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THE LIFE OF FREDERICK FROEBEL: FOUNDER OF KINDERGARTEN BY DENTON JACQUES SNIDER (1900)
By J (JOHANNES) FROEBEL-PARKER
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2013 J (Johannes) Froebel-Parker
All rights reserved.
A very important school Froebel deemed his own life, to whose past course he often returned to take his bearings for the future. In writing his autobiography, he says his aim was "to trace the connection between my earlier and later life," in which connection he firmly believed as the inner bond of all his days. This return upon himself showed that "my earlier life was for me the means of understanding my later"—he had always to go back in order to go forward. And more deeply still, "my own individual life be came to me the key of the universal life" in man, in humanity.
Life, then, has been his true university, to which he has often to come back for a course of study in himself—the very hardest lesson to learn, and sometimes never learned at all. With this brief overture faintly sounding in our ears, we may catch the key-note of all that follows.
The present chapter carries the youth Froebel forward till he enters Jena University when he was seventeen years old. Infancy, childhood, and boyhood are here set forth, with their possibilities, which become realities in later life. The first stage of the potential Froebel, as we have named him in this Book; it shows the far-off unconscious preparation of the child for the work of the old man.
I. The Child at Home.
Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel has recorded that he was born on the 21st day of April, 1782, in Oberweissbach, a village of the Thuringian Forest, belonging to the small principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Germany. His father was pastor of a district containing 5,000 souls, scattered among six or seven villages, the care of which kept him very busy, without much time to look after his own children, had he been so inclined. His family is said to have originally come from Holland, though it seems to have lost all connection with that country. (Editor's note: see editor's introduction. The connection to "Holland" was the Tribe of the Franks)
Frederick (thus we shall call him henceforth) at the age of nine months lost his mother, an event which had an important influence upon his whole life. The man who above all others has glorified the calling of motherhood, had no mother himself, even in the farthest reach of his memory; once only in an early letter he speaks of her "last loving look." But her real absence caused him to create her presence in an ideal mother who is the central figure of his greatest book, the Mother Play-songs, where she undergoes a kind of saintly canonization, while the father in that same book appears twice or thrice just to show his superfluity. The picture of the mother often returned to Froebel in later years; in fact, she becomes the educational center of the last period of his life, in which he, an old man, goes back to his infancy and erects the greatest of all monuments to the mother whom he never knew.
Having no mother and almost no father, he falls to the care of servants and of his brothers who are older. Four of these brothers are mentioned, two of whom, August (who died early) (editor's note: editor's "pater familias" and eldest of Friedrich's brothers) and Traugott (who became a physician), have little to do with his career; but the other two, Christian and Christoph, are deeply woven into his life. Especially did he love Christoph who both brothered him and mothered him, protecting him outwardly and comforting him inwardly amid his trials.
These trials culminated in a new person entering the household—the stepmother. The pastor took a second wife, who soon had a son of her own, and who became not only indifferent but averse to her little step-son. Such were the circumstances of the child Froebel as he entered the kindergarden age, which he will never forget, and which will impel him, as his final terrestrial work, to come to the rescue of those suffering as he did, whereby he becomes a kind of redeemer for the little child.
Frederick was now about four years old and often quite alone in the world. Through his step-mother's conduct he was isolated from the family, and made to feel that he was a stranger in his own home. Apparently his older brothers were absent a good deal from the new household, so that he had no longer their sympathy and protection. So he early turned inward and kept company with himself, whence came the habit of introspection which went with him through life. The proverbial character of the stepmother was repeated in Froebel's experience; he was the boy Cinderella of the German fairy-tale (editor's emphasis). Still, while almost driven from the home, he was strictly forbidden to go beyond the yard and garden, enclosed by fences, hedges and houses, of the parental dwelling. Not only alone, but also in a prison the child has to occupy his young days.
Thus his expanding life seemed to be shut in on all sides by lofty mountain-walls, which he could not climb over. An inner protest against all limitation and prescription could not help rising within him, a tendency which will leave its strong mark on his future thought and life. Moreover, in the last period of his activity he will return to his own kindergarden age, and will do his share toward rendering impossible forever such treatment as he received during his child hood. The isolation and suffering of these early years had no small part in calling forth his grand remedial deed, the kindergarden. So even as a little child we see Froebel in training for the work of his old age, and furthermore we catch a glimpse of that thread of "connection between my earlier and later life" on which he puts so much stress.
The child grew forward to school age. The religious character of the family was of the strict old-German orthodox Protestant type, and was in accordance with all the other restraints put upon the boy. Here too rose a secret protest, against the pastor as well as against the father—a protest which we can trace winding through his future career in his relations to the established church. One thing is certain: not for the world will he follow the calling of his parent and be a clergyman; still he will choose an allied vocation, for him the deeper and more compelling, that of educator. Moreover, we shall see later that under his influence his two great friends and co-workers, Middendorf and Langethal, had their careers deflected from theology into pedagogy.
