Herbart, J. F. (1776−1841)

Johann Friedrich Herbart, a German philosopher and educational theorist, is considered one of the founders of scientific pedagogy. Born May 4, 1776, in Oldenburg, Herbart started his study of philosophy in Jena in the spring of 1794. Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schiller, among others, were his teachers there. During this time Herbart critically analyzed Fichte's transcendental idealism. In 1797 Herbart left for Switzerland to become a private tutor for the Steiger family children, and recorded his findings on his work with them. These records are considered the first documents of Herbart's pedagogy. In 1802 he became a university lecturer at the University of Göttingen and in 1805 an associate professor of philosophy and pedagogy. In 1809 he accepted a call to the University of Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia) to take over the chair currently being held by the philosopher Wilhelm Traugott Krug, a position that Immanuel Kant had previously held. In 1833, Herbart returned as a full professor to the University of Göttingen, where he lectured until his death on August 14, 1841.

Some of Herbart's main works on educational theory include Ueber die ästhetische Darstellung der Welt als das Hauptgeschäft der Erziehung (On the aesthetic representation of the world as the main subject of education), 1804, Allgemeine Pädagogik aus dem Zweck der Erziehung abgeleitet (General pedagogics derived from the purpose of education), 1806, and Umri° pädagogischer Vorlesungen (Outline of lectures on education), 1835, 1841. In On the Aesthetic Representation of the World Herbart discusses morality as the main purpose of education. As one of the proponents of realism, Herbart, in contrast to the supporters of German idealism, adheres to the recognizability of the objective world, meaning that the mind has to discern rules but does not create them. Thus Herbart understands morality as an ideal that one strives for by learning to assess and influence his or her will on the basis of objective perception in order to act in the interest of social existence. Herbart asks: How can the educator consciously support this learning process?

In General Pedagogics Herbart develops the means of education: Unterricht (instruction), and Zucht, which he latercompletes in Outline of Lectures on Education.Unterricht is to provide understanding. Therefore Herbart's theory of Unterricht stresses the material part of education concerning these dimensions: steps of instruction (structure), subject matter of instruction (choice of subject), and course of instruction (methods). Zucht, on the other hand, focuses the ethical ideal to act according to a better understanding. It refers to the personal attitude of the educator and the pupil toward each other. Both aspects of education, Unterricht and Zucht, lead to Herbart's idea of erziehender Unterricht (educating instruction). This idea gained influence on classroom activity and teacher training at the university level through his followers, the Herbartians.

Famous Herbartians included Karl Volkmar Stoy (1815–1885), Tuiskon Ziller (1817–1882), and Wilhelm Rein (1847–1929). Their efforts were focused on teacher training at the university level that aimed both at specialist training and pedagogical professionalism. In order to offer both theoretical educational studies and educational practice to students, they affiliated practice schools with teacher training colleges. Life at the practice schools included lessons, school trips, celebrations, gardening, sports, games, and self-government by the pupils. Stoy developed Herbart's systematic work on education into an acknowledged body of educational theories. Ziller added Herbart's theory on Unterricht and created within the framework of his didactics the Formalstufentheorie (theory of formal steps of instruction), the principle of Konzentration (concentration), and the Kulturstufentheorie (theory of cultural steps). It is thanks to Rein that Herbart became famous all over the world. His pedagogical teacher-training college and holiday courses at Jena gained international interest.

See also: Education, Europe.


Cruikshank, Kathleen. 1993. "The Rise and Fall of American Herbartianism: Dynamics of an Educational Reform Movement." Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin.

Dunkel, Harold B. 1969. Herbart and Education. New York: Random House.

Kehrbach, Karl, and Otto Flügel, eds. 1989 [1887−1912]. Johann Friedrich Herbart: Sämtliche Werke in chronologischer Reihenfolge, 19 vols. Aalen, Germany: Scientia.