The dirty stories behind some of the classic educational thinkers

To be clear, you always have to see everything ‘in their time’, but I have been reading quite a lot about classic educational thinkers, and while some of them were pretty ok – John Locke seems to have been a nice guy – some of the most influential ones were pretty creepy.

Some examples:

  • Herbert Spencer, an important inspiration for Dewey and Piaget was a downright racist and didn’t want public schools because he thought it’s good that there is inequality.
  • Peter Petersen, the inspirator of the Jenaplan schools was very sympathetic to the Nazi party, but probably because of the will to expand his pedagogy.

    “Petersen’s active participation was primarily aimed at expanding his own pedagogy and his own options for action. In the end, Petersen always had the will to lead the Jenaplan to success – no matter under which state, no matter under which political conditions. In this effort, Petersen transcended the limits of morality.” (source)

  • And then the big one: J.J. Rousseau. The guy who described and inspired the world with the idea to put the child in the center of everything and stated that education can corrupt the child. Well, he forced his wife to put their own children up for adoption because they hindered him in his important work or because of the sake of his wife’s “honor”, depending on the source. That he became successful with his book Emile after trying a lot of different jobs and failed is in this case just a detail. He did state years later that he regretted putting his children in an orphanage.

Does this make all the ideas by Spencer, Petersen or Rousseau bad?  Can you listen to a song in the same way if you found out that a musician is a jerk? Or because he has killed his lover like in this case? I really don’t know.

5 thoughts on “The dirty stories behind some of the classic educational thinkers

  1. En niet te vergeten Rudolf Steiner die in zijn geschriften niet echt vleiend was over het jodendom (geen bestaansrecht in het moderne leven der volkeren), zwarten (geen volmaakte geesten; witte ras is het toekomstige, het meest aan geest scheppende ras) en Aziaten (de gedegenereerde Chinezen; Maleisiërs zijn “onbruikbare mensen”).

  2. It’s dirty to throw with mud without revealing the source. Why is there no link to the source to backtrack the statements. This is not fair to those people who can’t defend themselves or can others if statements are false.

    1. Correct, sources are a.o. but good starting point:
      – Doorman, M. (2015). Rousseau en ik: over de erfzonde van de authenticiteit. Prometheus.
      – Egan, K. (2004). Getting it wrong from the beginning: Our progressivist inheritance from Herbert Spencer, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget. Yale University Press.

      I did link to the source for Peter Petersen. What I wrote about Rousseau, Spencer and Petersen is actually pretty much common knowledge in historic pedagogy.

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