FRIEDRICH Froebel1 was the last of the group of Swiss and German educators who, in the last half of the eighteenth century and the first quarter of the nineteenth, transformed Western education. He was born in Thuringia in 1782, and, like Comenius, lost his parents when he was young. Brought up by an uncle, he had an unremarkable career in the village school of Stadt-Ilm; indeed, dreamy and uninterested, he was generally regarded as rather backward. From 1797 to 1799 he was apprenticed to a forester, and found in the peace of the Thuringian woodland a setting ideally suited to his contemplative temperament; it was then, he believed, that he formulated his philosophy of the unity of all nature, after an experience as mystical and powerful in its own way as that of St Ignatius of Loyola two and a half centuries before. Like Ignatius he felt grossly undereducated for his life’s work, and he enrolled in the University of Jena to study natural science. Unfortunately, being very short of funds, he was imprisoned for a small debt and had to leave the university. At home in Thuringia, he took a succession of jobs — surveyor, accountant, private secretary — and at the same time educated himself.
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