Caleb Gattegno
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Caleb Gattegno


Caleb Gattegno is the teacher every student dreams of; he doesn’t require his students to memorize anything, he doesn’t shout, at times he doesn’t even say a word, and his students learn at an accelerated rate because they are truly interested.  In a world where memorization, recitation, and standardized tests are still the norm, Gattegno was truly ahead of his time.

He is the author of pedagogical works, books on psychology and books on reflection of different subjects including the brain, awareness, energy, death, health, love, and economics.  His exploration of these topics led him to believe that although one is the same person all one’s life, humans are constantly learning and changing.  For Gattegno, human learning adds to and adjusts our existing abilities, to meet the demands of future skills that will be needed.

Gattegno was a scholar of many fields. He held a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and a bachelor of science in physics and chemistry.  He held a scientific view of education, and believed illiteracy was a problem that could be solved. He questioned the role of time and algebra in the process of learning to read, and, most importantly, questioned the role of the teacher. The focus in all subjects, he insisted, should always be placed on learning, not on teaching. In his view, the role of the teacher is not to inform students of facts, but to lead them to make discoveries through their own insights.  He called this principle the Subordination of Teaching to Learning.   He defined learning as the following process:

  • Awareness – discovering something unknown

  • Exploration – trial and error and drawing conclusions and criteria from one’s mistakes

  • Transition – practice leading to an understanding that is automatic

  • Mastery – the ability to take knowledge and apply it to further learning


Gattegno had not considered the problem of reading until he went to Ethiopia on a United Nations literacy mission in 1957.   The city of Addis Ababa was shut down for Christmas when he arrived, giving him time himself.  During this 48 hour period, he learned how to read the local language.  When he discovered that it is supposed to take 18 months to teach Amarinya, he had to test his method on others.  Gattegno had illiterate ministry employees in their 50s and 60s reading newspapers within six hours.

This experience allowed Gattegno to develop teaching tools rich in approaches which appeal to the human skills of imagination, creativity, insight and intuition.  These tools work to build on skills already mastered, while at the same time offering students insight into the student’s own learning processes.  The concept of creating criteria, making the classroom into a laboratory, and discovering the unknown, are the basis of Gattegno’s work.  The teaching aids Gattegno developed, allow the role of the teacher to be that of a guide, leading students to make discoveries through their own insights, without informing them of facts.


In the new age of air travel, Gattegno travelled around the world many times conducting seminars on his teaching methods.  He himself had mastered more than 40 languages. He published more than 120 books during his career, and from 1971 until his death in 1988 he published the Educational Solutions newsletter five times a year. He died in Paris in 1988, two weeks after presenting a seminar titled Le Mystère de la Communication, near Grenoble, France.  Dr. Gattegno was survived by his wife Shakti Gattegno and his four children.



Books, Newsletters, Collaborations, Software, Film, Filmstrips, Video and Posthumous Publications.


(1937) Les cas essentiellement géodésiques des équations de Hamilton-Jacobi intégrables par séparation des variables, unpublished D Phil thesis, Basle University

(1941) Contribution à l'étude psychologique du Trac.' Bulletin de l'Institut d'Egypte

(1943) ‘Les problèmes de l'éducation de l'après guerre’ in Le Progrès Egyptien, novembre

(1944) ‘Les enfants et nous’ Causerie pédagogique in Les Lettres françaises, Le Caire.

(1944) ‘Six contes pour enfants’, Les Lettres françaises, Le Caire.

(1945) ‘Analyse générale et topologie de l'espace des connaissances’ in Bulletin de l'Institut d'Egypte, N° 28.

(1945) 'Etude sur le Jeu', Bulletin de l'Institut d'Egypte, 27

(1946) 'Studies in the structure of the mind', Mind, vol LV, no 219

(1947) 'Mathematics and the Child' in The Mathematical Gazette Vol. 31, N°. 296, octobre. Grande Bretagne. Repris dans For the Teaching of Mathematics Vol.1, 1963.

(1948) ‘Psychologie du Dessin Enfantin’ in Enfance N°. 5, novembre-decembre. France.

(1948) ‘The Use of Mistakes in the Teaching of Mathematics’ in The Mathematical Gazette, Vol. 32, N° inconnu. Grande Bretagne.

(1948) The mathematical definition of education, unpublished MA thesis, London University

(1949) ‘Substitutes and Examples’ in The Mathematical Gazette Vol.33, N°. 304, mai. Grande Bretagne. Repris dans For the Teaching of Mathematics Vol.1, 1963.

(1949) with A M Ostrowski, Représentation conforme à la frontière ; domaines généraux, 2 vols, Gauthiers-Villars, Paris.

