11th Scientific Convention of the GTA, March 11-14, University of Graz/Austria

Gestalt Theory and Education:
School and Kindergarten as a Place of Creative Liberty?

Abstract for the workshop of

Dörthe VAN DER VOORT, Düsseldorf/FRG
Beate WEITKEMPER, Frankfurt/FRG
Ursula BÜNGER, Modica/Italy

What works? When we hear the complaints of parents, educationists and teachers, we might have the impression that educating children is a job full of risks and unknown effects. One might hear remarks like "I never thought she'd make it", "How is this possible? He gets anything necessary, doesn't he?", "I tried everything, but it doesn't work any better..."

Educating children seems to be a most uncertain activity, if this activity is done for and on children instead of with them. If we consider Wolfgang METZGER s "characteristics for working with living beings" we can find a task full of joy and surprises instead of the well-known everyday-drudgery. In our workshop we want to consider the meaning of METZGER s characteristics:

- non-arbitrariness of form
- formation through internal forces
- non-arbitrariness of working hours
- non-arbitrariness of working speed
- accepting detours
- reciprocity of events

Kurt LEWIN s research work also dealt with themes which nowadays belong to the field of developmental and pedagogical psychology. He was convinced that any human development in any age is very closely related to education. That means:
Education demands developmental processes for grown ups as well as for children. In his opinion education is effected by concretely organized situations. In his article "Environmental forces a nd the behavior and development of children" he writes: "Up to now we described the effects the actual situation has on development. These effects cease, if the situation changes. Nevertheless, the influence of the environment always causes a more or less distinct effect on the individual, and in this way it changes the individual s base of reactions for all situations following. This influence the actual situation has on following situations, which is especially important for development as a process extended in time, does not only depend on special intellectual experiences the child has, but also on the fact that the whole person is changed in a specific way." (Kurt-Lewin-Werkausgabe, vol.6, p.208).

This leads us to another role and task of the educator. The process of educating does not only depend on him, he is no longer the one who creates the pupil. He simply is one of the environmental forces within the life space of the individual. He is a person who helps the pupil to develop by creating sufficiently free conditions for living and learning, by encouraging the pupil and by giving him a chance to handle problems given by the situation. Such problems then become the contents of learning. In LEWIN`s opinion, this is the only way how all persons involved in a process can reach insight into the concrete situation, an insight allowing them to act as responsible individuals.

In his lecture "Gestalt Theory and childrens' psychology", probably held in 1929, LEWIN mentions the lack of a good theory as a base for concrete pedagogical action, in spite of all knowledge in developmental psychology. For the practice of educating he demands "full concreteness". It is not enough to know laws of psychic consciousness. If education means to strive after effects, it is necessary to know the dynamic aspects of psychological processes. From this point of view, there are only individual children in individual situations. That means that the same psychological laws cause very different experiences for different persons in different situations (Kurt-Lewin-Werkausgabe, vol. 6, p.102).

In our workshop an educationist, a social scientist and a psychologist want to discuss their pedagogical work on the base of Gestalt theoretical knowledge. Ursula BüNGER`s background is her work at school. Dörthe VAN DER VOORT informs about her experiences in a day nursery and about processes of organization and quality improvement within this field. Beate WEITKEMPER discusses her work as a children s psychologist. After the internal lectures and discussions of these three persons, we invite the participants to continue our discussion.

METZGER,Wolfgang: Psychologie für Erzieher. Bochum 1976
METZGER, Wolfgang : Schöpferische Freiheit . Frankfurt 1962
LEWIN, Kurt: Die Umweltkräfte in Verhalten und Entwicklung des Kindes S.169 ff
- Gestalttheorie und Kinderpsychologie (1929 ) S.1O1-112
- Die Erziehung des Kindes (1940) S.267-284
in:Werkausgabe Bd 6, Psychologie der Entwicklung und Erziehung. Bern, Stuttgart 1982
VAN DER VOORT, Dörthe : Umsetzung gestalttheoretischer Grundlagen in der Kindertagesstättenarbeit. Gestalt Theory, 19, 1997

Copyright © 1999 , Dörthe van der Voort, Beate Weitkemper, Ursula Bünger. All Rights Reserved.

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