I am a musician. As those closest to me can attest, I have not always been able to claim such an identity so readily. Sure, I loved music and I played the piano for ten years, took voice lessons for five, collected CDs of classical music, lip-synced with my hairbrush mic in the mirror to my favorite obscure British indie band, took every music class my high school offered and advocated that it offer another one—but that’s just because I loved music, not because I was particularly good at it. So naturally, I chose to major in it here at BYU where my passion for and knowledge of music still exceed my abilities to perform or create music.
Enter Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. I was introduced to his ideas during a particularly challenging time in my education. My familiar struggle of my enthusiasm outweighing my skill had reached its apex; I could always imagine and understand more than I could actually do. Such is a recipe for frustration.
Pestalozzi’s head/heart/hands model of learning gave me solace. The head/heart/hand model is thus: in a holistic education, educators take into account the head—the realm of knowledge, facts, and information; the heart—where our passions, attitudes, and deep emotional resonances abide; and the hands—the practical skill we develop in our chosen educational pursuit.
Looking at education as a tripartite endeavor gave me a constructive framework for tempering my frustration. While I wasn’t suddenly a stellar performer, I recognized that the disparity between my zeal and my skill was normal, healthy, and would help me progress. The process by which my passion drives my skill is the way in which “life itself educates” me.
Because that educational concept has so positively impacted my development, I’ve had a certain fondness for and resultant curiosity about its originator ever since.
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi was born in Zurich, Switzerland on January 12, 1746, and lived through the French Revolution that would provide a dramatic backdrop for his educational reforms. Pestalozzi, like Comenius, advocated education for impoverished children and emphasized the important role women, especially mothers, play in the early education of a child.
After the French Revolution, Pestalozzi took in dozens of children orphaned by the war and tried to create a familial/educational atmosphere by founding a school for them in Stans, Switzerland. The school didn’t last very long, but Pestalozzi describes the time he spent there as the happiest of his life. His next educational venture was a boarding school called Yverdon which he launched as a laboratory for his educational methods. Yverdon served students’ education in three veins: intellectual, moral, and physical. (The physical aspect included vocational and civic training.) This school attained the same familial setting Pestalozzi valued in his first school, but due to contention among the teachers over who would be second in command after Pestalozzi, it only lasted two years.
Pestalozzi also adhered to the experiential model of learning, in which the basis for understanding is exposure to and involvement with the subject. This theory has remained relevant on the educational scene due to its study by renowned child psychologist Jean Piaget. Like Piaget, Pestalozzi traced a child’s intellectual development from “observation to comprehension.”
Another of Pestalozzi’s ideas that resonates strongly with me is his conviction that “education should develop the individual’s faculties to think for himself.” One of my favorite aspects of teaching is the inherent altruism. I, like many, am a naturally selfish person, and I appreciate that becoming a teacher will help weed that out of me. The whole objective of teaching is to make yourself obsolete. The very essence of being a teacher is aimed at eclipsing the need for teachers. When a student gains sufficient “faculties to think for himself,” the need for a teacher disappears and the once-teacher can step into another role, that of the confidant, or the mentor, or even the colleague.
I once asked one of my dear friends and fellow future teachers what education meant. She answered, “Education is anything that makes you a better person.” So essentially, if one lives well, “Life itself educates.”