Wilhelm von Humboldt and Education

  • Whatever does not spring from a man’s free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does notenter into his very being, but still remains alien to his true nature; he does not perform it with truly humanenergies, but merely with mechanical exactness. (Wilhelm von Humboldt)
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt: True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united.

What and Why in Education?

What is education good for? What are you supposed to get out from your university studies? Is it

  • liberal arts education forming you into a good knowledgable democratic citizen?
  • science/technology/economics forming you to a production wheel in society’s economical growth?
  • a road to free your creative spirits and intellectual capacity?

Liberal arts education has its roots in the Greek paideia as an education for free citizens to developethics and logics insights to become a good human being and member of society, with emphasis on skill of rethoricsin political discussion and argumentation towards good goals. In the same way as physical training can make your Body more able, studies in philosophy were believed to strengthen the abilities and moral of your Soul.

Wilhelm von Humboldt and his University

With his two years younger brother Alexander, Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) belonged to a generation which witnessed the collapse of absolute monarchies in the wake of the French Revolution preparing the construction of a new Europe and Prussian State. The two brothers were both educated in the spirit of Rousseau and of the philanthropic school; in their youth, they adopted the ideas of the enlightenment, lived through the Sturm und Drang period and went on to join the Weimar circle of poets where they enjoyed the friendship of Schiller and Goethe. While Alexander travelled the world and guided natural science into new paths, Wilhelm paved the way for the development of the modern moral sciences.

Wilhelm lay the foundations of a new education system in Prussia leading into the liberal arts education of the 20th century. In his Theory of Human Education from 1793, Wilhelm states:

  • The ultimate task of our existence is to give the fullest possible content to the concept of humanity in our own person…through the impact of actions in our own lives.

The paidei and philosophy of liberal arts education is largely missing in science/technology/economicsof today, but Wilhelm’s ideas on a modern educational theory have been attracting increasing attention in recentyears and may meet a renaissance in our new information age.

In all modesty BodyandSoul seeks to follow maxims of Wilhelm von Humboldt such as

  • How a person masters his fate is more important than what his fate is.
  • The government is best which makes itself unnecessary.
  • True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united.
  • If we glance at the most important revolutions in history, we see at once that the greatest number of these originated in the periodical revolutions on the human mind.
  • Coercion may prevent many transgressions; but it robs even actions which are legal of a part of their beauty. Freedom may lead to many transgressions, but it lends even to vices a less ignoble form.
  • However great an evil immorality may be, we must not forget that it is not without its beneficial consequences. It is only through extremes that men can arrive at the middle path of wisdom and virtue.

Compare with Measuring the World about to giants in mathematics/science Carl Friedrich Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt:

  • One travels, one stays at home. One is liberal, the other conservative. One is a lover of women, the other forms suspicious attachments to men. They are bound by genius and nationality.And, finally, at the 1828 Scientific Congress in Berlin, they meet…
                                                       The travels by Alexander von Humboldt

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