Herbartianism and its Educational Consequences in the Period of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy

The Case of Slovenia

by Edvard Protner (Author)
©2014 Monographs 134 Pages


Herbartianism is without a doubt one of the most important pedagogic movements of the 19th century. While quoting J. F. Herbart, his followers – Herbartians – built a pedagogic system which strongly marked educational theory and practice not only in Europe. The book offers a detailed insight into the constitution of teacher training in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy with special emphasis on the situation in Slovenia. Along with the basic didactic principles the foreground is reserved for the understanding of teacher personality. This book contextualises the professional assignments of teachers and their education with the interests of school policy. This historical perspective offers a useful apparatus for the understanding of today’s debates about the professionalization of the teaching profession.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Dedication
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. Herbart’s University Pedagogical Seminar
  • 1.1. The Development of Herbart’s Pedagogical Seminar
  • 1.2. Institute of Didactics
  • 1.3. Pedagogical Seminar
  • 1.4. Herbart’s Opposition Within the Framework of Educational Reform
  • 1.5. Herbart and Herbartianism
  • 2. Pedagogical Tact and Personality of the Teacher in the Herbartianist Concept of Educating Teachers
  • 2.1. Herbart’s Understanding of Pedagogical Tact and Formation of Personality
  • 2.2. Herbart as an Advocate of Home Education and His Attitude Towards Primary School Teachers
  • 2.3. The Herbartianist Concept of Teacher Education
  • 2.3.1. The Organisational Characteristics of Stoy’s and Ziller’s Pedagogic Seminar
  • 2.3.2. The Differences Between Herbart, Ziller and Stoy
  • 2.4. Stoy’s Concept of Educating Primary School Teachers
  • 3. Herbartianism in Slovenia Until the First World War
  • 3.1. Dimensions and Characteristics of Herbartianism
  • 3.2. The Period Between 1869 and 1890
  • 3.3. The Period Between 1893 and 1901
  • 3.4. The Period Between 1901 and 1914
  • 3.5. Between Bureaucracy and Pedagogic Theory
  • 4. The Education of Teachers in Slovenia and the Application of “Common Sense” Herbartianism
  • 4.1. Henrik Schreiner and the Teacher Training College at Maribor
  • 4.1.1. Schreiner as the Headmaster of the Maribor Teacher Training College
  • 4.1.2. Schreiner as a Speaker at Teacher Assemblies
  • 4.1.3. Schreiner as School Supervisor
  • 4.1.4. Schreiner as a Textbook Author and President of the Publishing Company of the Slovenian School Society
  • 4.2. Herbartianism and Pedagogic Standards
  • 5. The Attitude of Catholic Pedagogues Towards Herbartianist Pedagogy in Slovenia
  • 5.1. Conservative Catholicism and Herbartianism
  • 5.1.1. Mahnič’s Attitude Towards Lindner
  • 5.1.2. Mahnič’s Attitude Towards Herbart and his Dispute with Schreiner
  • 5.2. The Attitude of Catholic Pedagogues Towards Formal Steps
  • 5.2.1. The Enforcement of the Munich Method
  • 5.3. The Attitude of Liberals Towards the Reception of Formal Steps on the Catholic Side
  • 5.4. The Encounter of Herbartianism and New Pedagogic Developments Through the Eyes of Catholic Pedagogues
  • 6. Herbartianism Between Normality and Excess in the Case of the Lesson Plan Titled “The Cat”
  • 6.1. From Creative Innovativeness to Rigid Repressiveness: From Normality to Excess
  • 6.1.1. The Last Decade of the Nineteenth Century: The Story of the Success of Herbartianism
  • 6.1.2. The First Decade of the Twentieth Century: Herbartianism as a Constraint
  • 6.2. The Class About the Cat as an Illustration of the Degeneration of Herbartianist Theory
  • 6.3. Conclusion
  • Bibliography

