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Kerschensteiner and the Accession to Values  by Means of Free Wor



During the first third of the twentieth century, especially in the interwar period, pedagogy lived a fruitful and culminating moment. The New School movement was brewing along with many theoretical discourses derived from the statement of pedagogy as a university discipline. In parallel, the political scene was very controversial: Europe was convulsed, the democratic republics were toppling the absolute monarchies. Before this outlook, education was responsible for forming citizens for the State and, in turn, the new nation-States were built on the basis of citizenship in order to also build a new State.

This political metamorphosis, which shifted from absolute monarchies to liberal governments, was underpinned through education. Citizenship became a horizon, not only political, social and economic but also pedagogical. Thus, pedagogy came to occupy a central place in politics: it is the school the one that forms citizens. The priority challenge of pedagogy at the time was to build national identity from the school.



Georg Kerschensteiner (1854–1932)  was a teacher in Bavière in 1876, then successively became a teacher of mathematics in Nuremberg in 1883, a school counselor and the Head of Education in the city of Munich in 1895.

He reformed the school system by developing the cooperation spirit through group work. According to him, the objective of practical education is professional training because the latter relates the human being to his society.

Kerschensteiner and the pedagogy of work (1895-1919)

We can state that Kerschensteiner’s work is, par excellence, the concept of school of work, published in 1912, although other books complete his pedagogical proposal. This work summarizes, grosso modo, his educational ideology whose origin is the education reform held in Munich. As, previously, done by Makarenko (1888-1939), the kerschensteinerian scientific method is induction. First he experiments and then formulates a pedagogical theory (Trilla, 2010). Since his appointment as school counselor in Munich in 1895, Kerschensteiner devoted himself to convert the city’s schools in true centers of education, seeking to link thought to action, and this one to reflection. His first trial consisted of establishing an eighth grade in elementary school: while girls were

initiated into the teachings of cooking and growing plants, boys were spending their time in school workshops devoted to crafts, from wood and metal to build aquariums or terrariums

The concept of school of work

Explaining the meaning of school of work requires, as a previous consideration, an approach to the concept of work. The point of reference par excellence of the notion of work is the Municher author Pestalozzi (1746-1827), Swiss pedagogue who advocated education of the three h: heart, head, hand. For Pestalozzi, education of the hand means both professional training and the development of manual labor, i.e., the learning of a concrete trade and practical skills of the student (Soëtard, 1995, p. 50).

Far from merely conceiving school as preparation for professional practice, for Kerschensteiner the notion of work involves the development of the self-activity, a sort of school of the own effort. In fact, the notion of work is not reducible to a body activity but unites both manual and intellectual work, namely, mechanical and reflective. He explains it in a paragraph that reads: From what has been said so far it is clear that it is a school to learn from experience with one’s own work. What kind of work is it? There is intellectual work and manual labor, and in both cases there is mechanical work and reflective work (…) The work of the head or intellectual work is not generally considered working for the ordinary man (Kerschensteiner, s/f, p. 7).

The notion of work would be comparable to the concept of effort, not only as physical activity that causes fatigue or wear, but also as a procedural, reflective or intellectual exercise. Centering school in the student’s work is an assumption typical of that time, especially from the contemporary authors of the New School movement that is being spread through Europe. The concept of work that the author from Baviera suggests is to develop the spiritual and State of mind forces of the student through activities he chooses, so that he develops his individual provisions to reach his peak and so penetrate the circles of human culture (Kerschensteiner, s/f, p. 14). It should be pointed out that this is the ultimate purpose of the educational institution: to establish the necessary conditions for each individuality to reach the fullness of his personality, to finally be connected with the circles of human culture, the arts and sciences, technology, social life, among others.

It is therefore natural that Kerschensteiner defends that the school of work is a requirement for any school that seeks to connect the individuality to the culture of the community. After all, the school of work is synonymous of a human education in general, only that it is based on individuality and the accessible forms of activity to such individuality (Kerschensteiner, s/f, p. 13).

About the notion of work the three most important aspects of this school are defined (Kerschensteiner, s/f, p. 20):

  1. The school of work connects as much as possible its educational activity to the individual dispositions of its students, and multiplies and develops in all possible directions these inclinations and interests through a constant activity in the respective work fields.
  2. The school of work tries to shape the moral forces of students by constantly examining their actions of work to see if they express as fully as possible what the individual has felt, thought, experienced and loved, without deceiving himself or others.
  3. The school of work is a working community in which students, while their development is sufficiently high, improve, help and support reciprocally and socially, to themselves and to the purpose of school, so that each individual can reach the fullness they are able to by their nature.

