Friedrich Froebel - Freedom

the great Froebelian revolution

by Evelyn Lawrence 1952

In effect, what is essential, if we are to be capable of the freedom which on any adequate social theory we need, is a philosophy of education for freedom from the start. That is the great Froebelian revolution. Capacity for freedom is something which, step by step, must be built up in us. It must represent a progressive and cumulative achievement carried forward by growth itself. Education in freedom and by freedom are essential for it, but they are simply means. The end is that education from within, by the child's many sided experience and activity continually integrated into harmonious development, which will carry him into adulthood as fully master of himself and an autonomous and responsible member of a free society.

Such an educational philosophy is then simply the carrying to completion of the freely elected common philosophy of freedom which is our most urgent social need. It no longer depends on any particular set of ultimate metaphysical beliefs (whether Froebel's or any other), but provides the fundamental platform on which the most diverse ultimate beliefs, so long only as they are compatible with tolerance of one another, can meet. And once we assume the shared value of freedom, we can confine our concern, if we wish, to the pragmatic minimum of the contrast between those conditions which will effectively safeguard it and those which, whatever nominal homage we pay to it, leave it precarious and insecure. At the best, freedom from coercion and interference in adult life comes, as we have said, too late; after living through most of our formative period from infancy to adolescence under conditions of coercion and interference, too few of us come out inwardly capable of being free.

What is even more fatal perhaps than positive educational impositions from without is the habitual disregard, in our conventional traditions of upbringing, of the demands of inward integration and growth; the lack of access to wide ranges of human experience; the lack of exercise in methods of judgement and decision; the failure to provide equipment for freedom and choice. Those who have been left through their plastic period to the fortuitous interplay of coercion and neglect, disregard, privation and frustration, and every sort of unregulated force within and without, will be only too apt to emerge at the mercy of every further strong current they may meet. This is in fact demonstrated by the ease with which even the external freedom that is one's adult "birthright" is surrendered or lost under the play of one or another form of propaganda or mass movement or mob appeal. That is the soil in which power ideologies or creeds flourish, though in the end they may destroy even most of those who embrace them.

However, the positive conditions of freedom amount to something very much larger than any mere sum of avoidances of failures or mistakes. And the inspiration to a philosophy of education for freedom lies for most of us deeper than the mere need to make our freedom secure in later life, vital though that may be. Both this need and those deeper demands are perhaps most satisfyingly met by Froebel's own fundamental principle: full respect for the integrity and individuality of every child. That most searching of moralists, Immanual Kant saw the supreme ethical law in the principle: treat every human being as an end in himself. But most if not all ethics is pivoted on the so-called "moral subject", either taken for granted or formally declared to be the responsible adult. We may, I think, account it Froebel's greatest revolution that he extended and deepened and transformed this principle by insisting that we must treat not merely every adult but every child as an end in himself. And every youngest child, every infant practically from the start. In this way, and in this way only, respect for the integrity and individuality of every human person can be built into all relations of adults to him and into the whole planning and process of education from the outset; and the requisite range of opportunity, the equipment and the capacity and power for freedom will then be seen as part of the very birthright of every child.

source: pages 225 - 228 of Friedrich Froebel and English Education edited by Evelyn Lawrence 1952

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