Caleb Gattegno, 76, a Proponent Of Novel Learning Theories, Dies
By GLENN FOWLER
Published: August 4, 1988
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., had entered the Clinic Geoffrey St. Hilaire for treatment after conducting a seminar in Grenoble, France.
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.
Before they go to school, he often pointed out, children have made some of the most difficult accomplishments of their lives, learning how to walk, how to feed themselves and - most complex of all - how to use the spoken language. Why, then, he argued, shift the focus from learning to teaching?
Instead, he urged the use of self-instructional devices and games, such as two inventions of his own, color-coded letters to teach different pronunciations and a system that uses color and spacing to denote musical values. Each was aimed at releasing children's capacity to figure things out for themselves and to make connections. 'I Let Them Learn'
''My daughter could read at 20 months and my son at three years,'' he once said, ''not because I taught them but because I let them learn.''
John Holt, the author of ''Why Children Fail,'' said of Dr. Gattegno, ''He is able, as few if any others are, to know and make plain to us what learning is about - not as so many do, by breaking it up into unreal and disconnected fragments, but by asking us what it feels like.''
But some critics found Dr. Gattegno's writings murky and noted that many of his ideas had been advanced by others, including Leo Tolstoy, Jean Piaget, Paul Goodman, Jonathan Kozol and Mr. Holt.
Dr. Gattegno was born in Alexandria, Egypt, the son of a Spanish merchant, and was educated in France and Switzerland, receiving his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Basel, in Switzerland, and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Lille, in France. He directed the Institute of Higher Scientific Studies in Cairo from 1937 to 1945, then taught at Liverpool and London Universities in England for 12 years. He spent 20 months in Ethiopia for the United Nations, producing textbooks and devising new teaching methods. Mastered 40 Languages
From 1966 until his death, Dr. Gattegno worked from New York, where he was director of Schools for the Future, a nonprofit research organization, and head of Educational Solutions, which publishes teaching materials and trains teachers.
His teaching principles have been applied in more than 20 languages, and he mastered 40 languages himself.
Dr. Gattegno is survived by his wife, Shakti, who is vice president of Educational Solutions; a son, Ashish, also of Manhattan; three daughters, Uma, of Denver; Lola Hollyfield of Reading, England, and Alma Arnould of Melbourne, Australia; two brothers, Gerome, of Melbourne, and Mayer, of Madrid; a sister, Stella Attias of Milan; and seven grandchildren.
photo of Caleb Gattegno (NYT)