AmblesideOnline AO Parents' Review Articles

The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Reform Schools in Germany.

by Mr. C. C. Th. Parez.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 23

Lecture in English Literature to the Association for the Promotion of the Higher Education of Women in Hanover.

Seldom has an educational movement excited such widespread interest, and given rise to such a mass of literature, as the agitation for School Reform in Germany. It has struck into the very core of the Higher School system, and seems likely to find general acceptance at no very distant date.

German educationalists have never been slow to recognize the fact that educational establishments only fulfil their functions properly as long as their methods and curricula are suited to the development of national culture. To this fact is due the birth of the Realschulen, which form such a prominent characteristic of the German School system of the present day; and to this fact too is due the feeling which is fast gaining ground, that the time has come when the curricula of the classical and semi-classical schools, the Gymnasium and Real-gymnasium should be revised, and the three types of higher schools, the Gymnasium, Real-gymnasium, and Realschule brought into more intimate connection by introducing a common Lower Division doing the same work into each school, postponing the commencement of Latin till the fourth school year, and Greek till the sixth school year. The question which lies at the root of the whole matter is in fact the possibility of combining a classical and modern education without detriment to either, and at the same time, without imposing too heavy a burden on the youthful mind.

As long as 260 years ago Comenius recommended a course of instruction based on principles similar to those which have actuated the leaders of the Reform School movement.

It was Comenius who insisted that a thorough training in the mother-tongue should precede the study of a dead language, that "realien" should form the main part of the education up to the age of twelve or thirteen, that the study of modern language should come before that of a dead language, and that the mental powers and natural inclination must have had time to develop before a decision as to the advisability of entering on a classical education can be arrived at.

Comenius it was, too, who first deprecated the plan of teaching the elements of several foreign languages at once, and laid down the general principle that the study of one language should form a guide in acquiring the fundamental rules of another, and that the variations in the mode of expressing one's thoughts in various languages should be carefully studied and compared.

These ideas form in a great measure the grounds on which the leaders of School Reform in German have endeavoured to substantiate the new movement.

In the three lower classes of Reform Schools, the mother-tongue forms the basis of the education, and instruction in Realien takes a prominent place. Only one Foreign language, French, is begun, which, in accordance with Comenius' principle, is treated at first colloquially and with application to well-known objects and facts. Latin is not begun until the fourth school year, while instead of commencing every language which is to form part of the curriculum as early as possible, and running three or more languages together, a space of at least two years is allowed to intervene between the commencement of any two languages--a Nacheinander instead of a Nebeneinander.

Soon after 1870 discussion on this subject was already rife, and as early as 1878 the town of Altona gave concrete form to the then somewhat undefined ideas of the leaders of School Reform, by converting its existing Realschule into a Reform School, in which Real-gymnasium and Realschule were combined with a common Latinless lower division.

It was not, however, until seven years later that the example of Altona, then already beginning to show successful results in its new scheme, by passing its pupils successfully through Abiturienten or leaving examination, was followed by another School, the Real-gymnasium at G├╗strow in Mecklenburgh.

In 1887 the Real-gymnasium at Magdeburg adopted the same system, and in 1892 four other schools entered the ranks of Reform Schools, three of these at Franfort-a-M., of which one was gymnasium, or purely classical school. Since that date, the movement has spread rapidly; in 1895 no less than seven schools adapted their curriculum to the Reform School system, and every year since, other schools have done the same.

The highest authorities have adopted a very favourable attitude with regard to this movement, and it is probably owing partly to the encouragement given by Count Zedlitz-Tr├╗tzschler, Minister of Education, who in 1892 gave his sanction to the Lehrplan, which has now found most general favour--the Frankfort Lehrplan--that School Reform has made such an astonishing advance in the last six years. In March, 1892, this Minister declared that "he recognized the question of School Reform as a practical matter of the first importance," and acknowledged that if the plan now on its trial proved successful, it ought to be turned to practical account in the development of higher schools. "We must no longer nowadays," he adds, "in view of the development of our national life continue to consider our higher schools merely as a preparatory course for the universities. To persist in regarding them only in this light is in my opinion a grave offence both to the widely cultivated classes, and to the large class who have to adopt professional or business careers."

The present Minister of Education, Dr. Bosse, has, in conformity with these views, granted the same privileges to pupils leaving Reform Schools as the similar types of schools on the old system already enjoy, and has shown himself, in general, as favourably disposed towards the Reform movement as his predecessor.

It was only natural that, with the introduction of a movement of such import to the welfare of the higher schools of the country, and one which involves such a radical change in the curriculum, considerable differences of opinion should exist as to the most suitable scheme of work as Lehrplan in this new kind of school. With the spread of the movement, two schemes have found general approval--(1) The Altona Lehrplan; and (2) The Frankfort Lehrplan--so called after the towns whose schools first introduced them, and all succeeding Reform Schools, though varying from one another somewhat in minor details, [See Appendix B.] have adopted one or the other of these two schemes in their essential particulars.

It may here be mentioned that the Prussian Education Department have signalised their opinion of the importance of the movement in a practical way, by voting this year 15.000 Marks (£750) towards the initial expenses of schools adopting the Frankfort Lehrplan.

The points of difference between the "General Lehrplan" of the Gymnasien and Real-gymnasien, and that of the Reform Schools, may be seen by a comparison of the following tables.

It must be understood that these Schools consist of nine classes, of which VI. is the lowest, and each class corresponds as a rule to a school year, only a small minority in each class failing to obtain promotion at the end of each school year.

Boys are admitted from the age of nine. Promotion, therefore, from class IV., the highest of the lower division, usually takes place at the age of twelve or thirteen, and from class IIIa to the higher division at the age of fourteen to fifteen.