← 6 | 7 → Introduction


The term “Herbartianism” is foreign to most people. We can assume that it is also relatively unknown among those involved in the pedagogical sciences. The term is associated with the pedagogic doctrine developed in the first half of the nineteenth century by Johann Friedrich Herbart and established in the second half of the nineteenth century by his followers. Let us look what kind of definition can be found by those who would like to learn about the concept with the help of the Internet. The first result various search engines usually give is from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which states: “Herbartianism, pedagogical system of German educator Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776–1841). Herbart’s educational ideas, which applied particularly to the instruction of adolescents, had a profound influence on late 19th-century teaching practices, especially in the United States, where educators established the National Herbart Society in 1895. Herbart advocated five formal steps in teaching: (1) preparation—a process of relating new material to be learned to relevant past ideas or memories in order to give the pupil a vital interest in the topic under consideration; (2) presentation—presenting new material by means of concrete objects or actual experience; (3) association—thorough assimilation of the new idea through comparison with former ideas and consideration of their similarities and differences in order to implant the new idea in the mind; (4) generalization—a procedure especially important to the instruction of adolescents and designed to develop the mind beyond the level of perception and the concrete; (5) application—using acquired knowledge not in a purely utilitarian way but so that every learned idea becomes a part of the functional mind and an aid to a clear, vital interpretation of life. This step is presumed possible only if the student immediately applies the new idea, making it his own. Enthusiasm for Herbartianism declined with the appearance of new pedagogical theories, in particular those of John Dewey” (“Herbartianism”, s.d.).

While this definition presents some of the key points of Herbartianism, it also distorts the concept by giving misleading and even incorrect information. The concept of Herbartianism is undoubtedly linked to Johann Friedrich Herbart and his pedagogic ideas, which influenced teaching practises in the second half of the ← 7 | 8 → nineteenth century. Nevertheless, we must to take into account that this practise was not influenced by Herbart’s ideas directly, but indirectly, through the teachings developed by the followers of Herbart’s pedagogic ideas. It is also true that teachers in the United States founded the National Herbart Society in 1895. But the statement that these ideas had a “profound influence… especially in the United States” is misleading. These ideas had a far greater influence in European countries, especially German-speaking ones, as well as in countries which were under strong German influence, such as all countries that were part of the Hapsburg Monarchy and later, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. In Europe, the substantial impact of Herbartianism can also be seen in France, England, and the Scandinavian countries, but also in South America and Japan.

Other statements in this short definition are also similary misleading or even false. It is not true that his ideas were applied particularly to the education of adolescents. In the second half of the nineteenth century, these ideas were much more present in elementary and primary education than in secondary education, which encompasses adolescents.

Furthermore, the statement that Herbart advocated “five formal steps in teaching” is completely false. Herbart actually defined four steps of class articulation, in connection with the psychological laws of learning and teaching: Clarity, Association, System, Method. The five above-mentioned formal steps originated with Wilhelm Rein (cf. Dunkel 1970, 230), one of the leading Herbaritanists, i.e. the followers of Herbart’s ideas1. But this false claim is symptomatic for the reception of Herbartianism within broader circles of experts in two ways. First, it points to an unjustifiable reduction of the wealth of theoretical concepts created by Herbart and the Herbartians down to the mere didactic articulation of classes. Second, the implicit message of this point simply equates Herbart’s ideas with the ideas of Herbartians, which is even more problematic.

It is true that “enthusiasm for Herbartianism declined with the appearance of new pedagogical theories,” but the reduction to Dewy’s theory raises further problems because Herbartianism limits the concept, unjustifiably, to the United States. One key fact is overlooked: European textbooks on educational history and pedagogics describe, almost without exception, how the reformist pedagogic movement at the turn of the century was battling a Herbartianist pedagogic paradigm.