The father, however, taught him to read, though with great difficulty, for the one was not a good teacher and the other was not a good pupil. One result was that the father regarded Frederick as a hopelessly stupid boy, totally unworthy of a university education, and the son for a time shrank back into himself with a disbelief in his own talent. Froebel confesses that it was hard work for him to learn to read, and this comports with what we know of him later. Human speech was his stumbling block, in his own mother-tongue he never could utter himself adequately; his best was another kind of expression. Over and over again he tried his hand at Latin without success; grammar, the organization of speech, he could never make his own fully, as we see from his frequent tirades about this study, as well as from many a peculiar turn in writings.
From his father's instruction young Frederick passed to the village schools where he acquired not very thoroughly the rudiments of an ordinary education. From his own account we have to infer that he belonged to the class of bad boys. He was defiant, disobedient, and told falsehoods to get out of scrapes; he claims, however, that he was made naughty by being always misjudged and mistreated. As he had the name of an imp, he was determined to have the game. His was a destructive nature: "I destroyed everything around me, whatever I wished to investigate." Very significant too is it to observe by what means he sought afterwards to overcome just this destructive spirit in the child through the kindergarden.
So we see the boy in a secret rebellion against the established order in home, school, and church; the stepmother ruled his world, The Life of Frederick Froebel: Founder of Kindergarten and his business was to thwart her in every possible way. She was the Law and the Gospel; could the child help turning against the Law and the Gospel? Still he had love in his heart for his brother Christoph, in whom he seemed to see re-embodied his true mother. He records that this brother, explaining to him once the sexual difference in plant-life, opened the door of the great temple of Nature, into which his longing spirit entered and found peace, remaining there with few interruptions to the end of his days.
But what means this noise of hot discussion which the child hears between father and brother Christoph? The latter has just returned from the University of Jena, where he has been studying theology, and has brought back new views which the old pastor deems the quintessence of heresy and damnable innovation. Of course the boy listens with intense eagerness and understands the general bearing of the dispute, since it lay just in the line of his deepest experience. He cannot help taking sides with his brother, whom he loves, and who in addition now voices the secret protest and aspiration of his own soul. And that University of Jena—what a wonderful ideal place it must be, with its freedom in contrast to this cramped existence! Dimly a hope has been born in his heart that he, the dull boy, will yet see Jena, in spite of father and step mother, who have thrust him down into the limbo of everlasting stupidity.
Meanwhile he has reached the age of ten years, and his prisoned spirit is longing for some release. "I wished to escape from this unhappy state of things; my elder brothers I considered fortunate in being away from home." Christoph again appears at the right moment and gives to the despairing boy consolation and protection—a providential appearance vividly recalling their common mother as the guardian angel over both of them.
Still another providential appearance on the maternal side comes down into Frederick's life at this time that of Uncle Hoffman, a clergy man of Stadt Ilm, and brother of the deceased mother. This kind-hearted man, on a visit to Oberweissbach, evidently saw the whole situation; when he returns home, he begs by letter that the boy Frederick be sent to him for an indefinite stay. The father readily consented, and the step-mother surely would not object. And now we may see with sympathetic glance the youth springing across the paternal threshold in unconcealed joy, and leaving behind him that whole step-motherly world with his eager face turned toward a new home.
And yet we cannot leave the stepmother without a sympathetic glance. Poor woman! What an eternity for that simple Thuringian country-girl who could not get along with her stepson! He happened to be Frederick Froebel, the greatest benefactor of the little child that ever lived, and he has fully reported her ill treatment of him as a little child. The result is her name has gone through the wide world, and has descended thus far through time, and is destined to go down through untold ages, leaving behind it a line of sighs and tears and low maledictions from thousands upon thousands of tender-hearted kindergardners (editor's note: here Denton means kindergarten teachers, which will be repeated throughout the story) who read his story. Dear me! what a destiny for a woman, who violates the trust given her, neglecting to obey the call, when it has come to her, to be a mother to a motherless child!
Still let us in fairness think of her difficulties. Not an easy position is hers; the child has neighbors, and relatives, and elder brothers, who cannot quite let him forget that he has a step mother. Every word and act of hers is sure to be prejudged, and her every correction of the child, though deserved, is apt to be ascribed to her want of maternal feeling for her ward. And thou, my reader, who art some gentle kindergardner probably, wilt do well to feel a throb of sympathy with that step-mother, for thou mayst have to stand in her place at some future time.
Now we can turn to our boy Frederick, who has by this time arrived at his uncle's in Stadt Ilm, out of the reach of his step-mother, which event took place toward the end of the year 1792.