However, in the light of the essence of the school of work it will be seen what the purpose of public education is. For the Municher author the State end is twofold: firstly, the care and protection inside and outside, and on the other hand, the gradual introduction of the realm of humanity in society through their own development until becoming a moral community. This is an idea of the state of Fichtean-Kantian descent which means that its end is not only to protect the citizen but also to constitute a moral community by general will. In attention to this fact, the State’s public school must educate useful citizens to serve that moral community of human beings. Hence the idea of “useful citizenship” that will be the purpose of public education and education in general.

Purpose of public school: towards useful citizenship

Kerschensteiner defines the useful citizen as that person capable of performing any function in the State and for the State, that is, for all its members. To support the State one has to keep in mind that the State requires the citizen’s usefulness, namely, the exercise of any profession in a way that favors the community’s end. Under this worldview, public school must help the student to take a job in the whole organism, that is, a profession that is performed the best possible way. Though this is not, yet, a moral purpose, it is the fundamental condition for public school to pursue moral ends.

As noted, from the very concept of “useful citizenship” will derive the purpose of the school of work and public school. No wonder the Bavieran teacher defines “useful

citizenship” and the requirements that this poses to education: It is true that every citizen of that community should have first and foremost a profession, a position in which he remains firmly and from which acts according to his skills and the knowledge acquired, and it is also true that our concern should be that each one becomes an element eligible for a career suited to their aptitudes and inclinations (Kerschensteiner, 1934, p. 55).

Also, this author makes a gradation going from the individual to the community, covering the individual- State relationship, from which derives the educational and social responsibility of public school. The first requirement from the individual to the State is that he is able to play any role in it, perform any profession and thus favoring directly or indirectly the State’s end. The second requirement is that the individual should consider this profession as a charge to be exercised and not as a mere subsistence or interest in the preservation of the very life. It seems clear that the individual should not conceive work as a goal for himself and his immediate environment, but as a benefit of the legal regulation and the cultural community, which derives from the State, to himself and to his own preservation. Finally, the third requirement is to develop in the individual a trend and the strength to contribute with and for professional work to the development of his personality and, consequently, boost the development of the State he belongs to for the ideal of a moral community.

But even more, of these three requirements of the individual to the State, Kerschensteiner concludes (s/f, p. 39), the three purposes which public schools and education in the generic sense should aspire to are:

  1. The end of professional formation, or at least, of its training.
  2. The end of the moralization of professional formation.
  3. The end of the moralization of the community, in which the profession has to be exercised.

In any case, the teacher from Baviera does not intended to achieve through education the ideal individual, nor the

ideal State, but rather the ideal of every man, in such a way that he is useful for himself and the community. Indeed, the first end aims the professional formation of each individual through an education systematically organized, as it was done under his tenure as school counselor in the city of Munich from 1895 to 1919. Hence, therefore, he introduced manual labour to school in the first cycle, with the aim of developing both intellectual and manual skills for each student that, according to Kerschensteiner, are inseparable.

Once secured the first, the second goal is moralizing the professional mission. This involves developing the consciousness or belief that a job is always done to the benefit of the community to which one belongs. Here is the moral value of the professional activity, whatever it is. Both social virtue and justice are learned, according to the author from Munich, through the direct participation in the community itself. The most direct individual participation is forged by work. For this reason, and no other, school should become a community of work, as he planned in the Munich school reform. Thus conceived, work contains a strong moral value that students should learn from childhood.

Clearly, in light of the above premise, the third end of public school is the moralization of the community. The above end has meant forming the moral spirit of the child to helping others, through the school community of work. This deduction gives the answer: the teaching of moral habits culminates with the third end, which is none other than directing learners to collaborate in the moralization of the great community in which they live and practice their professional activity. Therein lies that education, work-school, has as ultimate intention the education for the citizenship. To him all the education pivots on civic education. Therefore, the teaching of work is not an isolated subject within the school curriculum but transversal to all the subjects in the curriculum. Indeed, on how citizens serve the community through their profession depend both the welfare and progress of it.

So much so that communities of work represent the best school to get the comprehensive formation of the individual, member of that small community, and for the future citizen, element of the state community. It has been concluded, in the methodical process followed so far, that professional education, character formation and civic education to Kerschensteiner are three facets of the same problem around which the school of work revolves.

Civic education in the school of work

Education may be defined, for the Municher teacher, as the spread of cultural values —religious, scientific, artistic, moral and civic ideals— making them up into principles to motivate the future generation (Kerschensteiner, 1934). From this definition derives that civic education is not a part of education but its first purpose. Education and, in particular, school should be devoted to the formation of future citizens. Therefore, education is, as a whole, education for citizenship. Consolidating a type of political system, such as democracy or the constitutional State, lies in the educational enterprise

Considering the political system of his time, Kerschensteiner specified in 1928 that the scientific concept of civic education is, actually, independent of the shape of the constitutional State. In essence it requires that the form of government is not despotism, class dictatorship, or an absolute monarchy, since in such cases no “citizen” exists, at all. Citizenship and democratic constitutional State are equivalent concepts (Kerschensteiner, 1934, p. 14)

In short, given the constitutional nature of the Weimar Republic, it requires education that promotes citizenship for the exercise of democracy. A despotic government, or a dictatorship, as will be the Third Reich that will replace the Republic in 1933, or even an absolute monarchy do not require citizens but vassals of a sovereign. However, despite the need of education for the citizenship, the

epistemological problem arises in the definition of citizenship or education for the citizenship. For the Municher author citizenship requires some usefulness. In other words, a useful participation in the community that, also, must advocate the moralization of such community. Kerschensteiner conceives the State as a moral community of rational beings. Consequently, by educating the individual so that he becomes a useful citizen his contribution to the State will be moralized in a way that a moral community will be constituted in the end.

