Caleb Gattegno and The Science of Education

Introduction to Caleb Gattegno

Introduction to Dr. Caleb Gattegno 

Dr. Caleb Gattegno is one of the most significant contributors to the advancement of the field of education. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1911, and died in Paris, France in 1988.  As an educator, he was widely known for his ability to achieve remarkable results with students of all ages and abilities. For many of those who studied with him, Gattegno was much more than an educator.

“Caleb Gattegno . . . developed striking, original theories and techniques on how mathematics, reading and foreign languages can be learned.”

“Gattegno’s mind ranged unusually far, taking in not just mathematics and language but psychology and epistemology as well.”

Frederik Ohles, Shirley M. Ohles, and John G. Ramsay,
Biographical Dictionary of Modern American Educators,
published by Greenwood Press in 1997


As a scientist, Gattegno's seminal insight was that "only awareness is educable in man."  From that observation emerged an intuition that if "only awareness is educable," then the formalized study of awareness could lead to the birth of a new science, which Gattegno called Tte Science of Education.  He first published on the Science of Education in 1972 in a paper titled, "A Prelude to the Science of Education."  Over the ensuing years, Gattegno's study of awareness led him to propose a bold new relationship between teacher and student, one in which "teaching is subordinated to learning." For those familiar with his work, that proposal represented a turning point in education.

"He (Gattegno) does not therefore challenge American education on some point of methodology; he challenges it in the way Copernicus challenged the belief that the sun revolves around the earth - that is, at the heart of its most fundamental and honored assumptions." 

McCandlish Phillips, New York Times


Gattegno  earned a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and bachelor degrees in both physics and chemistry. Throughout his career he held positions at various universities including the University of Liverpool and the University of London, and founded several organizations and companies.  He wrote over 120 books and 500 articles in scientific and other journals in approximately a dozen countries. (See Dr. Caleb Gattegno's Bibliography for more information).  At the time of his death, Gattegno could read and speak 40 languages, and had traveled around the word about 10 times

Dr. Gattegno was also an early English translator of Jean Piaget (1949, Play, Dreams & Imitations and 1951, The Child’s Conception of Number), and worked closely with Georges Cuisenaire developing and promoting the use of Cuisenaire Rods.


Gattegno's Professional and Academic Highlights

  • Doctorate in Mathematics, University of Basel, Switzerland (1937)
  • Master of Arts in Education, University of London (1948)
  • Doctorate in Philosophy (Psychology), University of Lille, France (1951)
  • Founder and Director of the Center for Higher Scientific Studies in Cairo Egypt (1938-1945)
  • Founder of the Association for Teaching Aids in Mathematics in Britain (1952). The organization continues to exists under the name The Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM)
  • Founder of the journal Mathematics Teaching, a journal for the Association for Teaching Aids in Mathematics
  • Worked with Jean Piaget translating (with F.M. Hodgson) two of his works into English
  • Member of the United Nations (UNESCO) mission to Ethiopia with the objective of finding a solution to high illiteracy rates (1957-1958). The city of Addis Ababa was shut down for Christmas when Gattegno arrived, giving him time to himself. During a 48-hour period, he learned how to read the local language, Amarinya. When he discovered that it was supposed to take 18 months to teach Amarinya, he decided to test his approach on others. Gattegno had illiterate ministry employees in their 50s and 60s reading newspapers within six hours. Directly out of that work, Gattegno created Words in Color for teaching reading and writing in English. In 1970, he wrote an article for the Harvard Educational Review, vol 40 #2, entitled, "The Problem of Reading Is Solved."

Gattegno’s Business Highlights

  • Founded the Cuisenaire Company in England in 1960. Served as its Director until 1986. The company had branches in 7 other countries and published over 70 different authors between 1960 and 1986.
  • Founded Educational Solutions Inc. in New York City in 1968. The company's products have been used in approximately 10,000 schools in nearly 40 countries around the world. The company now operates under the name Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. and has been in continuous operation for more than 40 years.
  • Created dozens of revolutionary educational products, including Words in Color, Pop Ups, and Infused Reading for teaching reading, The Silent Way for teaching foreign languages, and Numbers in Color, Gattegno Math, Geoboards, Visible and Tangible Math for teaching mathematics.

Gattegno’s Theoretical Contributions

  • The Science of Education – A proposition that 1) a Science of Education is possible, 2) awareness be the central object of study.
  • The Subordination of Teaching to Learning – An approach to education that turns the traditional paradigm of teaching on its head, by proposing that teaching should adapt and respond to actual learning as it unfolds in real-time.
  • Evolution and Memory – A book presenting a theory of evolution that incorporates evolution of the physical, chemical, and biological realms.
  • A Working Model of Health – A theory that presents a cohesive model of physical and mental health.