Chapters 1 and 2 have provided an outline of the traditional German education system, how it developed during a period of neo-classical idealism, and how it was subsequently adapted to cope with the impact of industrialization. By the turn of the century the emerging picture revealed the standard-bearers of neo-classicism in the Gymnasium and the university taking up increasingly more conservative positions, whilst the reformers in the newer schools tried to revive some of the basic objectives of the traditional system, most notably the concept of general education. This traditionalism was in part a result of pressure from above, as the university sector sought to preserve the classics, and in part a desire to provide good-quality general education for social groups which had hitherto been denied the opportunity of all-round character development.
Following the general urbanization and industrialization of Germany at the end of the century, the concept of 'modernity' entered the intellectual debate, a development which coincided with the onset of a general crisis in values. Within the ranks of the mandarin class, which feared that the German concept of culture was under threat, this was reflected in a more pronounced reactionary attitude. In this context, the term 'modernism' is applied in its most wide and value-free sense, referring to those particular issues in education which eventually came to a head during the second half of the twentieth century or which brought the German system into line with recognized modern practice elsewhere. In its broadest, and perhaps even crudest, sense modernism in Germany became politically associated with the republican movement, in particular with social democracy, the anti-clerical movement and women's emancipation. It rejected völkisch and racist trends and, in terms of education policy, sought to extend compulsory schooling, develop a co-educational system, support the more technically orientated schools and broaden access to higher education. It was most firmly rooted in Prussia, the neighbouring states of Thuringia and Saxony, and in the free states of Hamburg and Bremen, whilst Catholic Bavaria remained the least progressive.
In common with other reform programmes, the new Republic's progressive education policy was soon plagued by the serious financial and economic problems