1.The philosophical background for Kerschensteiner’s work

1.1. Axiology

  This term means the philosophy of values. It is the starting point of Kerschensteiner’s pedagogical efforts. The objective of education is to initiate the child to culture (culture in this context is defined as a set of well defined and accepted values). To educate, thus, implies the adaptation of pedagogical means to cultural ends (objectives). Values are common to all people and are the product of the society but the accession to them is individual. It is therefore necessary to help each individual to assimilate the common values using his own means. The best way of providing this help is by leading the individual to liking group work, which will prepare him for his future profession. The background for Kerschensteiner’s theory is therefore very complex but it is very much concerned with providing a practical education which is both valuable for the individual and profitable for the community.

1.2. Interiorisation

Kerschensteiner’s greatest merit is to have demonstrated that there is no culture if it is imposed from outside. Instead there is culture only if it is elaborated by the child, reconstructed by himself using his own means and willingly. Many other educationalists have also claimed that moral character shaping  is the ultimate objective of every education since no society can subsist without morals.

1.3. Action

Moral character is developed only through action (the active school, therefore, performs a moralizing role). However, the word ‘action’ does not refer to a mechanical activity, but rather to  a creative activity which replaces learning the others’ experiences by a personal experience that no lesson, no books can replace. This highlights the importance of education through manual work that Kerschensteiner was among the first to promote.

2.Some of Kerschensteiner’s educational principles

2.1. The individual and the community

According to Kerschensteiner, no individual is useful unless he fulfils a specific role that is directly or indirectly useful for his society. Any individual, who is physically able and who benefits of the society’s riches, but does not provide any contribution for that society is not only a useless individual but is also acting in an immoral way. In this respect, even the work of a street cleaner has a moral value because it is consciously accomplished for the benefit of the social group. Therefore the duty of every individual is to be wiling to exert a job that would directly or indirectly help the society accomplish its mission. From this idea, the public school inspires its major roles, which are:


  • to prepare the pupil for his future job in the social organization and to help him accomplish it as well as possible.
  • to help the learner to perceive the moral value of  his job by showing him how it contributes to the general welfare of his society.
  • most importantly, to develop in the learner the desire and the ability to contribute by his professional work and the development of a moral personality to the progress of the community in order to create an ideal moral community.

Since this development is impossible without the moral development of those who constitute the community, the execution of this triple function requires necessarily the moral education of the individual.

2.2. Work associated with moral values

Group work does not only constitute one of the most useful ways of giving a moral value to professional preparation, but it will develop a set of qualities that were disregarded in traditional school systems. Thanks to the multiple and interesting relations that group work establishes between the pupils, an important quality will be developed in them. This quality is tact and politeness which (though not really a moral element) is a very significant element in character shaping. In addition, pupils will acquire another moral quality which is the feeling of responsibility. Each member of the group will be aware of the importance of his work for himself and for the quality of the work of the whole group.

2.3.   Manual work must be an effort

Whatever the manner in which school carries out its work, it must require an execution of the tasks meant to develop the learners’ will, intelligence and tact. The education of the will requires that the child should not carry out any work that does not carry the mark of intellectual and manual effort. So, it is necessary to distinguish between work and game. A very bad influence will be exerted on the child’s will if he is accustomed for years never to accomplish his tasks fully in a specific or in all the disciplines. So to avoid to transform manual work to a meaningless game, it is necessary to expose the child from the first years of instruction to a systematic manual teaching that will accustom him to executing carefully and completely different kinds of work according to his capacities. This is possible by imposing on him a soft but firm discipline. Intellectual, moral and manual habits acquired during that special teaching will necessarily persist in the manual works required in the other disciplines.

2.4. Teacher training

The new school needs, more than the traditional one, people who are particularly trained for their profession. If we want to shape the learners’ moral character by means of manual work, the teacher who will teach them must have a special technical preparation. Kerschensteiner thinks that the ‘bookish’ school, the passive school and the ‘sitting’ school have caused enough harm to the present generation. Therefore, a transformation of the school methods is urgent. The need to train teachers is felt much more deeply because according to him, the present world contains too many theoreticians and very few practicians, too many men who conceive and very few who execute what they or what the others have conceived.




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