Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Historical roots of educational thinking

What is the origin of educational ideas, e.g., the idea that intervention in infancy has long-lasting effects on development.

René van der Veer


Educational ideas (e.g., the idea that intervention in infancy has long-lasting effects on development) often have a long history in European educational thinking. It is important to trace the origin of these ideas for both historical and theoretical reasons.

Besides the family also the school is seen as an important domain and medium to educate the young generations. Since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, which advocated reason as the primary basis of authority, schooling has been highly valuated by parents, society and the state. How and what should be educated in the best context and under most proper conditions are a matter of ongoing debate and change. From this point of view, studies of change and continuity in educational practice and experiences have been made from national (Vernooij & De Frankrijker, 2005) and local (De Bruyn & De Frankrijker, 2004; De Frankrijker & Otterspeer, 2004) perspective.

European educational thinking

Many of the now fashionable educational ideas originated in the first half of the previous century. In an ongoing series, the work of key thinkers of that period is being analysed. These included Gal’perin, Janet, Piaget, Vygotsky, Werner, and Wallon. Recently, special attention was paid to Gestalt psychology (Van der Veer, 2000; 2002), the work of Gal'perin (Van der Veer, 2000; Arievitch & Van der Veer, 2004) and Werner (Van der Veer, 2004), while a longer study traced the origin of the idea of the social mind (Valsiner & Van der Veer, 2000).

Historical roots of the attachment paradigm

John Bowlby's first scientific papers express a viewpoint of the etiology of childhood disorders that gradually developed during his university years and the first years of his professional life. As becomes clear from, among other things, Bowlby's private correspondence, it was the period spent as a student at Cambridge, his work as a teacher at two progressive schools, and his work at a child guidance clinic that allowed him to articulate a view on childhood deviancy that was at variance with the Kleinian variant of psychoanalysis. Bowlby's position as an independent thinker in the British Psycho-Analytical Society can be understood against the background of these intellectual influences (Van Dijken, 1998; Van Dijken, Van der Veer, Van IJzendoorn & Kuipers, 1998).

In subsequent research it was related how Bowlby tried to "rewrite psychoanalysis in the light of ethological concepts" (Van der Horst, 2008). As the main orginator of attachment theory, Bowlby interacted with leading ethologists and comparative psychologists such as Lorenz, Tinbergen, Hinde (Van der Horst, Van der Veer & Van IJzendoorn, 2007) and Harlow (Van der Horst, LeRoy & Van der Veer, 2008; Suomi, Van der Horst & Van der Veer, 2008).

Bowlby used their empirical findings and theoretical concepts to buttress his emerging theory. At the same time Bowlby's theory inspired new ethological and comparative psychological research (Van der Horst, 2008).

Current research into the roots of attachment theory focuses on a careful analysis and description on John Bowlby's early work, and the subsequent influence of James Robertson (Van der Horst & Van der Veer, in press) and Mary Ainsworth on the development of the attachment paradigm.

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