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«Educational Policy Should Clear its Preferences
in View of Today’s Urgent Social Problems.»

by Erika Vögeli, Switzerland

Three young people are on trial – for no reason at all did they beat up some people. All the people present at court were moved by one of the victims’ calm account – all but the offenders. Regret is not tangible and such a thing as bad conscience does not seem to exist. Unfortunately, these are no exceptions. The excesses of senseless and unrestrained violence against defenseless people and the frightening lack of pangs of conscience, however, are merely the most visible expression of a state of emergency in education which is noticeable everywhere. There are children, who are convinced, that they are the boss at home, who do not listen to the teacher at school, ignore instructions or just think adults must not tell them what to do. Asked about their problems, they often express the opinion that it is not them but the others, the teacher, the schoolmate, etc. who have a problem. These children raise the question: What is to be done? Where do we start? What does our youth require? Anyhow, things cannot go on like that. Obviously, the anti-educational ideas did not achieve the goals they had claimed.

We will not get to core of the problem if we categorize our children with all possible diagnoses like "auditive disturbance", "attention deficit syndrome" (ADS) or hyperactivity syndrome and then treat them with appropriate medicine, therapies or extra lessons. What is required is a reversion to educational theories, which see the child as a human being-to-be, as a person, who requires quite an elementary education and value orientation in order to become a true human being. Many teachers and pedagogues have already provided valuable and indispensable contributions to this topic, for instance Bernd Ahrbeck with his book o "Kinder brauchen Erziehung. Die vergessene pädagogische Verantwortung"(Children need education. The forgotten educational responsibility)1, Otto Speck "Erziehung und Achtung vor dem Anderen. Zur moralischen Dimension der Erziehung" (Education and respect of others. About the moral dimension of education)2 or Michael Felten "Auf die Lehrer kommt es an" (It all depends on the teachers)3.

An especially encouraging help for teachers as well as parents, educators and everyone who has to do with people is the book "Menschen bilden" (Educating human beings) by Arthur Brühlmeier.* His "Impulses to organize the training system according to the principles of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi" could not be more up-to-date. Like a lighthouse in the desert, the book deals with 27 mosaic stones of fundamental educational work. It opposes the present educational-psychological amnesia with the author’s experiences of many years of teaching and training teachers, which naturally combine with fundamental educational, philosophical and anthropological trains of thought – not least as the fruit of his decades of intensive studies of the great educator Pestalozzi.

In view of a development in our schools oriented towards the American "Bologna"-model, which is dictated by the economy in the long run and which has lead to a constant uniforming and hierarchical controlling of education, Brühlmeier directs our attention on the substantial issue. He focuses on the child, on the teacher, on the processes between them as human beings, and on the question, what education actually is. Together with Pestalozzi, Brühlmeier is convinced that "Economy and the state are served best, if the schools care for the education of the entire human being and thus do not place his humanity but not his usefulness at the center of their considerations." Thereby referring to Pestalozzi, his aim is not, "to follow the historical figure word by word" but referring to Pestalozzi’s ideas. Brühlmeier illuminates numerous facets of this spirit, connects them to everyday life at schools today and fascinates the reader in a manner that breathes exactly this spirit.

Today we run the risk to reduce people to cerebral structures, neuro-physiological and neurobiological processes. However, Brühlmeier leads our thinking back to the nature of man. Of course, man is a biological being who becomes a fellow human being only in the relationship to other human beings, and he thereby requires moral orientation and education in order to reach true humanity. So genuine education cannot be separated from "moral education". "Good instruction is at the same time always educating instruction." (P. 63) Pressure, compulsion and violence are no means that can contribute to genuine nobleness of the heart, although a clear stop must be set to immoral, antisocial behavior and a decided opposite standpoint must be taken. Educating people should develop genuine moral behavior with an intrinsic motivation in the child: "It is not sufficient that the children do at least not hit each other. They are to like each other and assist each other, commit themselves to the community and love the truth." (p. 64)

On each page of his book, Brühlmeier develops ideas how this can be made possible and that it is possible, no matter which topic he deals with. The essential point – again a basic insight of Pestalozzi and all great pedagogues – is the "positive, lively teacher-pupil relationship. It is like fertile soil, on which education and formation can only really prosper." (p. 66) "Real education, which is able to change and develop human beings from the inside, is always based on empathic relations." (p. 206)

Brühlmeier thus inevitably places special emphasis on the teacher’s personality and places  something in the focus that had been pushed aside by the whole structural hectic of reforms. It is the love of the teacher for his work, which is connected with the love to the child, with the joy in its development and in working together. Brühlmeier does not convey sugary ideas here, but he is concerned with a genuine interest in each individual child, from which understanding for the individual childlike personality arises. He does not concede that a teacher cannot like all children "equally", because according to the experience, "the feelings of sympathy and antipathy fade into the background if we succeed in really understanding a human being – just as he confronts us". (p. 185)

Psychological and educational literature is helpful; it can and should make suggestions – which are also the intention of this book. However, it cannot replace the exact listening and looking close at each individual child (P. 128), which provides the teacher with information on the student’s standards, his problems and probably where he goes astray.

