chapter  1
11 Pages


It is sometimes argued that the child-centred emphasis in education is at least as old as Plato's prescription, 'Let your children's education take the form of play'. But whilst most educational systems have recognized that some concession must be made to children's intellectual limitations, it was with Rousseau that there entered into educational thought a completely new emphasis which Dewey likened to a Copernican revolution: 'the old education . . . may be summed up by stating that the center of gravity is outside the child. It is in the teacher, the textbook, anywhere and everywhere you please except in the immediate instincts and activities of the child himself . . . Now the change which is coming into education is the shifting of the center of gravity . . . the child becomes the sun about which they are organized.'1 This emphasis upon the child has been a recurrent theme in educational literature over the past two centuries. 'Child-centred education' has thus become a slogan with all the potential for promoting change and creating misunderstanding which is characteristic of sloganmongering in education, as in politics or the arts.2 Not surprisingly, it has provoked a critical, even hostile, reception from many educationists. However, what is attempted in this text is neither an apologia for child-centred education nor an attack upon this tradition but, rather, an attempt to escape from some of the unreal either-or dilemmas into which both child-centred theorists and their critics often want to force us. The intention is to sift the arguments and clarify the issues which arise when we bring the learner into the centre of our attention and to examine some of the conceptual distinctions which have to be made if the idea of child-centred education is

to be a useful instrument in the theory and practice of education.