Pestalozzi: The Method That Was Used By A School That Taught Albert Einstein

Others in his family dubbed him as almost backwards

My parents were so worried that they consulted a doctor,” recounted Einstein’s sister, Maja Einstein. She was referring to how slow was Einstein in learning how to talk. History has it that Einstein began using words after the age of 2. His slow development earned him a name; his family in fact called him “the dopey one,” others in his family dubbed him as “almost backwards.” 

He had such difficulty with language that those around him feared he would never learn – Einstein’s sister, Maja Einstein

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. Photo coloured by Dana Keller.

Prone to temper tantrums

When there were other children at our house, playing at the garden, Einstein shied away and occupied himself with quieter things. As a kid, Einstein’s sister remembered, he preferred to spend most of his time working on puzzles, building complex structures with his toys, building houses of card, and playing with a steam engine – a toy that his uncle gave him. Prone to temper tantrums, at age 5, Einstein grabbed a chair and threw it at a tutor who was teaching him. The tutor fled and never returned.

At such moments his face would turn completely yellow, the tip of his nose snow-white, and he was no longer in control of himself. It takes a sound skull to be the sister of an intellectual – Einstein’s sister, Maja Einstein.

Fifth Solvay Physics Conference, 1927. Front row: Irving Langmuir, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Hendrik Lorentz, Albert Einstein, Paul Langevin, Charles-Eugène Guye, C.T.R Wilson, Owen Richardson. Middle row: Peter Debye, Martin Knudsen, William Lawrence Bragg, Hendrik Anthony Kramers, Paul Dirac, Arthur Compton, Louis de Broglie, Max Born, Niels Bohr. Back row: Auguste Piccard, Émile Henriot, Paul Ehrenfest, Édouard Herzen, Théophile de Donder, Erwin Schrödinger, JE Verschaffelt, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg, Ralph Fowler, Léon Brillouin. Marie Curie, the only woman in attendance. She was also the only one among them to win a Nobel Prize in two separate disciplines: chemistry and physics.

Swiss educational reformer, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

At age 15, Einstein wrote his first scientific essay on theoretical physics, entitled, “On The Investigation of the State of the Ether in a Magnetic Field.” Einstein wrote this essay because he wanted to enrol the following year at Zurich Polytechnic. And he didn’t get in. The reason was he was 2 years younger than the age requirement. 

The then Polytechnic’s head physics professor, Heinrich Weber suggested that Einstein stays in Zurich and audits his classes. Einstein agreed. He spent a year in the cantonal school located in the village of Aarau. The founders of the cantonal school were strongly influenced by the philosophy of a Swiss educational reformer, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. It was a perfect school for Einstein, writes Walter Isaacson.

Children should learn through activity and through things. They should be free to pursue their own interests and draw their own conclusions – Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

Head, heart and hands

Born in Zurich, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746 -1827) was the founder of several educational institutions in Switzerland. Pestalozzi placed greater emphasis on spontaneity and self-activity. He was greatly influenced by Rousseau’s naturalism approach to education.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi; educator and social reformer; 1746–1827. “Pestalozzi and his wife Anna teach at Neuhof educational institution, founded by him” (1774–1780). Wood engraving, colourised, after a drawing, 1882, by Conrad Ermisch (1855–1886).

Pupils were treated equally, more emphasis was placed on independent thought than on punditry, and young people saw the teacher not as a figure of authority, but, alongside the student, a man of distinct personality – Einstein’s sister, Maja Einstein.

Pestalozzi method of teaching seeks to encourage students to visualise images. Citing Walter Isaacson, “the visual understanding of concepts, as stressed by Pestalozzi and his followers in Aarau, became a significant aspect of Einstein’s genius.” 

Visual understanding is the essential and only true means of teaching how to judge things correctly. The learning of numbers and language must be definitely be subordinated – Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

Einstein loved Aarau

Pestalozzi was a big believer that such education should focus on developing the powers of Head, Heart and Hands. He also thought it important to nurture the “inner dignity” and the individuality of each child. Children should also be allowed to reach their conclusions, preached Pestalozzi.

When compared to six years’ schooling at a German authoritarian gymnasium, it made me clearly realise how much superior an education based on free action and personal responsibility is to one relying on outward authority – Albert Einstein

Einstein loved Aarau and he loved the school. The school was in many ways the direct opposite of the German education that he had hated. Citing Walter Isaacson, “not surprisingly, it was at this school that Einstein first engaged in the visualised thought experiment that would make him the greatest scientific genius of his time.”

A photo of Albert Einstein’s office – just as the Nobel Prize-winning physicist left it – taken mere hours after Einstein died, Princeton, New Jersey, April 1955. Credit: Ralph Morse/Life Pictures/Getty Images


Isaacson, W., & Einstein, A. (2017). Einstein: His life and universe. London: Simon & Schuster.

Clark, R. W. (2013). Einstein: The life and times. London: Bloomsbury Reader.

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi: Pedagogy, education and social justice. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2020, from

Silber, K. (2020, February 13). Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Retrieved April 05, 2020, from


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Nur Aishah
Nur Aishah
May 25, 2020 11:53 am

Artikel yang menarik.

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