Kerschensteiner, Georg (1854–1932)

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Kerschensteiner, Georg (18541932)

Georg Kerschensteiner was born and raised in Munich, Germany. His family background was poor, and his childhood was filled with chaos and contradiction. He was arrested at the age of eight for gang theft, yet he was also educated at the Holy Spirit Seminary and demonstrated an aptitude and interest in art, books, nature, and technique. Kerschensteiner gained experience in teaching through a combination of in-service classroom training, a position as an assistant schoolmaster, and the pursuit of ongoing studies in science and math. Praxis, experience, and participation are central tenets of Kerschensteiner's theory of education, along with order, obedience, and responsibility. As had his predecessor Johann Pestalozzi (17461826), Kerschensteiner also recognized that children want to develop and express themselves.

Kerschensteiner considered the value of an individual's work to be directly related to its importance to the state. The most valuable citizens worked in positions that used their full capacities. Teaching methods were transformed from trade and craft to qualified and skilled work processes that also trained the pupil's thinking, emotions, and will. The ongoing industrialization and struggle for democratic reforms in Germany are not explicitly reflected in his theory, however. Kerschensteiner believed that skilled work processes support and create capacities to learn, to explore, to investigate, and to act; these jobs also require punctuality, care and precision, task prioritization, and self-reliance. He found that organizing education into workshops and laboratories helped his students learn specific activities and also helped build character and self-reliance through praxis and reflection.

As director of education he reformed the Munich school system in 1900, grounding the vocational school on his confidence in the students' self-activity, sense, and experience. He claimed that vocational and general education must also be recognized as providing equal opportunities for the personal and social development of a student. Parallel with his work as school director he became lecturer at Munich University in 1904, and then he systematically transformed his experience and knowledge into theoretical writing. His body of work qualified him as an honorary professor at Munich University. He also served in the German Parliament from 1912 to 1919 as an elected representative of the liberal Progressive People's Party.

Kerschensteiner promoted the concept of National State Citizenship in a time and place where parliamentary governments were immature and unstable: wars, revolutions, industrialization, and class struggle were ingredients of everyday life in his Europe. Kerschensteiner revealed that education for citizenship is historically defined and shaped. Other educators, such as the American John Dewey (18591952) and the Soviet educator Nadezhda Krupskaya (18691939), also connected work and activity to the process of learning; practicing manual skills while studying bodily and aesthetic topics enhances students' imagination and reflection. Ideas of empowerment, state, and citizenship help to illuminate the differences. Dewey focused on learning by doing to empower students to be versatile, experienced citizens who would participate in democratic development. Krupskaya wanted to empower students through polytechnic education to overcome a class society and master the development of a socialist state. Kerschensteiner thought that teachers could use skilled work to educate responsible future citizens who would contribute to the state through their work and knowledge of their civic obligations. These three ingredients work, civic duty, and social rightsremain the key building blocks in the construction of a functioning citizenship through education.

See also: Education, Europe; Vocational Education, Industrial Education, and Trade Schools.


Kerschensteiner, Georg. 1912. Der Begriff der Arbeitsschule. Leipzig and Berlin: Teubner.

Kerschensteiner, Georg. 1912. Der Begriff Staatbürgerlichen Erziehung. Leipzig and Berlin: Teubner.

Kerschensteiner Georg. 1917. Das Grundaxiom des Bildungsprozesses und seine Folgerungen für die Schulorganisation. Berlin: Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft.

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Knud Jensen

Kerschensteiner, Georg (1854–1932)

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A dominating figure in the German Progressive education movement, Georg Kerschensteiner gained an international reputation as promoter of activity schools, civic instruction, and vocational education.

Born into an impoverished merchant family, Kerschensteiner taught at elementary schools (Volksschule ) before he attended gymnasium and university, passed the state examination for secondary school teachers (1881), and earned the Ph.D. degree at the University of Munich (1883). In 1895, after twelve years of teaching at a gymnasium, he was elected school superintendent of Munich, a position he held until his retirement in 1919. In this capacity, he devoted his energies to a reorganization of elementary and vocational education, implementing in particular two innovations: the "activity school" (Arbeitsschule ) and the "continuation school" (Fort-bildungsschule ). To the activity school, Kerschensteiner introduced workshops, kitchens, laboratories, and school gardens for the upper grades of the elementary school, and developed a kind of project method, with the intent to increase and elevate the students' learning motivation, their problem-solving capacities, their self-esteem, and their moral character. Kerschensteiner's continuation school was a mandatory part-time school for all boys and girls between the ages of fourteen and seventeen who had finished the compulsory eight-year elementary school and were working. As apprentices and young laborers they received eight to ten hours of instruction weekly; in addition to practical training they attended classes in religion, composition, mathematics, and civicssubjects that were taught in close connection with their specific trades.

