The Politics of Education: Teachers and School Reform in Weimar Germay

The Politics of Education: Teachers and School Reform in Weimar Germay

The Politics of Education: Teachers and School Reform in Weimar Germay

The Politics of Education: Teachers and School Reform in Weimar Germay

Synopsis

Although the early history of progressive education is often associated with John Dewey in America, the author argues convincingly that the pedagogues in the elementary schools in the big cities of Imperial Germany were in the avant garde of this movement on the European Continent. Far more than a history of ideas, this study provides the first comprehensive analysis of the culture wars over the schools in Germany in the 1920s. Going up to the Nazi seizure of power, the author's narrative sheds new light on the courageous defense of the republican state by the progressive educators in the 1930s and the relationship between the traditionalists' opposition to school reform and the attraction of certain sections of the teaching profession to the Nazi movement.

Marjorie Lamberti is Charles A. Dana Professor of History at Middlebury College. Her publications include State, Society, and the Elementary School in Imperial Germany.

Excerpt

The “crisis of education” was a catchword in the polemical discourse of many conservative and Nazi opponents of the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s. Widely discussed in circles of the educated elite and among rural and small-town teachers was a spate of articles in the press on the loss of public confidence in the elementary schools. Neoconservative ideologues in Die Tat, for example, lambasted progressive education in the schools of Germany’s postwar democracy, and declared that the pedagogues had alienated many sections of society by advocating reforms that were similar to the school program of the Social Democratic Party. As this critique of the school reforms introduced by the Social Democrats and German Democrats after the revolution of 1918 indicates, Kulturpolitik played a significant role in the right-wing assault on the republican state. Notwithstanding postwar Germany’s economic distress and political instability, the Weimar years were a time of exuberant pedagogical innovation and optimistic plans to reform the stratified educational system in the name of democracy and social justice. Forged in the culture wars over the schools in the 1920s was a coalition of traditionalists, including clergymen and educators in the secondary schools, who opposed the reforms and who could count on the political muscle of the Catholic Center Party and bourgeois conservative parties. Their prime target were the pedagogues in the elementary schools who were organized in the German Teachers’ Association (Deutscher Lehrerverein), the most active advocacy group for educational reform in the country since the turn of the century.

Many individuals espoused the cause of educational reform in Weimar Germany, but the activists of the German Teachers’ Association can undisputedly claim the central place in a historical account of the school reform movement since 1900. This professional society was the biggest organization of teachers in Germany with a membership of 132,043 in 1922. Its members included two-thirds of the 195,946 full-time teachers who instructed the more than 8,890,000 children in the German elementary schools at that time. After the November Revolution, elementary schoolteachers were among the “new middle class” of civil servants who joined or . . .

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