Georg Kerschensteiner was born and raised in Munich, Germany. His family background was poor, and his childhood was filled with chaos and contradiction. He was arrested at the age of eight for gang theft, yet he was also educated at the Holy Spirit Seminary and demonstrated an aptitude and interest in art, books, nature, and technique. Kerschensteiner gained experience in teaching through a combination of in-service classroom training, a position as an assistant schoolmaster, and the pursuit of ongoing studies in science and math. Praxis, experience, and participation are central tenets of Kerschensteiner's theory of education, along with order, obedience, and responsibility. As had his predecessor JOHANN PESTALOZZI (1746–1826), Kerschensteiner also recognized that children want to develop and express themselves.
Kerschensteiner considered the value of an individual's work to be directly related to its importance to the state. The most valuable citizens worked in positions that used their full capacities. Teaching methods were transformed from trade and craft to qualified and skilled work processes that also trained the pupil's thinking, emotions, and will. The ongoing industrialization and struggle for democratic reforms in Germany are not explicitly reflected in his theory, however. Kerschensteiner believed that skilled work processes support and create capacities to learn, to explore, to investigate, and to act; these jobs also require punctuality, care and precision, task prioritization, and self-reliance. He found that organizing education into workshops and laboratories helped his students learn specific activities and also helped build character and self-reliance through praxis and reflection.
As director of education he reformed the Munich school system in 1900, grounding the vocational school on his confidence in the students' self-activity, sense, and experience. He claimed that vocational and general education must also be recognized as providing equal opportunities for the personal and social development of a student. Parallel with his work as school director he became lecturer at Munich University in 1904, and then he systematically transformed his experience and knowledge into theoretical writing. His body of work qualified him as an honorary professor at Munich University. He also served in the German Parliament from 1912 to 1919 as an elected representative of the liberal Progressive People's Party.
Kerschensteiner promoted the concept of National State Citizenship in a time and place where parliamentary governments were immature and unstable: wars, revolutions, industrialization, and class struggle were ingredients of everyday life in his Europe. Kerschensteiner revealed that education for citizenship is historically defined and shaped. Other educators, such as the American JOHN DEWEY (1859–1952) and the Soviet educator Nadezhda Krupskaya (1869–1939), also connected work and activity to the process of learning; practicing manual skills while studying bodily and aesthetic topics enhances students' imagination and reflection. Ideas of empowerment, state, and citizenship help to illuminate the differences. Dewey focused on learning by doing to empower students to be versatile, experienced citizens who would participate in democratic development. Krupskaya wanted to empower students through polytechnic education to overcome a class society and master the development of a socialist state. Kerschensteiner thought that teachers could use skilled work to educate responsible future citizens who would contribute to the state through their work and knowledge of their civic obligations. These three ingredients– work, civic duty, and social rights–remain the key building blocks in the construction of a functioning citizenship through education.
Kerschensteiner, Georg. 1912. Der Begriff der Arbeitsschule. Leipzig and Berlin: Teubner.
Kerschensteiner, Georg. 1912. Der Begriff Staatbürgerlichen Erziehung. Leipzig and Berlin: Teubner.
Kerschensteiner Georg. 1917. Das Grundaxiom des Bildungsprozesses und seine Folgerungen für die Schulorganisation. Berlin: Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft.
UNESCO on Georg Kerschensteiner. Available from www.ibe.unesco.org/International/Publications/Thinkers/ThinkersPdf/kerschee.PDF.