On Internet pages in English we can find more accurate definitions of the concept of Herbartianism, but one would soon notice the imbalance between the meaning ← 8 | 9 → attributed to Herbartianism and its influence on school practises in the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as the research attention which has been devoted to this topic in the Anglo-Saxon as well as European region. There are already issues at the level of designation. Searching for the concept ‘Herbartianism’ on the web often gives back results with the term ‘Herbartism’. Which term is more suitable? I choose to follow the term used in current research as a criterion of suitability. It is a fact that ‘Herbartianism’ appears in the titles of works authored by contemporaries in the movement, e.g. F. H. Hayward and F. E. Thomas’ The Critics of Herbartianism and other matter [sic] contributory to the study of the Herbartian question (1903); H. B. Dunkel’s Herbart and Herbartianism: An Educational Ghost Story (1970), a standard text in the field; and K. Cruikshank’s more recent doctoral dissertation The Rise and Fall of American Herbartianism: Dynamics of an Educational Reform Movement (1993) show that the term Herbartianism is well established and widely used by experts.

But nonetheless, why do we not use Herbartism instead of Herbartianism if we observe the analogy with, for instance, that Marx gave rise to Marxism, and not Marxianism? The purpose of this discussion is not an etymological explanation of this term, but to define the terms of this study. It is important to point out that a similar dilemma also appeared in German pedagogic terminology. German speakers also generally use the established term ‘Herbartianismus’ along with ‘Herbartismus’. In the introduction to the edited collection Herbartianist Pedagogy in the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy (2009), an interesting editorial explanation is given by E. Adam and G. Grimm: “To avoid terminological misunderstandings, we use ‘Herbartian’ [Herbartianisch] when we mean Herbart’s pedagogy and ‘Herbartianistic’ [Herbartianistisch] when we mean Herbartians”2 (4). Thus, it would be more than reasonable to distinguish between the term, ‘Herbartism’ which would mean Herbart’s pedagogic theory and ‘Herbartianism’, which would reference the study of the pedagogic ideas developed by Herbart’s followers. The terminological distinction made by Adam and Grimm is important, but it does not seem that it is widely known, acknowledged or established. The reasons for this can be attributed to the fact that Herbartianism is an under-researched topic and that the distinction between the pedagogic theories of Herbart and the Herbartians has not yet been firmly established. To avoid any potential misunderstandings, we will use the term Herbartianism to refer to the pedagogic ideas of Herbartians, and not to Herbart’s pedagogic ideas themselves.

← 9 | 10 → In Slovenia, this terminological dilemma is not an issue because we only use the term ‘herbartizem’, which is analogous to the English term ‘Herbartism’ and the German term ‘Herbartismus’. The Slovene Multilingual Terminological Dictionary of Education defines Herbartianism as follows: “Herbartism is a curricular movement of the late 19th century led by the followers of the German philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart, commonly known as the father of scientific teaching in education. The movement supported a liberal-humanistic curriculum which was founded on history and literature. Teaching and learning was divided into five stages: preparation, presentation, association, generalization, application. The theoretical basis of this curriculum was the idea that education is connecting previously gathered experiences with new ones” (Herbartizem, s.d.).

This definition is acceptable, although saying that the movement supported a liberal-humanistic curriculum is too categorical and cannot be generalised to all followers of this doctrine. Although it is interesting to find look at the analogue terms in English and German, this effort is not very helpful for the Slovene research community, who would like to find a suitable synonym for the term ‘herbartizem’ in English or German. In this dictionary, the Slovene term “herbartizem” gives the English “herbartian movement” and the German, “Herbartismus”. None of the terms offered are completely incorrect, but they are also not precise enough. We can conclude, however, that Herbartianism is the established term within the English and Anglo-Saxon pedagogic tradition, and in the German-speaking world, “Herbartianismus” is preferred.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (July)
Grundschule Herbartianismus Didaktik Johann Friedrich Herbart
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 134 pp.

Biographical notes

Edvard Protner (Author)

Edvard Protner is Professor and Head of Department of Pedagogy at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Maribor (Slovenia). His key research interests include history of education, especially the educational concepts of Herbartianism and progressive education, theory of education and comparative education such as PISA 2006 and private education.


Title: Herbartianism and its Educational Consequences in the Period of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy
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138 pages