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The Place And Power Of Kindergarten

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



THE watchwords of the new democracy with which it appeals unceasingly and with increasing insistence to the school, are freedom, equality, fraternity—freedom within the law of the social purpose, equality in opportunity and responsibility, fraternity—the brother and sister-hood of mutual good will, of mutual devotion to the common good.

'It is evident that the family as such is inadequately equipped to meet these demands. The family as such takes, indeed, a deep and abiding interest in the little child, but almost wholly on individual grounds. The freedom of the child is hampered on every side by interests it cannot comprehend; only in moments of unwatched or indulged caprice it feels free. For similar reasons, equality in opportunity and responsibility is practically excluded. With reference to other members of the family, the little child is quite decidedly inferior or superior.

The child of kindergarten age in whom social impulse has be-gun to assert itself, finds its yearnings for sympathy and cooperation handicapped by these superiorities and inferiorities and variously exposed to blighting isolations which the best of mothers cannot wholly prevent or soften for mere lack of equipment. Fraternity is similarly hampered even in families of many children. Marked differences in age and, therefore, in experience, interests and ability must and do assert themselves. "You don't understand this," "You cannot do this," "Oh, that's nothing," and other similar rebuffs come more or less frequently from older brother or sister, and from our little child to "baby" without intentional harshness or ill-will, but yet with the sting of them.

These considerations led Froebel to the kindergarten. He felt keenly the shortcomings of the family with reference to the establishment of social habits and attitude in the child ; he saw clearly, too, how the school suffered from this lack on the part of its pupils and how it was driven into individualistic practices which still further arrested the development of these habits and tended to fix the child in the attitude of unsocial and undemocratic competition. He saw clearly that remedy could come only from a new educational institution mediating between the individualizing family and the socializing school, supplementing the work of the family and fitting the child for the school.

This institution he found in the kindergarten, a pedagogic society as near the ideals of freedom and morality as the capacities of its members permit. Here the child finds a graspable number of others of similar age, his approximate equals in capacity, power, scope of experience and interests; a number of social elements with whom he can fully sympathize without undue effort and who sympathize with him without humiliating condescension; playmates, fellow-beings in embryo, with whom he can assimilate, coalesce organically with an ever deepening sense of the value of self and selfhood. Here the child discovers in actual experience the value of free, equal, brotherly union with others, begins to find aims beyond his narrower individual self. Germs of love, of devotion to a widening scope of common interest swell in his soul and burst into life. He is aroused to a consciousness of his value as a member of an aggressive social group whose purposes lie within his comprehension and enlist his full sympathy. He learns to obey intelligently and without loss of selfhood, and to assume leadership courageously and without self-conceit: in short, he lives himself into a life of cherished responsibility and joyous service.

Nor is this all. When once the child's sense of social responsibility has been touched honestly and sincerely as only this pedagogic society can touch it, when it has come to feel the compelling force of recognized duty, when it has learned to obey for the sake of a' purpose it shares with others, when it has begun to feel the dignity of leadership in the service of a common good, when—in short—its moral sense has been awakened, as only the kindergarten can awaken it, the attitude of the child toward every other phase of life is lifted upon a higher and healthier plane. The child has tasted the joy of well-doing, and all that enhances its power in such well-doing is henceforth welcomed with a new and holier zest. It observes more eagerly, interprets more accurately, thinks more closely, speaks more clearly, gains steadily in cheerful earnestness in work, is more sympathetic and helpful in every relation of life, grows visibly in all-sided interest, in knowledge and skill, in considerateness and good will.

The humanity of man begins with social intercourse. Without this, the family could make of the child little more than a superiorly equipped animal. With the discovery of his social value, man gains in respect for his individuality, in reverence for himself. He begins to cultivate and to enrich his individual worth for the sake of his social value. His eagerness to help grows with his ability to help, and his success as a helper stimulates his eagerness to learn. Thus, back and forth, the individual and society, stimulate and strengthen, deepen and lift each other : the joy of beneficent efficiency fills and expands every soul.

And this is the central purpose and use of the kindergarten. Its object is, on the one hand, to supplement the home by doing for the child's nascent humanity what the home cannot do for want of equipment; and, on the other hand, to aid the school in its humanizing work by bringing to its open door young human beings fairly well established in social habit and attitude.



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