First there was a documentary, then a book. Now Mercy Professor Helge Wasmuth, Ph.D., is a guest expert on an education podcast. And it’s all because of his broad and deep knowledge of Friedrich Froebel, one of the most influential figures in early childhood education who coined the term “kindergarten.”
“I thought I had said everything I wanted to say about Froebel, but it turns out that wasn’t the case,” Wasmuth said.
As a renowned expert on Froebel, Wasmuth was interviewed extensively in 2016 for a television documentary series, “The History of Kindergarten.” Although the program has not yet aired, in early 2020 Wasmuth published his book, “Froebel’s Pedagogy of Kindergarten and Play.”
Then last summer, the documentarians decided the world deserved access to some of the thousands of hours of material they had amassed. They began delivering it in one-hour episodes of a podcast called “Path to Learning.” One of their first guests was Wasmuth.
One topic of discussion was the inequity of school access. "In this country we debate the difference between good and bad schools," said Wasmuth. "Froebel believed all children should have access to a good education, not just the children of the rich." The parallels with Mercy's mission are not lost on him.
"Mercy is an affordable option that enables more students who are first generation and minorities to access a quality education, so it is somewhat similar,” he said.
During the podcast he also shared insights he gained from parenting a school-age child during the pandemic. “Being a parent right now is very hard. Children from low-income families in public schools are falling more behind. When it comes to education, we are clearly not all in the same boat.”
Questioning the status quo in American education is a topic that Wasmuth has addressed in all his research, and often discusses with his Mercy students. “In America, there is a huge focus on academics and testing. People should start to wonder why we do that,” he said. “Who is benefiting from educational policies? Or: are children happy in school? Are they developing well? It’s important that we reflect critically on the things we take for granted.”
Wasmuth’s research on Froebel and early childhood education continues, and he is now collaborating with two German scholars on a new book, “Fröbel: A Biography," to be published in 2022.