II. The Boy at Uncle Hoffmann's
Very different was the atmosphere of the two households; in the one was severity, in the other kindness; the father misunderstood and distrusted his son; the uncle recognized and trusted his nephew. There restraint, here freedom; there a stepmother spurned him from her presence, here a motherly spirit for the first time took him up into its bosom. When he passed outside of his new home, the mountain-walls which before penned him in had vanished as in a dream; "I could go into my uncle's gardens if I liked, but I was also at liberty to roam all over the neighborhood." Great indeed was the difference between here and there, so great that the boy at once began to pass from protest and the deepest tension of spirit into harmony with his environing world.
Of course he must go to school, that was probably a chief object of the uncle in taking the boy to himself. He had always been a solitary youth, depending on himself chiefly for society; but now he is suddenly plumped into a living roistering mass of school-boys, forty in number, of his own age. He must henceforth associate with his fellows and take part in their sports. He was deeply humiliated to find that he was physically unable to cope with the rest in strength or agility. But he bravely began to overcome his defects, and made the most of his opportunities. Confidence in himself he was getting after long suppression; surely there is something in the lad, if he can thus struggle with and mount above his limits. And all his life he will give great prominence to the physical development of the pupil, remembering his own insufficient training in this respect.
Reconciliation seems now to be the trend of our Frederick under the loving care of Uncle Hoffmann; reconciled he is becoming with the home, with the school,—yes, with the church. "I especially enjoyed the hours devoted to religious instruction; "he delighted in the sermons of his uncle, which were "mild, gentle and full of sweet charity;" somewhat different, evidently, from those of his father. His heart would melt and he would burst into tears when the lesson "touched upon the life, the work, and the character of Jesus." He resolved to lead a similar life. (Editor's note: this is more evidence for the refutation of the Prussian court's charge of atheism against Froebel, which Denton will mention later in the book.)
Very deep run these notes of harmony with the established order around him, in striking contrast to the discords of his previous life. He is now becoming truly ethical, drinking in from his surroundings those virtues which form the tissue of all character, and which mount up for their highest source to the institutional world.
He gives an account of the school training at Stadt Ilm, the residence of Uncle Hoffmann. Reading, writing, arithmetic and religion (the four Rs, in this case), were "the subjects best taught;" but Latin comes in for censure, "being miserably taught and worse learned." Still, from its study he got something, namely, that he could get nothing "by such a method of teaching." So he blames the method, but Latin grammar is Latin grammar under any instruction, and will not put down its carefully adjusted bars to let Froebel jump in with a little playful leap. But "arithmetic was a favorite study of mine," and in general he had a quantitive or mathematical bent in his mind. Music lessons, too, he had, in singing and in playing the piano, "but without result." We are, however, inclined to think that the musical side of his nature received a very considerable development at this time; his own mood and his environment fostered it, expressed it in a way, though he may not have learned much about the theory of music. Certainly a musical accompaniment runs through his life and his work to the very close, which harmonious attunement naturally belongs to his uncle's, and not to his father's, surroundings.
As to discipline, he claims that he and his school-fellows had lived "without control," yet none of us were ever "guilty of a really culpable action." Good boys, indeed, good by nature, not made bad by man: a note having a sound like that of The Education of Man, (editor's note: Die Menschenerziehung) which indeed belongs, in its composition, to the same period as the Autobiography.
Excerpted from THE LIFE OF FREDERICK FROEBEL: FOUNDER OF KINDERGARTEN BY DENTON JACQUES SNIDER (1900) by J (JOHANNES) FROEBEL-PARKER. Copyright © 2013 J (Johannes) Froebel-Parker. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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Table of Contents
ContentsEditor's Introduction, v,
Mary McConnell Blaisdell, Denton Snider and his Circle of Readers, xvii,
The Life of Frederick Froebel, Founder of the Kindergarden, xix,
BOOK FIRST The Youth Froebel (1782-1805), 1,
Chapter First: EARLY SCHOOLING, 3,
Chapter Second: FROEBEL AT JENA, 15,
Chapter Third: IN PURSUIT OF A VOCATION, 41,
BOOK SECOND The Schoolmaster Froebel (1805-1835), 53,
Chapter First: FROEBEL AS TEACHER AND PUPIL, 57,
Chapter Second: FROEBEL AS PRINCIPAL, 90,
Chapter Third: THE PRINCIPAL DETHRONED, 133,
Chapter Fourth: EXPATRIATION, 153,
BOOK THIRD The Kindergarten Froebel (1835-1852), 169,
Chapter First: THE KINDERGARDEN CONCEIVED, 173,
Chapter Second: THE KINDERGARTEN REALIZED, 183,
Chapter Third: THE KINDERGARTEN PROPAGATED, 207,