Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Bildung-Then and Now in Danish High School and University Teaching and How to Integrate Bildung into Modern University Teaching

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Bildung-Then and Now in Danish High School and University Teaching and How to Integrate Bildung into Modern University Teaching

Article excerpt


In pedagogical and didactic literature one usually says that Bildung was defined by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1784 (Kant [26] 1784, Slagstad 2003). In his famous article on being enlightened and educated he emphasized that "a person is enlightened when this person leaves his or her self-inflected incapability of managing own affairs". And incapability of managing one's own affaires means "lack of using one's intellect without guidance from somebody else". Hence, when a human being has been enlightened in this definite respect he or she has got Bildung. So in this way the concept of Bildung is now well defined. Or as Kant also stated this shortly in Latin: "Sapere aude", i. e. "Dare to know".

Bildung became both an axiom and an aim in a new pedagogical philosophy. But as the word Bildung indicates it has a religious background coming from the "Imago Dei" in early Christian mysticism. Imago Dei means God's image, so the concept of Bildung is referring to an action or a process in which something is depicted. That is: What we experience and perceive is depicted in our minds.

Immanuel Kant was born in Konigsberg in East Prussia and his parents were deeply religious and pietists (Hartnack [15] 1966). Of course this had a big influence on Kant's way of thinking and it is interesting to see that Bildung had its origin in the pietistic movement. Also he was influenced pretty much by his university teacher, the natural philosopher Martin Knutzen (1713-1751), who introduced him to Newton's natural philosophy and mechanical physics.

To a pietist the virtues of duty and industry are very central and important, and to do one's duty and being industrious it is necessary to be educated. Therefore to the pietistic philosophers it was very important to educate people such that they were able to read and write and to do their work conscientiously. Hence the pietistic movement was also a pedagogical movement with educational aims.

The pietistic school of philosophy was started by the German theologians Philipp Jacob Spener (1635-1705) and August Hermann Francke (1663-1727) and both its theological and pedagogical ideas were spread in the beginning of the 18th century to the united monarchy Denmark-Norway and to Sweden (Korsgaard 2004, Lange 2003). It is interesting to see that to the first pietistic king of Denmark-Norway, Frederik IV (king 1699-1730), it was important to establish schools for children all over the united monarchy such that his subjects learned to read and write. It is also interesting to see that pietism led to a new and deep respect to the individual. When the Danish-Norwegian clergyman Hans Egede (1686-1758) came to Greenland in 1721 with the purpose to Christian the population he denied baptizing anybody until they had got a sufficient education (Kristensen 2008, Hoiris and Faegteborg 2009). So in fact Hans Egede and the pietistic philosophers had the idea of Bildung as an important educational and civilizing aim.

Since Kant was brought up in a pietistic home it is no wonder that his pedagogical philosophy was based on the pietistic virtues. It is also important to notice that Kant was influenced by the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) and the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712- 1778). In 1690 John Locke published his great work "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (Hartnack [14] 1965), and he pointed out that when a child is born its mind is totally empty, "tabula rasa" (a blank slate or a clean blackboard). But nature outside the child is full of light, and by means of experience and recognition the human mind is enlightened. So, according to John Locke, our knowledge is determined only by experience and is derived from our sense perception.

This point of view was also central to Rousseau when he wrote his pedagogical masterpiece "Emile ou de l'education" in 1772 (Korsgaard [55] 2003, Korsgaard [35] 2004). …

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