chapter  2
10 Pages

THE INDIVIDUAL CHILD

The child-centred movement in education grew as a protest 'against the old rigidly systematized school which imposed its procedure on all the pupils'.1 It was founded on the assumption that 'the educational system exists first, last and always to serve the development of the child as an individual'.2 However, the pedagogical implications of this stress upon individual development are not always as clearly drawn as they might be. R. S. Peters takes the view that this emphasis on individuality usually amounts to a warning against treating the child 'as merely a citizen in the making'.3 But the plea that we should consider the individual child involves more than a recognition that the child is not an adult 'writ small' (see Chapter 5) ; more, that is, than the conviction that childhood itself is intrinsically valuable and, on that account, makes its own demands upon the educational system. No doubt children of the same age are likely to have common characteristics and needs which differentiate them from other age groups and these age differences should be taken into account if schooling is to be effective. The eight-year-old, as an eight-year-old, may have many things in common with all children of that age which are peculiar to eight-year-olds and to no other age group. But to stress the individual child is to believe that each child is unique in the complex of ability, aptitude, interest, experience and cultural capital which he brings into school. The teacher confronts every child as an individual having a unique personal history, by virtue of which his perception of the environment will be idiosyncratic. The skills, knowledge and disciplines which the school exists to disseminate must be assimilated within mental structures each of which is unique. To that extent the meaning of any fact,

concept or principle will be distinctive and personal. As Sir Percy Nunn, a notable advocate of individualism as an educational ideal put it: 'While every man tends to draw his ideal of life largely from the inspiration of others, yet it may be maintained that, in a perfectly good sense of the words, each must have his own unique ideal'. It follows that 'there can be no universal aim of education if that aim is to include the assertion of any particular ideal of life ; for there are as many ideals as there are persons'.4