Fifty Major Thinkers on Education: From Confucius to Dewey

By Joy A. Palmer; Liora Bresler et al. | Go to book overview

MARTIN BUBER 1878-1965

This fragile life between birth and death can nevertheless be a fulfillment-if it is a dialogue. In our life and experience, we are addressed; by thought and speech and action, by producing and influencing, we are able to answer…. The relation in education is one of pure dialogue…. [T]he educator is only one element among innumerable others, but distinct from them all by his will to take part in the stamping of character and by his consciousness that he represents in the eyes of the growing person a certain selection of what is, the selection of what is 'right,' of what should be. It is in this will and this consciousness that his vocation as an educator finds its fundamental expression 1

Mordecai Martin Buber was born in Vienna on 8 February 1878, the son of Jewish parents who lived in a house straddling the Danube River. Buber's mother disappeared when Martin was 3, and young Martin went to live with his paternal grandparents in Lvov where he stayed until he rejoined his father, a farmer, at the age of 14. Until the age of 10, Buber was educated most profoundly by his grandparents-Solomon Buber, a renowned Talmudic scholar, and Adele, an educated woman who introduced Martin to languages and literature and inspired the enduring fascination with linguistic precision and poetic expression which distinguishes his mature writings. The life of the mind he lived in the home of his grandparents was balanced by his appreciation of the 'genuine human contact' 2 he observed in his father's way of being in the world.

Equally as decisive was Buber's longing for the mother who disappeared without explanation. Buber recalled with great clarity the moment when an older child to whom his grandmother had temporarily entrusted his care informed him that his mother would never return: He later coined the term, 'Vergegnung', or 'mismeeting', to 'designate the failure of a real meeting between men'. 3 Deeply affected by this experience, and surrounded throughout his lifetime by evidence of the results of missed connections between individuals and groups, Buber dedicated his life to defining the ever-present possibility of achieving true meeting through direct response to the situations that present themselves to us.

Buber attended universities in Vienna, Leipzig, Berlin and Zurich, studying literature, philosophy, art history, German studies and philology. He became formally associated with the Zionist movement in 1898, and through his involvement with the cultural and political activities associated with Zionism, met Paula Winkler who later became his wife. Buber's children, Raphael and Eva, were born in 1900 and 1901. In 1901 Buber became editor of Die Welt, the primary publication of the Zionist organization. In 1904, he completed a Ph.D. at the University of Berlin. Soon after he began to publish, prolifically, on many subjects related to his growing interest in Hasidic Judaism. Throughout his career, Buber was both an original and highly generative thinker, and an interpreter of the works of others. 4 From 1916 through 1938 Buber lived in the small German town of Heppenheim near the University of Frankfurt, where he lectured in the Study of Jewish Religion and Ethics from 1924 to 1933. During this time he worked closely with Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) at the Freies Jüdisches

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