As mentioned earlier, I’ve been rereading Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation, since I now have a lot more historical and philosophical context than I had when I first read them several years ago. What follows are a few quotations that, this time, grabbed my attention, and a little light discussion.
For anyone new here: Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was the founder of modern compulsory state schooling – schooling of, by, and for the state. He inspired von Humboldt, who embraced his goals and implemented his program in Prussia starting in 1810. Horace Mann and the other founders of American state schooling traveled to Prussia in the first half of the 19th century to admire and learn from the Prussian Model of state-controlled schooling. Many got PhDs from Prussian universities – the PhD was invented at the University of Berlin, founded by von Humboldt, where Fichte was chair of philosophy and Rector. The U of Berlin was the first modern research university, intended to train the elites who would become the implementers of Prussian Schooling and to further train the products of such schooling, for the good of the state.
Harvard, always the leading University in America, became a research university over the last few decades of the 19th century under its president Charles Eliot. As Wikipedia puts it:
But Eliot’s goal went well beyond Emersonian self-actualization for its own sake. Framed by the higher purposes of a research university in the service of the nation, specialized expertise could be harnessed to public purposes.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_William_Eliot#Harvard_presidency
Eliot had spent 2 years in Europe studying schooling. The threads leading from Fichte to all modern state-controlled schooling are solid. We are to this day attempting to implement his program.
It’s key to understand Fichte to understand how we’ve gotten to where we are today: school versus parents for the souls of the children.
In his 9th Address, Fichte expands on the requirement that children be removed for all parental control and influence for the duration of their education, which will be supplied by state-certified Masters:
To put it more briefly. According to our supposition, those who need protection are deprived of the guardianship of their parents and relatives, whose place has been taken by masters. If they are not to become absolute slaves, they must be released from guardianship, and the first step in this direction is to educate them to manhood. German love of fatherland has lost its place; it shall get another, a wider and deeper one; there in peace and obscurity it shall establish itself and harden itself like steel, and at the right moment break forth in youthful strength and restore to the State its lost independence. Now, in regard to this restoration foreigners, and also those among us who have petty and narrow minds and despairing hearts, need not be alarmed; one can console them with the assurance that not one of them will live to see it, and that the age which will live to see it will think otherwise than they.9th Address, pp 127.
See how that works? Petty, narrow-minded people with despairing hearts will be alarmed at having the state seize and physically remove their children from them for duration of their education, for the purpose of training them to restore the state to its proper independence. Such people – us! – are to be consoled with the assurance that none of us will live to see the state restored to its glory. We may miss our children, but we won’t have to endure the glorious future.
A little later, Fichte endorses the methods of his older contemporary Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi as key to his new national education. Problem is, Pestalozzi endorsed mothers as the key to education, assuming much valuable learning would be done in the home under their care. He even wrote the Mother’s Book, because, of course, mothers needed to be told how to do it right.
Fichte will have none of it:
His book for mothers contains the foundation of his development of all knowledge; for, among other things, he relies very much on home education. First of all, so far as this home education itself is concerned, we have certainly no desire to quarrel with him over the hopes that he forms of mothers. But, so far as our higher conception of a national education is concerned, we are firmly convinced that, especially among the working classes, it cannot be either begun, continued, or ended in the parents’ house, nor, indeed, without the complete separation of the children from them…. Not until a generation has passed through the new education can the question be considered, as to what part of the national education shall be entrusted to the home.ibid, pp 138
A key part of Fichte’s love for Pestalozzi resides in the later’s emphasis on the child’s need for constant supervision and management, that education must be under the control of masters or terrible things will happen. Fichte wants to make sure the state is the one training and paying the right kind of masters.
Fichte tosses out the family from any roll in educating their own children. What about that other great educational force, the church? In America, prior to Mann & Co., Americans believed that the education of children belong solely in the hands of families and their churches. By the end of the 18th century, the population in America was near 100% literate, as home, churches, and private schools educated almost everyone, apart from slaves who were purposely kept uneducated. As Orestes Brownson commented, in America, having the state educate our kids is making our servant into our master. It was a century-long battle to get Americans to accept the goodness and necessity of state-controlled schools.
