Friedrich Froebel

Letters to the Friend of Children and Humanity

translated by Johannes Froebel-Parker, from the German "Mein Lieber Herr Froebel!, Briefe an der Kinder und Menschenfreund"
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Early Sunday Morning

Most highly esteemed director:

With many thanks I am sending your book back to you, the content of which I find truly beautiful. I feel even more compelled to tell you that I was swept up by the title, even if it was too sweet for my taste. Then I thought how nice could those mothers be, if they had to learn from a man how with deal with a child. Now that I have read the book I see it somewhat differently. I see that it is you who have learned from these little songs from the mothers. Now you enrich those mothers with them, in that you have established in them a state of heart and given it expression in words.

I would like to compare these Play Songs with Rueckert’s "The Springtime of Love" (Liebesfruehling). I thought it would be interesting for every mother, because of the lovely poetry and drawings along the border, which offer educational opportunities. I hope it is not an actual necessity for anyone to learn that which Nature itself teaches. Such a book would not really be necessary for nannies and educators, who have chosen this profession by design. Already yesterday I got the idea that a mother can judge best. I sent the book to one of my two friends who are themselves mothers. She has three children and is such an exemplary mother whose true childlike nature keeps her from being infected by the "esprit" prevalent in Frankfurt and its demands. Her judgment, which I am including, surprised me. I should have thought she would have embraced this work with joy and immediately ordered a few copies. She is rich and loves art. Let it be proof for the human trust I have in your good will and in your human worth when I confess what has always bothered me about. Actually, it still bothers me about you.

In contrast, there will be things about me which will disturb you and will always come between us. It is this: "Simply not enough". I do not refer to your little songs, but rather to your prose in your discourse and in your writing. You use too many and too beautiful words. For example, in your forward you speak of "Our noble, elevated and excellent (human) race". Just what is so noble and elevated about human beings? Interest in children is simply something natural. I adhere to this "We are useless knights,we have done that which was our duty".

I believe the least of us can say that, not out of Christian humility, but rather out of human reason and a kind of instinct. I have always had an aversion to too much praise. I find it just as immodest to praise as to chastise. I have to think that anyone who assumes vanity in another, must then have some also. I now interpret your use of beautiful words quite differently. I see it as a habit stemming from your human friendliness. You prefer pleasantries to that which is unpleasant. Perhaps this is due to your early life in which you may have had a lot of contact with people who placed great value on recognition. Perhaps it is because you deal mainly with children who love praise as they do sweets. But only small children do this.

In the earliest age I also heap praise on them. However, as soon as I begin to respect them as people growing in adult consciousness, I praise no more. A loving look or at the most a "that is right" should be enough. I remember when I was seven years old I was set as an example in front of the class. Of course, I was the director’s daughter and the others were poor people’s children. I still feel the despicable shame and anger which I felt then. I began to cry. They thought it was joy or emotion, but, no, it was simply anger and bitterness towards the teacher, which I could not abide from that time on.

Humility is actually a feeling of truth slumbering in each person. It is not contrite; it elevates; it gives peace. Many people cannot touch this holy humility through praise, honor and the like. The French call this pathetic way of writing, so common among us Germans : "La mettre a cheval sur les grans mots" (Mounting the horse with grand words). Your fine taste allows you to avoid this mistake. I do not completely understand how so many of our first writers fell into this trap; especially as Germans prefer comfort, and comfort usually tends towards simplicity. I would not talk so much if it were not for the fact, dear director, that you treat children tenderly and pamper them even though you scold us grownups generously and nobly, in a kinglike manner.

Just as the person awakens within the child, it also grasps seriousness from play and work from dallying. The transition is hardly noticeable, but it begins early. I believe only one need of our nature is satisfied when one divides 5-6 year olds’ time in a natural, unruly way. Mr. Middendorff tells me, "You do not have to tell the children to stop playing; we are going to do math now". Of course, I do do that and will continue to do so. (All that I have said and will say is understandably from an instinct which came to consciousness through effort. I do not see it as wisdom. I express it in order to exchange ideas with you, because I feel I can learn a lot from your opinions by putting them to the test, even if I do not exactly accept them.)

I see education as something simple which consists of 1.) a good attitude and 2.)the imparting of good habits. The latter is much maligned as training. For the most part I see it as the union of all that is necessary. It is maintenance of a certain order and use of time. It is having patience. It is paying attention. It is also about believing, which is intimately connected with all of this.

