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Visual Education

Otto Neurath

January 1937

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Such visual education may be started with very young children, permitting them to combine symbols as they now combine wooden blocks to make buildings and bridges. Their play with symbols would supplement the pictures and designs they make with paints, crayons and modeling clay. Many imaginative children find they are unable to handle enough elements to tell long stories with pencils and colors as they want to do. But they would be able to express their thoughts and their daydreams if they had a supply of visual units, representing men and women, boys and girls, houses, trees, cars, engines, animals, rubber, cloth, sugar, apples and all the other things that interest them. In this way children would have a bridge between their games and their systematic education, as well as between their own pictures and the pictures they see hanging on the walls or in their books, based on the law of perspective. It is of course important to give children of all ages photographs and other realistic material, but it is also important to explain schematically biological, geographic, historic and sociological facts and principles.

In this way learning is not limited to acquiring the facts necessary to pass examinations, and then not using these facts again. Students are led to understand the relationships of the facts within one subject field. Even more important, they are enabled to see how one division of knowledge is related to the facts and the theories of other fields. We cannot say that a young person knows what he needs to know of geography, for example, if he can tell you only the names of the capital cities of the different countries, and has memorized the names and the locations of the important rivers and mountain ranges. If geography is to be a vital thing to him, he must see the ways in which it has alfected history in the past, as well as today. Often these relationships are quite complicated. The visual method helps make them clear and exact to the pupil.

Symbols in general are adapted to the child mind, as they are to primitive minds. Yet the simple elements can be made to show the most complicated facts and relationships. The visual method is also applicable to adult education. Used in connection with the customary museum materials, visual models and charts complete and enrich the exhibits in museums of fine arts, natural history, ethnology or hygiene.

This visual method has special uses in teaching public health lessons, child care, safety, and so on, to adults and to children; and in teaching retarded or handicapped children. The International Foundation for Visual Education is working along these lines in many countries.

The visual method, fully developed, becomes the basis for a common cultural life and a common cultural relationship. Visualization, rightly understood, is not only a supplement to other educational methods, but also a foundation for the more successful education of tomorrow in relation to important cultural and social movements of today.

And so we return to our first question: when will the Middle Ages end? We do not know. We see war, the conflict of men against men, instead of a common fight against common danger, and the organized upbuilding of a better civilization. But we see new forces at work too, and new possibilities. To give them free play, we need more channels of communication and understanding. Here, I believe, the visual method is a significant development.

Visual History
Visualization in Practice
Visual Dictionary and Grammar
Visual Economics
Language Education
Health Education



Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003