Tact and the Pedagogical Relation

Introductory Readings

by Norm Friesen (Volume editor)
©2022 Textbook XIV, 202 Pages
Series: Paedagogica, Volume 1


Tact and the Pedagogical Relation focuses on two topics of increasing interest both in teacher education and research. It shows how questions of sensitive and attuned action as well as educators’ relations with children and the young are special—uniquely different from other relations and attunements. This collection introduces readers to both classical and contemporary texts, offering many of these in translation for the first time. These illuminate the struggles and rewards of teaching, showing teaching to be an art, simultaneously a personal and professional calling.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Acknowledgements
  • Editor’s Introduction
  • Prefigurations
  • Chapter One: J.H. Pestalozzi: Letter to a Friend on His Work at Stans
  • Chapter Two: J.F. Herbart: Introductory Lecture to Students in Pedagogy
  • Chapter Three: F.D.E. Schleiermacher: Outlines of the Art of Education—Introductory Lecture—Selections
  • Definitions
  • Chapter Four: H. Nohl: Thoughts on the Educational Practice of the Individual with Special Reference to the Findings of Freud and Adler
  • Chapter Five: H. Nohl: The Pedagogical Relation and the Formative Community
  • Chapter Six: J. Muth: Pedagogical Tact: Study of a Contemporary Form of Educational and Instructional Engagement (Selections)
  • Reconfigurations
  • Chapter Seven: E. Fink: The Questionableness of the Modern Educator
  • Chapter Eight: O.F. Bollnow: Risk and Failure in Education
  • Chapter Nine: W. Lippitz: Otherness and “Alienness” in Pedagogical Contexts
  • Chapter Ten: J. Zirfas: Pedagogical Tact: Ten Theses
  • Index
  • Series Index

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For his advice and for the time and effort of his students, I would first like to thank Dr. Prof. Malte Brinkmann of the Institute of Educational Studies of the Humboldt University of Berlin. During my visits to Berlin, he and I were able to discuss various options and strategies for selecting and organizing the texts included in this collection. Also, in the demanding task translating some of the texts included here, Malte Brinkmann made available the time and skills of his graduate students. In this regard, I would especially like to thank Johannes Türstig for his invaluable assistance with Chapter Seven, The Questionableness of the Modern Educator. I would also like to thank Sophia Zedlitz for her initial translation of both texts by Herman Nohl included here (Chapters Four and Five). Although this collection benefitted greatly from this assistance and the advice of Malte Brinkmann, the final decisions, both in editing and translating this collection, remain my own.

I would also like to thank Dr. Prof. Wilfried Lippitz and Jörg Zirfas for their generosity in granting permission for their work to be translated and republished, and for responding to my questions as translator. I would like to thank Wilfried Lippitz in particular for his guidance and support particularly in my initial explorations in questions of phenomenology and pedagogy as they are understood in the German context. Similarly, I would like to thank Dr. Karsten Kenklies for his assistance not only in co-translating the excerpt from Schleiermacher’s lecture ←xi | xii→(Chapter Three), but also for his patient support with my work and my developing understandings in continental pedagogy.

Last but certainly not least, thanks are also due to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for their generous assistance through their “Research Stays for University Academics” program, which supported a one-month visit in May 2014 to the Humboldt University in Berlin. It was during this time that the translation work for this volume was initiated.

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Editor’s Introduction

“To speak of pedagogy is to speak of everything at once.”

- Jean Paul1

In an age of ever-increasing specialization and professionalization, this book makes the case that pedagogy is not just about teaching techniques but is instead a deeply personal and interpersonal endeavor. Pedagogy is regarded in this text both as a mode of thought and of action, relevant to the classroom, but also beyond its walls.

