Johann Friedrich Herbart is best known for the educational movement known as Herbartianism that took hold after 1865 when Tuiskon Ziller, a professor at Leipzig, published Grundlegung zur Lehre vom erziehenden Unterricht (Basics of the Doctrine of Instruction as a Moral Force), but he also wrote purely philosophical and psychological works, and he was an influence on Wilhelm Max Wundt, Fechner, and Helmhotz. He is of importance to the theoreticians of education because he was, as John Dewey noted in Democracy and Education, the first to observe that education was an activity that could be studied directly.
When he began his university studies at Jena, Herder, Goethe, Schiller, and Johann Gottlieb Fichte were there. His initial interest was jurisprudence, but he soon abandoned it in favor of philosophy. He did not become a disciple of Fichte. Rather, Herbart was a realist when the fashion was idealism, but, like Fichte, he was impressed by Pestalozzi’s educational work. He left Jena in 1796 to serve as tutor to the three sons of Herr von Steiger, Interlaken’s governor. He visited Pestalozzi at Burgdorf in 1799. The five letters he wrote to Herr von Steiger, the works he subsequently published on Pestalozzi, and his subsequent work demonstrate that his long-standing attention to education, including the school he established in Köningsberg, was an integral part of his philosophical agenda.
He received his doctorate from Göttingen in 1802 and taught there until 1809, when he was called to Köningsberg to succeed Immanuel Kant. After his unsuccessful application to succeed Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel at Berlin, he returned to Göttingen in 1833, where he remained until his death.
Although he did receive some modest attention in William Torrey Harris’s Journal of Speculative Philosophy, Herbart received considerable attention as a theoretician of education at the end of the nineteenth century when Americans, notably Charles DeGarmo and Charles and Frank McMurry, returned from their study in Germany where they were introduced to Herbartian teachings from Ziller, Wilhelm Rein, and Stoy. Subsequently, educators were applying the five formal steps of instruction and the culture epoch theory to the rapidly expanding public schools in the United States.
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