training institution; but she was obliged by severe illness to forego this pleasure, nor did she ever see her revered friend again. The birthday festival was the last joyful gathering he lived to take part in. Through May his health failed, and in June that noble life ended after a fortnight's illness, during which his love for his friends and for humanity and his trust in God were frequently uttered in words that seemed to grow more solemn and pathetic as they were felt to be his last.
Middendorff wrote to Frau von Marenholtz a touching account of his death and of the funeral, at which the officiating minister was a descendant of Luther's whom Fröbel had rescued from poverty as a child and educated in his school. Middendorff afterwards published an account of these last days in a small tract, from which various passages are quoted. These, and quotations from the letters of friends and of ladies formerly pupils, complete this picture of the last years of a great and good man, given to us by one who, loving him, felt she could not better server the cause he had most at heart than by making his own noble nature better known.
0) Erinnerungen an Friedrich Fröbel. Cassel 1876
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