Yes, to pay attention and believe, no matter how conservative ( translator’s note: literally "unliberal") and old-fashioned this sounds. I used to think differently. I have come to this conclusion based on my experience with the poor. I now believe that most of suffering is a result of bad upbringing. This is caused mainly by incorrectly understood humanistic and liberal ideas: One honors the person in every child. One cannot order children around. We must allow them to follow their inclinations, yet direct it to good.

That sounds admirable; I also accept it to some degree. However, if you could see the suffering which comes from these principals which are so widespread among people-lost children and their children!

How many old and sick people must perish even with our plentiful funds for the poor. They do, because of the misguided young people with their large families. They take all the funds away. You would become more cynical than I.

It is not just the common people who allow children to have their way. The so-called "distinguished set" do it also, as does the State. When an 18 year old girl appears before the Women’s Association and reports that she can no longer feed her children alone, I ask only this "You were surely brought up in an orphanage". I am seldom wrong.

The master craftsmen no longer want to take apprentices from orphanages, as they do not do a good job and then they leave. That is so sad. We do not need to be strict with children, just full of genuine love. The earlier one starts with serious education the better. People are so reasonable nowadays with physical considerations. They train their bodies and allow their spirit to weaken. Just as I would bathe my child in cold water so that it would learn how to tolerate cold water, so also would I let it cry if it cried for no reason. Thus it would learn patience and much needed lessons. Later when children are older it is more difficult to get used to certain things. Of course, being serious does not exclude love. Learning does not exclude play. Compliance helps to keep order. It does not inhibit free movement. It just seems to me that children’s play rooms spend too much time on dallying. I understand that one can teach a lot through such activities. But will a child, when it grows up, \ find everything as pleasant as playful learning where they can follow their whims? Life is not like that. It might be that I am totally wrong. That is why I would like to see, so that I may believe and make myself believe.

I would like to see excellent, admirable people who have been educated with these new methods. I want to see them in order to give prominence to these methods above the old simple ones, these humanistic ones above the Christian ones. For example, you said, "All paths lead to God; one should not prescribe the child a particular one by which it will reach God". All ways do not lead to God. Many lead away from Him, at least in this life. This principle is, I believe, Krauseian. However, are Krause’s children any more first-rate than any other?

I have always found that people who have had a difficult youth, fighting over the rocks and throws of life, have attained a higher level. They have done this with a strength developed early through necessity. Their level is higher than those who have not developed strength, because all of the bars by which the latter could have measured themselves were removed from them. I am letting myself explain fully in order to show you that I do not agree with current leading utopian points of view, because our world is not a utopia.

Another thing which occurred to me yesterday was how you lead children back from unity to diversity through play. That seemed very obvious to me. It is indisputably good if children are led early to clarity, thinking and comprehension. In the end one guides all of these to religiosity. This takes a long time. I wish to guide them earlier to it through sensibility; that awakens first. For example, a girl who had just turned nine was run down by a carriage. She suffered terribly. "Is it not true, dear pastor", she said to my brother who visited her, "that I should not complain. The Lord Jesus surely endured more than I, did he not?" Who could have taught her this religious comfort in a mathematical way? It is touching to see how the children grasp simple Biblical Christianity, when it is offered to them. Each child comprehends the word, only a few comprehend ideas. The ideal warms one thoroughly, penetrates, and calls for imitation. At the same time ideas leave one cold and have no influence on children and most women, including me.

I will have to stop here or I shall delve too far into the matter. There was one more thing I wanted to say. For most children, especially for girls, it is not good if one pays too much attention to them or, even more, pays attention to them conspicuously. A child should not get big notions about its importance or it will lead to conceitedness. These children will easily become burdensome to themselves and to others. A child is better off in its unimportance. I know that I could not bear the ladies who talked to me differently than to others in a sweet voice, who fondled me and who wanted to set me as an example to others. On the other hand, I felt particularly drawn to those who were seriously friendly"

Forgive me for taking up so much of your time with such prattle. I have to smile about the display of my wisdom. I have honestly told you here my theory. I do not have to tell you that the practice of it has remained behind. It is not a clearly recognized theory. It is not a firmly intended one. Rather it is one only foreseen through sensibility. It is one prescribed only through conscience.

I ask you to please share this letter with Mr. Middendorff, for whom it is intended as much as for you. I close in the hope of seeing you both this evening at 8 o’clock. If you are detained taking your walk then I shall see you at 8:30 pm. At that time I shall discuss with immediately practical matters, i.e. the greater propagation of your publications and games.

Yours sincerely,
M. Kirchner

read the German text in "Mein Lieber Herr Froebel!, Briefe an der Kinder und Menschenfreund" Berlin (DDR): Verlag Volk und Wissen, 1990

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