Of the two systems, the Frankfort one, more recently introduced, will probably be generally adopted in the future. During the last four years, only one school, the Johanneum at Hamburg, has adopted the Altona system. And, indeed, this is probably due to the prominent place accorded to English in the Altona Lehrplan, a matter of greater significance for such seaport towns as Hamburg and Altona on account of their close commercial connection with England.

Since this introduction of the Frankfort system in 1892, 16 Gymnasien and Real-gymnasien, out of a total of 23 schools which since that date adopted a Reform programme, have decided in favour of the Frankfort Lehrplan. And the Guericke Realgymnasium and Oberrealschule in Magdeburg, which in 1887 adopted the Altona Lehrplan, has since given it up in favour of the Frankfort Lehrplan.

Apart from the principle of a common lower division for all schools, the most pregnant change from the curriculum of the old type of school is the displacement of Latin from the Lower division, and the substitution of French for it. To the latter subject, however, as offering less intrinsic difficulty to a boy of nine or ten years, some four or five hours less are accorded than were devoted to Latin under the old system in the lower division. The quota of hours thus gained is devoted partly to mathematics, and partly to the mother-tongue, or to history and geography.

English is, with Altona, commenced in Class IV., but with Frankfort in IIb. in the Realgymnasium, while in the Gymnasium, English or Hebrew may be taken up for the last two or three years of school life. Thus, under the Frankfort system, the principle of allowing a space of at least two years to intervene between the commencement of any two foreign languages is realised. The only exception to this is the commencement of either English or Hebrew in IIa., one year after commencing Greek, but one or two Reform Schools have in the course of the last year or two extended the principle to this subject also, by deferring its commencement to Ib., and devoting three hours a week to it instead of two, as heretofore. We notice also that the total number of hours devoted to Latin and Greek in the Reform Gymnasium is considerably reduced under the Frankfort Lehrplan, in the case of Latin by as much as thirteen hours.

It is however maintained, and indeed the results already obtained would seem to corroborate it, that the standard reached by pupils of the Reform Schools in these subjects is in no way inferior to that attained under the old system, and that the diminution in the number of hours is more than compensated by the vastly quicker progress made in these languages at a riper age under the new system. No doubt the most important change effected in the Reform Schools has been the introduction of the "Latinless" lower division, which is expected will find general acceptance in all higher schools in the course of time. And the three types of schools--Gymnasium, Realgymnasium and Realschule, will thus be brought into closer connection.

Most of the Reform Schools which have adopted the Altona Lehrplan have been developed from a Real or Oberrealschule, and combine Realgymnasium and Realschule on a common lease, the bifurcation commencing at IIb., i.e., at the commencement of the sixth school year; while those which have followed the Frankfort Lehrplan are either Gymnasium pure and simple, or a combination of two of the three types of schools, in most cases of Gymnasium and Realgymnasium. In every Reform School, however, a boy has, after passing through the lower division, at the age presumably of twelve or thirteen, the choice of three types of school.

The latest development of the system, however, is to be found in the Lehrplan adopted by the Leibniz School at Hanover in 1895. Here Gymnasium and Realgymnasium have a common middle division as well as a lower division, and the bifurcation does not take place through a Gymnasium or Realgymnasium, to make his choice in fact between Greek and English, need not do so until he has attained the age of fourteen to fifteen.

This scheme has necessitated a slight alteration in the ordinary Frankfort Lehrplan, which is constituted as follows for the school in question:--

Carlsruhe adopted this system also in 1896, and it is probable that its obvious advantages will commend it to other schools adopting the Reform system in the future.

What then are the advantages claimed for the new system?

The advocates of the movement have taken their stand on substantial administrative and economic, as well as on pedagogic, grounds.

Under the old system the three classes of School Gymnasium, Realgymnasium, and Real or Oberrealschulen stood entirely separate. Parents had to decide definitely which school to send their sons to at an age when it was often difficult, if not impossible to determine the direction of a boy's natural abilities. At nine year of age, few boys have given signs of any special talent for mathematics, languages, or science; consequently the temptation to parents to send their boys to that school which offers the greatest privileges to those who pass its final examination often overruled other considerations.

This led to an overcrowding in Gymnasien, which in spite of the development of the Realschulen will probably continue to exist as long as the gymnasium has a monopoly of privileges. [See Appendix A.] But if the choice of a school career is difficult to make in the case of a boy of nine years in towns where all three classes of schools are represented, the case is still more difficult in small country towns or places where only one type of school can be maintained.

Here the type of school best adapted to the needs of the majority of the pupils is the Real or Oberrealschule, but there is always a percentage of higher class people, officials, officers, and others who would not like to see their sons excluded from the privileges attached to the Gymnasium or Realgymnasium in the choice of a future career.

Now the Reform School with its principle of a common lower division for Realschule or Realgymnasium or for Realgymnasium and Gymnasium, as the case may be, assists the parent very materially by rendering it unnecessary to settle which side of the school his son shall follow until the boy has passed through the three lowest classes and has reached therefore the age of twelve to thirteen. At this stage the boy has had too the advantages of a thorough elementary training in French, which is an additional help in deciding which side of the school he is naturally best fitted for. And in the smaller towns, where only one type of school exists, the question of sending a boy away from home in order to place him at a different type of school is thus postponed also for three years. Again, in the case of the combination of Gymnasium and Realgymnasium as lately introduced in Hanover and Karlsruhe, while the question of attending a Realschule must be settled at the age above mentioned, the bifurcation into Gymnasium and Realgymnasium does not take place till IIb.--two years later; so that at these schools a boy will reach the age of fourteen to fifteen before the decision as to English or Greek has to be made. To us in England, of course, this system in its main points is not new. It looks in fact, very much like the time-honoured arrangement of the classical and modern side.

(To be continued.)