Shaping an "Idea without hands": Bronson Alcott's educational theory brought to life in Little Women
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Bronson Alcott, an early American progressive education reformer and transcendentalist philosopher, was a troubled genius who was far ahead of his time. His most controversial educational methods, such as encouraging self-reflection in children, abandoning corporal punishment, and using the Socratic method to inspire insightful conversation in the classroom, have since been accepted in modern education as sound pedagogical practice. But Alcott was a flawed man who often became far too emotionally invested in his own ideologies, unable to accept when other learned individuals came to conclusions that did not directly agree with his own. Often, his unchecked idealism became an obstacle that prevented the success of his own endeavors in education reform. This project seeks to examine Alcott's influences and then identify the basic principles of his educational theory. Using the failure of Alcott's Boston Temple School as an example, it will show that Alcott was unable to anticipate or appropriately respond to the criticism of his contemporaries. This lack of political finesse would leave Alcott exposed to his critics and their barbs and eventually lead to the end of this career as an educational reformer. His educational experiments would instead have to be focused on his own four daughters. One of those daughters, Louisa May Alcott, would grow up to be one of the most famous novelists in nineteenth century American letters. Despite Bronson Alcott's lifetime of work spent crafting and expressing his ideas to whoever would listen, it would be Louisa's novel Little Women that would prove the most effective--and by far, the most accepted--voice for Alcott's pedagogical theories.