This collection provides readers with a series of original and in some cases canonical texts that engage with two key themes in pedagogy: “pedagogical tact” and the “pedagogical relation.” The first refers to educators’ attunement to the children or young people in their care, and the second to the educator’s professional and personal relationship with a young person, for the sake of that person. Although both of these notions were originally articulated and developed in German-speaking Europe, they are receiving increasing attention in English-language articles and books by scholars such as Gert Biesta, Andrea English, Rebecca Horlacher, Max van Manen, and others.2

It is consequently surprising that both canonical and more recent German texts that discuss the themes of the pedagogical relation and pedagogical tact have long been unavailable or difficult to access in English: For some of the earliest ←1 | 2→texts that prefigure these two themes, this is largely due to dated and inaccurate translations that have long been out of print. The absence of more recent texts can be ascribed to a general lack of translation or “bilingual” work over the past 100 years in the field of education in general (Biesta, 2011). Thinking alone of the influence of Vygotsky or Freire (both in translation) one can only conclude that there are dozens if not hundreds more sources and oeuvres with compatible potential that remain inaccessible and unknown to the English-speaking world.

Given that the origin of the texts brought together here spans over 200 years, their nature and characteristics are quite varied. The first is a passionate letter to a friend; the ones immediately following are lectures to students or practitioners. Still later texts are excerpted from books or handbooks,3 while the most recent are all taken from journal articles or chapters in German-language books. This introduction provides a brief overview of these varied texts and their interrelationship. Following the organization of this book’s table of contents, this overview begins with texts that prefigure the pedagogical relation and pedagogical tact, moving through ones that give these terms fuller definition, and ending with their contemporary reconfiguration. This initial overview is then followed by further discussion of the meaning of pedagogy as it appears both in this introduction and in the texts brought together in this volume. It concludes with a consideration of the implications of this meaning for other terms and references in this collection.

Pedagogical Tact and the Pedagogical Relation

The phrase pedagogical tact was coined by J.F. Herbart in an introductory lecture to his students from 1802. Meanwhile, the pedagogical relation was named as such by Herman Nohl over 100 years later—despite the fact that the themes central to this relation can be traced at least as far back as the earliest texts included here. The subject of pedagogical tact has remained a topic of lively interest to this day—both in English and in German. However, the phrase “pedagogical relation” fell into disfavor in the German-speaking world only a few decades after being given definition by Nohl. Of course, this does not mean that the question of the actual relationship between educators and young people was no longer of interest. But the question of this relationship can be said to have been recast and reformulated—turned into the more abstract question of the relation of the self with the other, and of the encounter of what is called “ownness” with that which is “alien.”

Nevertheless, favorable references to Nohl and his conception of the “pedagogical relation” have started reappearing in German scholarship in the last few years. Perhaps surprisingly, this has occurred in connection with the educational ←2 | 3→researcher John Hattie, whose meta-analyses of educational outcomes show “that the attainment of a quality student-teacher relation” is a critical factor in “student success.” In particular, Hattie’s findings also emphasize the importance of “the ‘teacher and their passions’ very directly, bringing Nohl’s concept,” as one author notes, “once again into play.”4


To begin with the first section in this collection, one significant theme that prefigures and later underlies both tact and the pedagogical relation is the educator’s concern with the experience, feelings and “inner life” of the child: “First of all, I had to wake and give life to their inner selves,” Pestalozzi says of the children in his care in his letter from Stans in Chapter One (p. 21). Pestalozzi sought to awaken this inner vitality through the “simple circumstances of domestic life”—ones that he felt were intrinsically pedagogical in and of themselves. Taking care of the children’s everyday “common needs” Pestalozzi argues, helped to bring “out their natural intelligence, form their judgment, and… arouse [in them] capabilities which… cannot become active and useful till they are set free” (p. 19).


XIV, 202
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (August)
Pedagogical tact tactful teaching pedagogical relations student-teacher relationship pedagogy teaching teacher education philosophy of education history of education Norm Friesen Tact and the Pedagogical Relation
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Lausanne, Oxford, 2022. XIV, 202 pp., 2 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Norm Friesen (Volume editor)

Norm Friesen, Professor at the College of Education, Boise State University, has worked as a visiting researcher at the Humboldt University (Berlin) and the University of Vienna. He studied German and philosophy at Johns Hopkins University and earned his PhD from the University of Alberta.


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