(1949) Polynômes de base, par J. M. Whittaker. Autres détails inconnus.

(1949) 'International N.E.F. Conference in Brussels July 10-17, 1949', The New Era, vol 30, no 9

(1949) 'Further experiments in international education', The New Era, vol 31, no 10

(1949) ‘Pour une éducation de la conscience mondiale’ in Revue spiritualité, N° 60, 61, 62, Novembre – Février 1949-1950


(1951) ‘Adolescent Thought and its bearing on Mathematics Learning’ in Revue Belge de Psychologie et de Pédagogie, Vol. 13, N°. 55-56. Belgique. Repris dans For the Teaching of Mathematics Vol. 2, 1963.

(1951) ‘Remarks on Mental Structures’ in Enfance N°. 3. mai-juin. France.  Repris dans For the Teaching of Mathematics Vol. 2, 1963.




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Caleb Gattegno, 76, a Proponent Of Novel Learning Theories, Dies

By Glenn Fowler

Published: August 4, 1988 in The New York Times

Caleb Gattegno, an educator who developed novel and sometimes controversial theories of the learning process, died last Thursday after surgery for cancer at a clinic in Paris. He was 76 years old. Dr. Gattegno, who lived and worked in Manhattan, where he was the founder and president of Educational Solutions Inc., … The main thrust of Dr. Gattegno's research and teaching, embodied in more than 50 books and countless other writings, is that learning, particularly of language and mathematics, is hindered rather than helped by pedagogical practices. 


His Own Account

Caleb Gattegno wrote his own obituary before he died. Here is his account:

My death is placed here last among the achievements of this life of mine, though it could be given an earlier spot.

By shifting from death to my death, in the effort of understanding that phenomenon which looms so large in pre-human consciousness, I gave myself both an epistemological edge


ASE - Association for the science of education


The Association for the Science of Education is honored to co-publish this Memoir with Educational Solutions Inc., the company originally founded by Dr. Caleb Gattegno to make his compelling vision of human learning available to teachers and students.

The Association’s purpose is to help realize that vision of human and humane learning. It was in the early 1970s at the Educational Solutions offices in New York City that many of the members of our Association first encountered Dr. Gattegno’s work and, indeed, the man himself. The contributions to this Memoir by our members and non-members alike recall “Dr. G” in the context of East 12th Street, Fifth Avenue, or University Place, each one a memorable space in its own right. Participants hail from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North America and South America, attesting to the world-wide reach and appeal of Dr. Gattegno’s work.

We are hoping that the publication of this Memoir will increase the cadre of educators all over the world who share the certainty that the future of education is bright with promise. They will move forward with the confidence and creativity that find surety in the profound learning powers that are our birthright.

Bill Bernhardt

President, The Association for the Science of Education [ASE]


The Gattegno Effect

100 Voices on One of History’s Greatest Educators.



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Briton to Expound New Learning Approach on TV

September 28, 1970

by McClandish Philips

If Dr. Gattegno’s words boil down to the assertion that children are taught to read in the wrong way, at the wrong time, in the wrong place.  Nearly as much can be said of the teaching of mathematics, of biology, of music … he does not therefore challenge American education on some point of methodology; he challenges it in the way Copernicus challenged the belief that the sun revolved around the earth – that is, at the heart of it most fundamental and honored assumptions. … it mandates a new relationship between the teacher and the learner … ‘A child who is released from the domination of teaching procedures, and allowed to learn, will acquire a great deal in a short time’ Dr. Gattegno asserts … He is death on teaching by drill and rote.  Such classic methods concentrate on imparting knowledge, while Dr. Gattegno believes that what should be imparted is a way of knowing.

‘Knowing is far more important than knowledge.  Knowledge becomes obsolete; knowing does not’.”

Harvard Educational Review - May 1970

Harvard Educational Review - May 1970

The Harvard Educational Review



A SPECIAL ISSUE : Illiteracy in America

The Problem of Reading is Solved [Position Paper]


Schools for the Future Foundation, Inc.

Dr. Caleb Gattegno holds that reading is a relatively simple process of matching the sound system of a language with its written system.  Children can be easily taught to do this, helped by color-coded instructional material, since they internalized the algebraic and temporal structure of their language when they learned to talk.

As a scientist I came to the problem of reading as I did to problems in the field of mathematics or physics, by first defining them and then attempting to find solutions.

There is indeed a problem of reading and it can be formulated as follows: “how to provide awareness that a system of signs isomorphic to the system of sounds of one’s language exists and can play a certain number of the roles of the system already owned?”