On Alcott and Education

IV. A Philosophy of Learning

What will keep universities in business will be the creation of effective learning environments. As the number of students grew in universities, we adopted a business model that emphasized a product rather than the process of education. We lost sight of the many great teachers and researchers who have shown value in having students participate in 'authentic tasks': Pestalozzi, Alcott, Bruner, Piaget, Resnick, and others. A look at Alcott's theories will show their similarity to those of current-day constructivists.

Notes on The Transcendentalists and Education

A. Bronson Alcott was an American philosophical writer and educator, and one of the founders of the transcendental school of philosophy. In his private school in Boston he taught by adapting the instruction to the individuality of each student. He used the method of leading his students to conclusions through the series of questions and answers, just like Socrates did. A. B. Alcott tried not to influence his students' answers, but expected their sincere, well-thought replies.

American Transcendentalists as Teachers of their Times

Almost all transcendentalists, among them Ralph Walso Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Peabody, and Amos Bronson Alcott, were, at one time or another, teachers. Their teaching experiences provided them with hands-on knowledge about the problems of the American education, and gave them a basis for seeking solutions to those problems.

Background for the State of Education in New England: Post-Revolutionary War to Mid-19th Century

Thomas Jefferson is rightly given much credit for emphasizing the importance of education in a democracy. He believed education for all to be a crucial part of the success of the "experiment" undertaken in 1776. He had faith in the "common man" and his ability to elect wise and virtuous leaders if that man were educated to do so.


It could be argued that ideas about learning and growing intellectually and spiritually, education, in a word, are the heart of American transcendentalism. Even the transcendentalists' most literary works are explorations, open-ended and suggestive, both conducted by the author and, as they always hoped, the reader. All of the major transcendentalists--Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Palmer, Alcott, Brownson, Very and more--spent years in the classroom as teachers, and all had found traditional education to be inadequate and stultifying.

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