This closeness to the child, the interest in its development, the pleasure in contributing something to its developing humanity is conveyed to the reader on each page of the book; it encourages the young teacher to let this or her initial motivation for becoming teachers not be drowned in school organization and -development, and encourages the experienced teacher to recollect himself and his commitment.

With regard to the significance of the teacher-pupil relationship Brühlmeier takes up the cudgelds for the class teacher as he has naturally more opportunities to develop a relationship to each individual child. "With a view to our urgent social problems educational policy would do well to occasionally reconsider priorities." (p. 206)

Brühlmeier does not understand closeness to the child as the chumming up of approval by children or a courting attitude towards young people: according to him the teachers’ personal authority is a self-evident precondition for genuine education. There used to be bad strictness and humiliating or depreciative methods – not genuine authority – in some teachers, but for Brühlmeier the main problems of today root in the anti-authoritarian movement and the resulting disregard pupils have for teachers. Personal authority does not mean exercise of any kind power but personal charisma: "This charisma conveys credibility, trustworthiness, competence, willpower, reliability, seriousness of the person concerned." (p. 181) Based on the teacher’s self-confidence this charisma is accompanied by a calm but determined rejection of any attacks on the person. Besides transfer of knowledge, true development of humanity aims at a furthering of compassion in the child and intends to help develop a personality anchored in life, with a sense of justice, trust, independence and community spirit, which is not possible without a genuine authority in the teacher’s personality. Apart from that it is not possible for children to learn anything if they cannot do what they are told to by an adult. Brühlmeier is not afraid of using the taboo word ‘obedience’ at this stage, and his understanding here is the willingness to accept factual requirements. Taking a child’s stubbornness, "fatal compensatory self-assertion", for independence is one of the current educational misconceptions. Without moral education the human being does not gain genuine inner freedom, which enables them "to refuse obedience to the prevailing rules when suggestions of a situation mislead them into destructive and morally reprehensible behaviour." (p. 96)

Besides the above mentioned topics there are numerous further suggestions on teaching issues which matter to every teacher: thoughts about calculators, about language teaching, about ENEA- the excessive usage of electronic devices-, about how to deal with violence and many other issues, everything with a view to and embedded in the entire fundamental task of developing human beings.

Brühlmeier opposes today’s economic view on education and the biologistic concept of the child by a deeply humane pedagogy, in which the individual and the human personality enjoys the status they deserve. The focus lies on the holistic development of the child’s personality – which cannot do without moral education. And: moral education, as Brühlmeier presents it in his book, constitutes and promotes curiosity, genuine interest and compassion, which again makes learning really productive. A teacher does not foster a personality devoted to such education with legal or institutional measures or nowadays evaluation and qualification procedures, to the contrary. "The more severe these quality ensuring systems interfere, the less one will gain in quality that is purely based on the moral freedom of the individual." (p. 158) It goes without saying that school needs an organisational and statutory as well as a democratically legitimate framework. But if we strive "for human development that is based on moral coexistence and morality of the ones involved" (p. 159), we assume that the teacher wants this out of his own free will. This love for the child, which Brühlmeier calls an attitude, and "which fosters the ability to empathize, the willingness to work, self criticism as well as a disposition to deal with and solve problems" (p.184), can be conveyed in a good teacher training but it cannot be enacted by decrees.    

1 Bernd Ahrbeck: Kinder brauchen Erziehung: Die vergessene pädagogische Verantwortung. Stuttgart, 2004. 978-3170179738

2  Otto Speck. Erziehung und Achtung vor dem Anderen. Zur moralischen Dimension der Erziehung, München 1996, ISBN 978-3-497-01421-7

3 Michael Felten. Auf die Lehrer kommt es an! Für eine Rückkehr der Pädagogik in die Schule, Gütersloh 2010, ISBN 978-3-579-06882-4

* After his primary teacher training Arthur Brühlmeier led a comprehensive school with eight classes for 17 years. Then he studied at the University of Zurich educational science, psychology and journalism (Thesis: "Changes in the thinking of Pestalozzi"). He worked as a lecturer in teacher training, psychology, and didactics. For the past 20 years he taught at the Seminary of St. Michael in Zug, where he contributed to the concept of "Lehrerbildung als Persönlichkeitsbildung" (Teacher Training as Forming One’s Personality). He was able to initiate several refrms in the spirit of Pestalozzi. In 2010 his book „Menschen bilden" will be published in English.
His website:

2010  © Current Concerns, No 6, March 2010. All rights reserved

Remark: The book "Menschen bilden" is translated now in English by Mike Mitchell. The quotations in this book review here refer to the German version.