In this way Kerschensteiner tried to foster their liberal education and further their social advancement; he stressed, however, that the main aim of education had to be citizenship (staatsbürgerliche Erziehung ). The activity school and the continuation school were to make useful and purposeful citizens: first, by guiding the student to his proper life work; second, by planting the idea that each vocation had its place in serving society; and third, by teaching the student that through a vocation society grew to a more perfect community. Kerschensteiner appealed to the students' practical bent by building the learning process upon their active participation in work projects and extracurricular activities chosen in accordance with their own interests. Participation and project work were to convert the school from a place of individual and intellectual singularity into a place of practical and socially serviceable plurality.

His work brought him high recognition, making Munich the "pedagogical Mecca" for educators from all over the world. He received invitations to lecture in Europe, Russia, and America; his books were even translated into Turkish, Chinese, and Japanese. An admirer of John Dewey and his foremost interpreter in Germany, Kerschensteiner toured the United States in 1910 on behalf of the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education. By this he hastened the most vigorous debate of the Progressive era with Dewey, David Snedden, Charles Prosser, Charles McCarthy as protagonists, resulting in the Munich system of vocational education (e.g. dual control and continuation schools) becoming in part the model for Wisconsin's Cooley Bill of 1911 and the Federal Smith-Hughes Act of 1917.

In England, Switzerland, and Japan his concept of compulsory continuing education had a similar impact on school reform and legislation. From 1912 to 1918 Kerschensteiner was, on the liberal ticket, member of the German Parliament (Reichstag) in Berlin. After his retirement, from 1918 to 1930, he served as professor of education at the University of Munich, publishing numerous books and articles, among them Die Seele des Erziehers und das Problem der Lehrerbildung (1921; The soul of the educator and the problem of teacher education), Theorie der Bildung (1926; Theory of culture), and Theorie der Bildungsorganisation, (1933; Theory of the educational system).

Kerschensteiner's philosophy of education was influenced by contemporary Neoidealists and opposed to the classical ideal of culture as conceived by Wilhelm von Humboldt. Whereas Humboldt (and Dewey for that matter) claimed that general education had to precede specific education, Kerschensteiner maintained that vocational, not general, education was to be the focal center of teaching and the "golden gate to culture and humanity." Only the individual, he claimed, who finds himself through his work can, in the course of his development, become a truly cultivated person. Having worked his way up from humble beginnings, Kerschensteriner based all his educational innovations on a democratic impetus that was designed to overcome the rigid caste structure of German society, break up its inflexible school system, and increase the occupational opportunities for talented youth from the lower classes.

Apart from Die Entwicklung der zeichnerischen Begabung (1905; The development of talent for drawing) and Wesen und Wert des naturwissenschaftlichen Unterrichts (1914; Nature and value of science instruction), his most important books and articles published before World War I are available in English: Education for Citizenship (1911; Die staatsbürgerliche Erziehung der deutschen Jugend [1901]); Three Lectures on Vocational Education (1911): A Comparison of Public Education in Germany and in the United States (1913); The Idea of an Industrial School (1913; Begriff der Arbeitsschule [1912]); The Schools and the Nation (1914; Grundfragen der Schulorganisation [1907]).

See also: Progressive Education; Vocational and Technical Education.


Bennett, Charles A. 1937. History of Manual and Industrial Education, 18701917. Peoria, IL: Manual Arts Press.

Knoll, Michael. 1993. "Dewey versus Kerschensteiner. Der Streit um die Einführung der Fort-bildungsschule in den USA, 19101917." Pädagogische Rundschau 47:131145.

Linton, Derek S. 1997. "American Responses to German Continuation Schools during the Progressive Era." In German Influences on Education in the United States to 1917, ed. Henry Geitz, et al. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press.

Simons, Diane. 1966. Georg Kerschensteiner. His Thought and Its Relevance Today. London: Methuen.

Toews, Emil O. 1955. "The Life and Professional Works of Georg Michael Kerschensteiner, 18541932." Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles.

Wegner, Robert A. 1978. "Dewey's Ideas in Germany. The Intellectual Response, 19011933." Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Michael Knoll

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