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He was born on January 12, 1746 in Zürich, Switzerland. His father died when he was young, and he was brought up by his mother. At the University of Zürich he associated himself with Johann Kaspar Lavater and the party of reform. His earliest years were spent in schemes for improving the condition of the people. The death of his friend Johann Kaspar Bluntschli turned him from politics, however, and induced him to devote himself to education. He married Anna Schulthess in 1769 at twenty-three and bought a piece of waste land at Birr, Aargau called Neuhof (New Farm), where he attempted the cultivation of madder. Pestalozzi knew nothing of business, and the plan failed. Before this he had opened his farm-house as a school, but that plan also met with failure.
His first published book was The Evening Hours of a Hermit (1780), a series of aphorisms and reflections. This was followed by his masterpiece, Leonard and Gertrude (1781), an account of the gradual reformation, first of a household, and then of a whole village, by the efforts of a good and devoted woman. It was avidly read in Germany, and the name of Pestalozzi was rescued from obscurity.
During the French invasion of Switzerland in 1798, a number of orphaned children had been left without food or shelter in the Canton of Nidwalden. Pestalozzi took some of them under his charge, and he converted a deserted convent into a school for them. During the winter he personally tended them with the utmost devotion, but in June 1799 the building was requisitioned by the French to use as a hospital, and his charges were dispersed.
In 1801 Pestalozzi gave an exposition of his ideas on education in the book How Gertrude Teaches Her Children. His method is to proceed from the easier to the more difficult. To begin with observation, to pass from observation to consciousness, and then from consciousness to speech. Then come measuring, drawing, writing, numbers, and reckoning. In 1799 he was able to establish a school at Burgdorf, where he remained until 1804. In 1802, he went as deputy to Paris, and did his best to interest Napoleon in a scheme of national education; but the great conqueror said that he could not trouble himself about the alphabet (see also: Philipp Albert Stapfer). He did not believe in corporal punishment or rote memorization for instructional purposes. He once stated, "The role of the educator is to teach children, not subjects."
In 1805 he moved to Yverdon on Lake Neuchâtel, and for twenty years worked steadily at his task. He was visited by all who took interest in education: Talleyrand, Capo d'Istria, and Mme de Staël. He was praised by Wilhelm von Humboldt and by Fichte. His pupils included Hippolyte Leon Denizard Rivail, Charles Badham, Ramsauer, Delbrück, Blochmann, Carl Ritter, Friedrich Fröbel and Zeller.
Around 1815, rebellion broke out among the teachers of the school, and Pestalozzi's last ten years were marred by weariness and sorrow. In 1825 he retired to Neuhof, the place of his youth, and after writing the adventures of his life, and his last work, the Swans Song, he died at Brugg. As he said himself, the real work of his life did not lie in Burgdorf or in Yverdon. It lay in the principles of education which he practised, the development of his observation, the training of the whole person, and the sympathetic way of dealing with students, of which he left an example in his six months' labors at Stans. He had the deepest effect on all branches of education, and his influence is far from being exhausted.
Pestalozzi's complete works were published at Stuttgart in 1819, 1826, and an edition by Seyffarth appeared at Berlin in 1881.
Pestalozzi was a Romantic who felt that education must be radically personal, appealing to each learner's intuition. He emphasized that every aspect of the child's life contributed to the formation of personality, character, and reason. He learned by operating schools at Neuhof and Yverdon. The success of the Yverdon school attracted the interest of European and American educators. Pestalozzi's educational methods were child-centered and based on individual differences, sense perception, and the student's self-activity. Pestalozzi worked in Yverdon to 'elementarize' the teaching of ancient languages, principally Latin, but also Hebrew and Greek. In 1819, Stephan Ludwig Roth came to study with Pestalozzi, and his new humanism contributed to the development of the method of language teaching, including considerations such as the function of the mother tongue in the teaching of ancient languages. Pestalozzi was an important influence on the theory of physical education; he developed a regimen of physical exercise and outdoor activity linked to general, moral, and intellectual education that reflected his ideal of harmony and human autonomy.
Pestalozzi's philosophy of education was based on a four-sphere concept of life and the premise that human nature was essentially good. The first three 'exterior' spheres - home and family, vocational and individual self-determination, and state and nation - recognized the family, the utility of individuality, and the applicability of the parent-child relationship to society as a whole in the development of a child's character, attitude toward learning, and sense of duty. The last 'exterior' sphere - inner sense - posited that education, having provided a means of satisfying one's basic needs, results in inner peace and a keen belief in God.
- Biber, George Eduard. Henry Pestalozzi and his Plan of Education. Orig. pub. London: John Souter, School Library, 1831. Repub. ISBN 1-85506-272-0. Among the earliest and probably the most influential 19th-century account of Pestalozzi's work in English, this was widely read in America (for instance, by Bronson Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson) and in England. Contains translated excerpts from many of Pestalozzi's works.
- Gutek, Gerald Lee. A history of the Western educational experience (1987) ch. 12
- Gutek, Gerald Lee. Joseph Neef: The Americanization of Pestalozzianism. (1978). 159 pp.
- Silber, Kate. Pestalozzi: The Man and his Work. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960. ISBN 0-7100-2118-6. Written by a German-speaking lifelong Pestalozzi scholar, this remains the most recent complete biography in English.
- Template:Cite EB1911
- Encyclopaedic documentation about Pestalozzi – Publisher: Swiss association „Verein Pestalozzi im Internet“
- PestalozziWorld biographical links - A handful of short and longer biographies and references to his methods
- JHPestalozzi.org - An introduction to Pestalozzi and related links.
- Dieter Jedan, "Theory and Practice: Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi," Vitae Scholasticae 1990 9(1-2): 115-132
- Silvia Schmid, "Pestalozzi's Spheres of Life," Journal of the Midwest History Of Education Society 1997 24: 143-146
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