Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Educational Environments: Narration and Education in Campe, Goethe, and Kleist

Academic journal article Goethe Yearbook

Educational Environments: Narration and Education in Campe, Goethe, and Kleist

Article excerpt

In the extensive discussion of the emergence of a modern concept of childhood in the eighteenth century-and the controversy Philippe Ariès caused by suggesting its absence before then1-relatively little attention has been given to changing conceptions of the "environment" (Umwelt) that is thought to surround a child and influence its upbringing. This is surprising, not only because today it is commonplace to assume that the environment in which a child grows up-be it social, cultural, familial, economical, or other-is of utmost significance for the child's development,2 but also because there were significant changes in meaning and importance of the concept of environment around 1800. A brief historical comparison can shed light on this point. Before the eighteenth century a child's surroundings were merely perceived as a potential danger to its existence as it was thought that a person's identity was predetermined by birth and god. Wolfram von Eschenbach, for example, wonders about the consequences of baby Parzival's removal from the court and then shows us a young adult who is woefully lacking in worldly manners and basic social and hermeneutic skills. Yet, Parzival becomes the hero he was destined to be due to his lineage. The unusual surroundings in which he grows up can delay, but not prevent his development and the fulfillment of his calling.3 Religious dogma long supported the assumption that a child's environment is of little consequence. While Martin Luther lamented the dangers of urbanization and materialism, which "die kinder von der schulen zum dienst des Mammon zu keren" (turned the children away from school toward the service of mammon),4 these factors are not viewed as formative of the person's identity, but rather are seen as dangers threatening to derail the "true," that is, inherited, nature of a person. Compare this to the attention Jean-Jacques Rousseau pays to the environment in his representation of Émile's education. Rousseau believes that the environment affects the formation of a child's character in essential ways and plays a constitutive part in a child's cognitive and moral development. Émile's flight to the countryside is motivated by the desire to escape the decay that the narrator associates with civilization and urbanization, but also demonstrates that the educator's ability to control the learning environment is perceived to be of utmost significance. In Rousseau's Émile, the emergence of our modern concept of childhood goes hand-in-hand with the discovery of the environment as an object of conscious manipulation.

In the following, I will examine how pedagogical discourses around 1800 construct their educational environments. What constitutes an environment for a child or learner in the first place? When do physical surroundings become a pedagogically relevant environment? How does a text envision the relationship between child and learner on the one hand and his or her environment on the other? What is the role of narrative in defining educational environments? How do narrative frames model and mirror relationships between learner and environment? And finally, how do the pedagogical and semi-pedagogical texts of the period themselves relate to the "learner," that is, to those they address as their readers?

With these questions in mind and building on Rousseau, I want to look at three exemplary texts, which develop three different notions of what constitutes an educational environment around 1800, namely Joachim Heinrich Campe's Sittenbüchlein für Kinder aus gesitteten Ständen from 1777, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795), and Heinrich von Kleist's short text "Allerneuster Erziehungsplan" from 1810. My aim is not to develop comprehensive readings of these classic texts, but to focus rather narrowly and schematically on the relationship they create between the student and what is presented as a learning environment, as well as to reflect on the texts' narrative structures and their pragmatic stance-on how they engage the reader pedagogically. …

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