The New International Encyclopædia/Fröbel, Friedrich Wilhelm August

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FRÖBEL, frē'bel, Friedrich Wilhelm August (1782-1852). A German educationist, the famous promoter of what is known as the kindergarten movement. He was born at Oberweissbach, in Thuringia, April 21, 1782, where his father was a pastor of the old Lutheran Church. As his mother died while her son was an infant, the boyhood of the future friend of children was lonely, and his father's second marriage did not increase the happiness of the child. He became strongly introspective, and the severity of the religious influences under which he was trained placed him in a morbid attitude toward life, both the present and the future, a disposition which he overcame in his majority. At the age of ten years, he was sent to his uncle in the town of Ilm, where a happier life began. When fifteen he was apprenticed to a forester, and his duties were such that while he added to his knowledge of the outer world, he could devote himself (as he says) “in many various ways to self-education, self-instruction, and moral advancement. Especially did I love to indulge my old habit of self-observation and introspection.”

In 1789, when the days of his apprenticeship were over, he went to Jena, and for several months came under the influence of the university, where his brother had been enrolled as a student of medicine. His studies were irregular and unfruitful, and at length, after confinement for several weeks in the 'career,' because he had not money to pay his bills, he withdrew from the university and secured employment in the Office of Woods and Forests, in the Territory of Bamberg. He was then brought again into close companionship with Nature, for his calling required him to live out of doors in a region of lovely scenery. After a short service of this kind, he was engaged as a surveyor in the service of the Bavarian Government, and later he became manager of a private estate. Having inherited a little property at the death of an uncle, he determined to become an architect, and for this purpose went to Frankfort-on-the-Main. Gruner, the master of the Frankfort Model School, then said to him: “Give up architecture. It is not your vocation at all. Become a teacher. We want a teacher in our own school. Say you will agree, and the place shall be yours.” The young man accepted, and thus began his educational career. Gruner had been a pupil of Pestalozzi, whose name was the watchword of the Frankfort School. “It soon became evident to me,” says Fröbel, “that Pestalozzi was to be also the watchword of my life.” So Fröbel went to Yverdon and remained, for a fortnight, on a visit to the great educational reformer, whom he greatly admired, but whose methods he did not wholly approve. Uncertainty as to his calling, due perhaps to fickleness, perhaps to versatility, perhaps to genius, still embarrassed him. Several openings came to him, but none attracted him. So he returned to Pestalozzi and remained many months at Yverdon, where he wrote out an account of the work there in progress. His career continued uncertain, and he tried once more the environment of university life, first at Göttingen, and then at Berlin, where he showed such proficiency in mineralogy that his professor, Dr. Weiss, gave him an assistant's post in the mineralogical museum. War interrupted this service. In 1813 he joined Lützow's famous troop and saw some active service, and again in 1815 he enlisted as a volunteer. At the close of the war he determined to devote himself to the promotion of education. A curious passage in his autobiography declares that in the mineralogical laboratory “the stones in my hand turn to living, speaking forms. The crystal-world, in symbolic fashion, bore unimpeachable witness to me, through its brilliant unvarying shapes, of life and of the laws of human life, and spoke to me with silent yet true and readable speech of the real life of the world of mankind.”

His approaching marriage (in 1818) may have had some influence in concentrating his mind upon the purpose of life, for he founded in 1816 a school at Greisheim (afterwards removed to Keilhau), called 'the Universal German Educational Institute,' and in it he proceeded to develop his plans. Up to this time all the events of his life had been preparatory. He was now thirty-six years old, his life half gone. During the next thirty-four years his work was accomplished.

Eight years later he published his most important book, a volume entitled Menschenerziehung (Education of Man), which is a sort of cornerstone in his philosophy of education. Notwithstanding its comprehensive title, it really discusses the education of a child. The Institute awakened suspicion, and finally opposition, on the part of conservative governments, and the Prince of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt caused an official inspection of it to be made. The report, on the whole, was favorable. Fröbel's attention was now called by Krause (a well-known philosopher, whose acquaintance he had made) to the writings of Comenius, and from them he received a fresh impulse toward the development of his educational plans. After unsuccessful attempts to establish his Institute at Helba, near Meiningen, and afterwards near Lucerne, at Willisau, the Bernese Government invited Fröbel to consider a plan for founding an orphanage at Burgdorf. To this place he removed in 1835, and success followed the change. It is said that he considered, at this time, a visit to the United States in order to establish his system in a new country. He was now committed fully to the doctrine that the education of the nursery must be reformed, and the need of training for mothers became more and more evident to him. After a short stay in Switzerland, he went to Berlin in 1836, returned to Keilhau, and then established himself in Blankenburg, a small town not far from Keilhau. Langethal, Middendorf, and Barop were his serviceable assistants. About this time he hit upon the name 'kindergarten,' which has since been introduced into many lands and many tongues — a much better term than one originally employed by Fröbel — 'Anstalt für Kleinkinderpflege' (an institution for the care of little children). His friend Barop tells this story: “Middendorf and I were one day walking to Blankenburg with him over the Steiger Pass. He kept on repeating, 'Oh, if I could only think of a good name for my youngest born!' Blankenburg lay at our feet, and he walked moodily toward it. Suddenly he stood still as if riveted to the spot, and his eyes grew wonderfully bright. Then he shouted to the mountain so that it echoed to the four winds, 'Eureka! Kindergarten shall the institute be called!'”

