The Dewey-Kerschensteiner Controvers about General and Vocational Education. In School, Democracy and Eucation: Critical Studies on John Dewey as Educator. New York: Lang (forthcoming).
Kerschensteiner’s followers in America
discussion about the introduction of vocational education in the public schools
was, of course, not new in 1910. Forty years earlier, American educators had
considered setting up state-funded workshops for the training of young workers.
Since then concepts had repeatedly been put forward to provide young people
with a thorough vocational education despite the decline of the apprenticeship. The concept of the German
general continuation school had been introduced around 1890, and the Munich
model of vocational continuation school had been known ever since Paul H.
Hanus, the Harvard professor and chairman of the Massachusetts Industrial
Commission, Frank A. Manny, the
educational activist and friend of Dewey, and Charles A. Bennett,
the influential journalist and publisher, had reported in full on their
visits to Munich in numerous speeches and essays whereas the Massachusetts
Commission (1907) on Industrial and Technical Education had published several
bulletins documenting the structure and course of study of divers continuation
schools in Munich such as the schools for clerks, machinists, gardeners, gold
and silver workers.
the Munich model was already so familiar to the American public that some
cities in Massachusetts (Boston, Cambridge, New Bedford, Waltham, Taunton) had
already provided facilities where trade and commerce could hold “continuing
education classes” as early as 1909 – i.e. well before Kerschensteiner’s
arrival in America (Commission upon the Plans for the
Extension of Industrial and Agricultural Training1911).
In addition, the Ohio legislature had passed a law in the spring of 1910 that
allowed municipalities to set up continuation schools or courses at their own
expense. However, these offers were used timidly, in Massachusetts merely by a
few factories, department stores, and wholesalers, in Ohio just by one city,
namely Cincinnati. The reluctance can easily be explained. Despite all efforts
of Hanus, Manny and Bennett, there was the widespread misunderstanding among
American educators and politicians that the German continuation school was a trade
school and a substitute, not a supplement, for the declining apprenticeship
system. Only Kerschensteiner was able to clear up this confusion and show that
the part-time school, not the full-time school, was the basic model of
vocational education in Germany.
received praise and appreciation for his lectures. The New York Times headlined “German Educator Revolutionizes School Methods”
and the New
York Daily Tribune “We’d Be Fortunate to
Get Such Trade Schools as These.” In particular,
the German-language newspapers rejoiced. The New York Staatszeitung spoke of “Ein Wegweiser” (A Signpost), the Philadelphia Morgen-Gazette of
“Anschaungsunterricht” (Object Lessons), the St. Louis Westliche Post of “Beherzigenswerte Winke“ (Hints Worth Heeding)
and the Tägliches Cincinnatier Volksblatt
of “Wahre Offenbarungen” (True Revelations) Kerschensteiner had imparted to the
American people. Colleagues appreciated his work, too. For
example, G. Stanley Hall (1911), the progressive educator and youth
psychologist at Clark University, considered the “Munich System” as the “boldest,
most comprehensive and interesting” attempt to solve the problem of industrial education (p. 586). Hall wrote admiringly:
"No true pedagogue can read the rather detailed
and systematic programmes, reports of each of these schools, etc., without
growing interest and admiration, not to say fascination, if not, indeed, with
the strong desire to take each course himself. One feels that a barber,
butcher, cobbler, and the rest, may be an educated gentleman if he masters his
skeptic like Arthur D. Dean (1911), the
vocational education consultant at the New York State Board of Education, could
not deny Kerschensteiner his admiration:
"Many were happily surprised at the breath of
his thought. Some had expected that he would merely discuss such topics as ‘the
need for skilled workmen;’ ‘the progress of a nation depends upon material
wealth;’ ‘the supremacy of a nation depends upon its industrial efficiency;’
etc. Such topics are usually associated with the German system of vocational
education. However, we forgot two things: (1) That Dr. Kerschensteiner came
from Bavaria, which although a part of the German Empire, is in reality very
different from the northern state of Prussia. Southern Germany is made up of
wholesome, simple-minded people who are less strenuous in their commercial and
industrial activity than northern Germany. They do not think quite so much
about the economic importance of affairs as they do about the human importance.
(2.) We forgot that many German teachers are men of broad interests. Dr.
Kerschensteiner is an artist, musician, and teacher as well as an organizer of
schools. […] to listen to his broadminded discussions is to gain a new idea of
what a liberally trained man can do to broaden a vocation education movement."
Now the ice
was broken. In 1911, in addition to the Commercial Club of Chicago and the
National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education, two other organizations
that were important for the development of vocational education, namely the
National Association of Manufacturers and the American Federation of Labor,
passed resolutions in which for the first time they gave preference to the continuation
school over all the other types of vocational schools.
Even the City Club of Chicago (1912), an association of progressive citizens
with Dewey’s friend George H. Mead as chairman of its Public Education Sub-Committee,
praised Kerschensteiner’s educational program for the working boys and girls. It
recommended establishing schools “of the same general character as that in the
continuation schools of Munich.”
the breakthrough came with Charles McCarthy in Wisconsin. McCarthy, a man of
remarkable strength and energy, formed a broad coalition of politicians,
business leaders and trade unionists, with the result that he could persuade
the legislature in Madison to accept the continuation school as the foundation of
a “wonderful system of democratic education” (Commission upon the Plans for the Extension of Industrial and Agricultural
Training1911). For McCarthy (1915), the new school was a medium for overcoming class
distinctions and social differences.