In Address 11: On whom will the Carrying-out of this Scheme of Education devolve? (answer: the State), Fichte recaps history, where, according to him, the state stayed out of education for pathetic reasons.
In modern Europe education actually originated, not with the State, but with that power from which States, too, for the most part obtained their power—from the heavenly spiritual kingdom of the Church. The Church considered itself not so much a part of the earthly community as a colony from heaven quite foreign to the earthly community and sent out to enrol citizens for that foreign State, wherever it could take root. [note: ‘foreign’ is about as strong a put-down as Fichte uses, the opposite of German, his highest praise.] Its education aimed at nothing else but that men should not be damned in the other world but saved. The Reformation merely united this ecclesiastical power, which otherwise continued to regard itself as before, to the temporal power, with which formerly it had very often been actually in conflict. [note: Luther sought to have the state seize monasteries and turn them into state schools; much of his correspondence was with secular leaders urging them to pursue various programs. Eventually, we reached the point today where German churches are state-supported institutions.] In that connection, this was the only difference that resulted from that event; there also remained, therefore, the old view of educational matters. … The sole public education, that of the people, however, was simply education for salvation in heaven; the essential feature was a little Christianity and reading, with writing if it could be managed—all for the sake of Christianity. All other development of man was left to the blind and casual influence of the society in which they grew up, and to actual life. Even the institutions for scholarly education were intended mainly for the training of ecclesiastics. Theology was the important faculty; the others were merely supplementary to it, and usually received only its leavings.Address 11, pp 164
Finally, is there any role for the Church? (He’s talking Lutheran, or at least. Protestant, churches here. That the Catholic Church might have a role was of course beyond consideration.) Not really:
Now, if for the future, and from this very hour, we are to be able to hope better things in this matter from the State, it will have to exchange what seems to have been up to the present its fundamental conception of the aim of education for an entirely different one. It must see that it was quite right before to refuse to be anxious about the eternal salvation of its citizens, because no special training is required for such salvation, and that a nursery for heaven, like the Church, whose power has at last been handed over to the State, should not be permitted, for it only obstructs all good education, and must be dispensed with. On the other hand, the State must see that education for life on earth is very greatly needed; from such a thorough education, training for heaven follows as an easy supplement. The more enlightened the State thought it was before, the more firmly it seems to have believed that it could attain its true aim merely by means of coercive institutions, and without any religion and morality in its citizens, who might do as they liked in regard to such matters. May it have learnt this at least from recent experiences—that it cannot do so, and that it has got into its present condition just because of the want of religion and morality!ibid, pp 166
There’s a lot going on in this paragraph:
- Fichte asserts that the Church has at last surrendered its power to the State, and that this is a good thing;
- The state has an entirely different aim for education than the Church
- The state should not ‘permit’ the Church, which should be ‘dispensed with’
- The state is concerned with education for life on earth. Earlier, Fichte described how this whole afterlife business interferes with men doing what men – German men, of course – need to do to bring about heaven on earth, that we obtain immortality through making the nation stronger and better, and need to embrace the goals of the nation (German, of course) and focus on that
- The state has previously ignored religion and morality in education, but now must take it up. Earlier, he argues that state education IS simply education in religion and morality, that reading and academics can and should be delayed until the end of the educational period, if indulged in at all. The important thing is to teach children to love the fatherland and do what they are told by their masters.
- “Recent experiences” include having their armies crushed and lands overrun by the loathsome French, who, even as Fichte was delivering these talks, were sitting in the seats of power just blocks away.
Upon a second reading, there is a ton more to Fichte than I initially picked up. He is the prophet for the Messianic State, a true believer in the German people’s natural superiority and leadership, and sees the Spirit unfolding in history as being the ultimate reality. He solves the noumena/phenomena issues by simply declaring our subjective experience of the world IS the world. Thus, he wants education to focus on developing in children the ability to construct in their minds conceptions independent of any reference to the outside world. These images would include first an idealized Fatherland, to which all love ad devotion would be directed.
Fichte was that kind of personality who is either your staunchest friend or worst enemy, a sort of super-high functioning Borderline Personality case. He was certainly heroic in certain respects, such as nursing his wife back to health, despite the risk he would catch her disease (he did – it killed him), and on the other hand get himself fired for being a self-righteous jerk.
More as time allows.