chapter  2
3 Pages

The Neuhof Experiment

The first years spent in the N euhof were a struggle against financial difficulties. Not only Pestalozzi's wife, but several of her relations too, gave or lent money so that the young couple would not sink too deeply into debt. Despite the critical state of his finances Pestalozzi decided to go ahead with a plan which involved taking poor children into the Neuhof and giving them a simple education. As well as their lessons the children would do a certain amount of work by means of which, Pestalozzi hoped, they would earn their keep. The immediate motives behind his decision, he explained as follows:

I saw in a poor district the misery of those children who were hired out to the farmers by the municipalities; I saw · how the oppressive harshness of self-interest, I might almost say, condemned nearly all these children in body and in soul; I saw how many, ailing and without courage and energy, could never grow up with those feelings of humanity, with those powers, which would be beneficial to themselves and to the fatherland. 1

J'estalozzi realized that the education which these children received, if indeed they received any, was that given either byvillage schoolmasters who had usually chosen that profession because they were capable of none other, or by parents who, whether they pampered the children or maltreated them, did nothing to adapt them to the place in society they would have to fill. A few charitable institutions for the poor had been opened by rich benefactors, but these could never be successful as they failed to take into account the sort of life a poor child would lead when he came to leave the institution:

The poor must be educated for poverty and this .is the key test by which it can be discovered whether such an institution is really

a good one. Education of the poor demands a deep and accurate knowledge of the real needs, limitations, and environment of poverty, and detailed knowledge of the probable situation in which they will spend their lives. , .. 2

To be able to educate the poor it was necessary to experience their way of life:

The friend of humanity must descend into the lowest hovel of misery and must see the poor man in his gloomy room, his wife in a kitchen full of smoke, and his child, all going about their almost unendurable daily duties. For that is the hovel in which a publicly educated child will some day have to live .... 3

Pestalozzi hoped to combine a basic general education with some vocational education in such a way that the poor child would be able to grow into his station in society and at the same time become a responsible member of it.