Europeans like Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and Froebel wrote about changing education to make it more flexible, practical, and child-centered--better suited to common people. Their influential ideas circulated widely. Yet another force altered the form and content of teaching more profoundly than any European theorist. This was the conquest of America, a process that radically modified European life, culture, and education. Indeed without America, Locke, Rousseau, and many other European theorists would not have written as they did.
When Froebel died in 1852, the development of new ideas and institutional forms was well advanced owing to Europe's encounter with America: "The career of Western civilization since 1500 appears as a vast explosion, far greater than any comparable phenomenon both in geographic range and in social depth," is how one historian put it. "Incessant and accelerating self-transformation, compounded from a welter of conflicting ideas, institutions, aspirations, and inventions, has characterized modern European history." 1 People brought to America their "whole European culture complex," wrote another: "institutions of economics, religion, and government; . . . ideas, mechanical techniques, tools, clothes, and . . . dependence on those forces of civilization" that held them in their "groove[s] of class and circumstance."
The American environment continuously recreated this complicated culture complex into something else. "The change to new ways and attitudes came because nature would not yield to the old ones." People "had to devise something to which it would finally yield." 2"Had Europe and America not come together through Columbus or some other connection, the industrial revolution would never have happened," according to anthropolo