Subversive Kindergartens

Friedrich Fröbel was born in Germany in 1782. His mother was in ill health for most of his young life. She died when he was nine months old. Friedrich’s father sent him to live with an uncle. Friedrich had a love of nature and became a forester’s apprentice at the age of 15. At the age of 17, he left the apprenticeship to study mathematics and botany.

Friedrich’s career would combine his interests in the outdoors and education. He worked as an educator and studied under some of the most noted educators at the time.

After serving in the military, he returned to an interest in nature when working in a museum focusing on minerals. He began to see a connection between the crystalline structures of minerals to the development of humans. The minerals gave him insights into transformation processes.

For the next 20 years, Friedrich began to further develop his concepts of how people learn. This work culminated in the establishment of a play and activity institute for young children. He used the term kindergarten for his institute.

Friedrich introduced the use of games and play as essential to a person’s development. Children learned to sing and dance. They enjoyed gardening and learned how to entertain themselves.

To supplement his educational programming, Friedrich developed what he called Fröebel Gifts. These were balls, blocks, and sticks to encourage their imaginations.

The kindergartens had remarkable success and began to spread rapidly throughout Germany. But the early success became a threat to the national leadership. There was a fear that children (especially girls) would develop an enlightenment that would threaten the autocratic leadership of the country. Kindergartens were banned. Friedrich saw his life’s work destroyed and died a year later. But kindergartens continued in other countries, especially in the U.S.

Twenty years later, Anna Jones discovered the Fröebel Gifts at the World’s Fair in the U.S. She bought them for her son. Her son, Frank, used the Gifts to start constructing structures of unique geometric combinations. We know Frank today as Frank Lloyd Wright.

Just imagine the immense harm that the leaders of Germany inflicted on their children by banning kindergarten. Perhaps the greatest disservice one can do to a national culture is to try to limit what its people can learn. Education is an easy target for demagogues. That’s why leaders who lack the ability to inspire choose instead to limit curiosity and replace it with unthinking obedience.        

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“For several years, I sat at the little kindergarten table-top and played with the cube, the sphere, and the triangle. These smooth wooden maple blocks all are in my fingers to this day.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

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