Obedience in education in 1700s Germany

In Britain and America in the 1700s, the most influential philosopher of education was John Locke, with his Some Thoughts Concerning Education. In France, it was Jean-Jacques Rousseau with his Emile.

But in the German states, it was Johann Georg Sulzer, with his 1748 An Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children. Sulzer’s fundamental thesis:

“Obedience is so important that all education is actually nothing other than learning how to obey.”

He elaborates: “It is not very easy, however, to implant obedience in children. It is quite natural for the child’s soulsulzer to want to have a will of its own, and things that are not done correctly in the first two years will be difficult to rectify thereafter. One of the advantages of these early years is that then force and compulsion can be used. Over the years, children forget everything that happened to them in early childhood. If their wills can be broken at this time, they will never remember afterwards that they had a will, and for this very reason the severity that is required will not have any serious consequences.”[1]

Horrifying: they will never remember afterwards that they had a will.

To which I add from Immanuel Kant’s lectures on education, first delivered in 1776/77:

“Above all things, obedience is an essential feature in the character of a child, especially of a school boy or girl.”[2]

Much of Kant on education reads like a gloss on Sulzer, with its emphasis on obedience, duty, discipline, and punishment.

When we think of ethnic stereotypes — the English gentleman, the French romantic, the ramrod-straight Prussian — to what extent are those stereotypes grounded in explicit educational philosophies generated by a culture’s most influential philosophers?

[1] Johann Georg Sulzer, Versuch von der Erziehung und Unterweisung der Kinder (An Essay on the Education and Instruction of Children), 1748. Quoted in Alice Miller, For Your Own Good.
[2] Immanuel Kant, On Education. Translated by Annette Churton. University of Michigan Press, 1960. In Ozmon and Craver’s Philosophical Foundations of Education, 7th ed.

Education: Locke versus Kant on motivation and discipline.
My video lecture on Kant’s educational views.
My video lecture on Locke’s educational views.

Update: A colleague reminds me that Kant mentions Sulzer in a footnote in Chapter Two of The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

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