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Prometheus's Fire: Abstracts

Chapter 14: Pestalozzi and John Synge

by Clive Williams


Jsynge's school taylor1825halfa.jpg (10971 bytes)

John Synge's Pestalozzian School at Roundwood , Co Wicklow

Drawing by MARIA TAYLOR , 1825 (click to enlarge)

The 'Pestalozzi method' of learning by doing, in the context of general and technical education, became established in England after 1822 due to the efforts of JP Greaves and Charles Mayo. These in fact owe their initiation to the prior work of John Synge of Glanmore, the grandfather of JM Synge, by a convoluted route which the author traces.

Synge was born in 1788 and was destined for a life as a landed gentleman; he had a practical bent and was interested in improving the management of the estate which he would inherit. In 1812 he took off on the 'grand tour', though the war was still on. He went to Spain, France and Italy, without managing to see much of the war. When he came to Switzerland by chance he visited the Pestalozzi Institute in Geneva, initially without much motivation, but he found himself captivated by the level of intelligent interest in things taken by the children. He went grudgingly for an hour and found himself staying for 3 months, and becoming an apostle.

Synge returned to Ireland with the translation of Pestalozzi's works on his agenda, and he went on to set up a school for the local children at Glanmore. He set up in 1817 a printing press in Roundwood to publish the works in English.

On Synge's recommendation Lord de Vesci visited Geneva and in 1818 a Pestalozzi school was set up in Abbeyleix, which however was for the sons of gentlemen. Charles Orpen also became interested at Synge's instigation, but in this case the target was the underprivileged and the mentally handicapped.

There was a strong evangelical Protestant aspect to the educational philosophy; Synge became a Darbyite, a sect which evolved into the Plymouth Brethren. Enlisting the support of William Allen, a Quaker philanthropist, they set up a committee in London to propagate Pestalozzi teaching methods throughout the UK, and it was by this channel that Greaves and Mayo were motivated.

This chapter opens up a number of ideas for research into various domains: improving landlords, the Protestant evangelical movement, the role of the national schools, and the question of denominational control of the latter.

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