Embarrassments still beset him. His ideas were not generally accepted; he lacked money for the maintenance of his school; his publications were not remunerative; more than this, his nephew, Carl Fröbel, a professor at Zurich, became the loud advocate of measures which were radical, if not revolutionary, and Frederick Fröbel was accredited with his nephew's opinions. In 1851 Von Raumer, Minister of Education and Public Worship, forbade the foundation of kindergartens in Prussia, and the edict remained in force until 1860, long after Fröbel's death. After 1850 Fröbel made his home in Marienthal, where the Grand Duke of Weimar gave him the use of a country seat. Hero he was aided in his school by Luise Levin, who in 1851 became his second wife, and by Alwine Middendorf, who married Dr. W. Lange, the future editor of his writings. His death occurred June 21, 1852. The school at Marienthal was then removed again to Keilhau.

Fröbel's literary style was not good, and his works were never popular; but his thoughts arrested the attention of able and influential people, and by these interpreters and followers kindergarten methods have been introduced into many countries. “Let childhood ripen the children.” says H. C. Bowen, “is the keynote of the new gospel.” “It is what he did for the education of children between the ages of three and seven that chiefly demands our gratitude.” As a statement of his principles, the summary given by H. C. Bowen is adequate: “The main principles, it will be remembered, whose applications form Fröbel's system, are: self-activity, to produce development; all-sided connectedness and unbroken continuity, to help the right acquisition of knowledge; creativeness or expressive activity, to produce assimilation of knowledge, growth or power, and acquisition of skill; well-ordered physical activity, to develop the physical body and its powers; and happy and harmonious surroundings, to foster and help all these.” (Fröbel and Education by Self-Activity, pp. 180-81.)

The principal writings of Fröbel have been collected in three volumes by W. Lange (Berlin, 1862), and by Friedrich Seidel (Vienna, 1883). Among them the most important is the Education of Man, which appeared in 1826. It has been translated into French and into English. The Mutter- und Kose-Lieder (Mother's Songs, Games, and Stories) has had many translators. The autobiographies were translated by H. K. Moore and Emilie Michaelis, and in part also by Miss Lucy Wheelock (new ed. London, 1899).

In addition to his own writings, materials pertaining to the life and influence of Fröbel are abundant, and are enumerated in bibliographies that are readily accessible. A selection is not easy. Dr. Barnard's collection of Papers on Froebel's Kindergarten (Hartford, 1881) is comprehensive and important. There are two English translations of The Education of Man, one by Miss Josephine Jarvis (New York, 1885) and the other by W. N. Hailman (ib., 1887). The Mother Play (ib., 1895)), in two volumes, was translated by Miss Susan E. Blow, who has also written a book on Symbolic Education (ib., 1894), a commentary on the first five songs of the Mother Play, and a volume entitled Letters to a Mother (ib., 1900).

Among the estimates of Fröbel's work, these citations may be made. Henry Barnard declared the kindergarten to be by far the most original, attractive, and philosophical form of infant development the world has yet seen. Dr. James Ward holds that the kindergarten system, in the hands of one who understands it, produces admirable results, but is apt to be too mechanical and formal. F. W. Parker says that the kindergarten is the most important, far-reaching educational reform of the nineteenth century. Mr. Quick in his Educational Reformers (New York, 1890), from which these words are taken, concludes his estimate by saying that among those who have contributed to the science of education there are probably no greater names than those of Pestalozzi and Fröbel. The memoir by H. Courthope Bowen in the Great Educators Series, edited by Nicholas Murray Butler (New York, 1897), is an admirable study of Fröbel's principles. The fullest biography is that by A. B. Hauschmann. A short memoir was written by Miss Emily Shirreff. Of the last four years of Fröbel's life there are delightful reminiscences by an accomplished enthusiast, the Baroness von Marenholtz-Bülow, translated by Mrs. Horace Mann (Boston, 1887). Two autobiographical fragments (a letter to the Duke of Meiningen, and a letter to the philosopher Krause), which narrate the perplexities and obstacles of his early life, are contained in a volume entitled Autobiography of Fröbel (Syracuse, 1889). It also includes a convenient bibliography. See Kindergarten; Pedagogy; Child Psychology.