restricted access 3. Laying the Foundation for Independent Thought: Enlightenment Epistemology and Pedagogy
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3 Laying the Foundation for Independent Thought Enlightenment Epistemology and Pedagogy In 1778, when Moritz completed his studies at the University of Wittenberg, a pedagogical reform movement was sweeping through Germany. Founded by Johann Bernhard Basedow and drawing on a long line of Enlightenment thought, the Philanthropist movement promoted a method of education that fostered the natural order of children’s cognitive development. The Philanthropists attacked the traditional primary-school education for violating this order by emphasizing verbal cognition, without first stimulating children’s sense perception and activating their powers of analytic reasoning. Without this foundation, they argued, verbal cognition remains empty, consisting solely of the rote memorization of words. They deemed such a purely verbal education wholly impractical for those children who were not on an academic track. And because this education contradicted the natural order of cognitive development, they charged that it had to be coerced. By contrast, the Philanthropist educational model, in adhering to this order, would lead not to the superficial knowledge of words, but rather to the substantial knowledge of things; would thereby prepare children not merely for scholarly work, but for any occupation; and would not be imposed by force but would instead stimulate the free exercise of children’s own cognitive abilities. 64 The Topography of Modernity 1. The complete title is Elementarwerk: Ein geordneter Vorrath aller nöthigen Erkenntniß; Zum Unterrichte der Jugend, von Anfang, bis ins academische Alter, zur Belehrung der Eltern, Schullehrer und Hofmeister, zum Nutzen eines jeden Lesers, die Erkenntniß zu vervollkommnen (Elementary Treatise: An Ordered Storehouse of All Necessary Knowledge; For the Instruction of Youth, from the Beginning until the Academic Age, for the Edification of Parents, Schoolteachers, and Tutors, for the Use of Every Reader to Complete His Knowledge). For a useful introduction to Basedow’s Elementarwerk, see Stach, “Das Basedowsche Elementarwerk.” 2. Allgemeine Revision, 1: xiii. Basedow popularized the principles of this new pedagogy in his best-selling Elementarwerk, an encyclopedic textbook for primary-school children.1 Completed in 1774, it laid the groundwork for the model school he established that same year in Dessau, the Philanthropin. Enrollment in the school quickly grew, and its progress was eagerly tracked by leading German intellectuals. Immanuel Kant, writing in 1776, made an appeal for the public’s financial support of Basedow’s school, about which he raved: “Never before has a more worthy demand been made of the human race, and never before has such a great benefit been offered so selflessly, and one that will continue to spread” (Werke, 2:463). Its greatest value, he claimed a year later, lay not simply in educating students according to a natural method, but also in training new teachers to use this method, teachers who could then spread an educational revolution throughout the land (465–66). Even before completing his university studies, Moritz became one of many aspiring or established teachers to make the pilgrimage to Dessau. Though his encounter with Basedow proved disappointing, he continued to pursue a teaching career (first in Potsdam, then in Berlin) that was oriented by Philanthropist principles. Indeed, the author and Philanthropist Joachim Heinrich Campe lists “Professor Moritz in Berlin” as among the founding members of his Gesellschaft praktischer Erzieher (Society of Practical Educators) in the first issue of his Allgemeine Revision des gesammten Schul- und Erziehungswesens, which also featured the essay by Campe discussed in chapter 2.2 However, at the end of his eight-year career as a schoolteacher, Moritz formulated an incisive critique of Philanthropism and of the tenets of Enlightenment epistemology in which it is grounded. Chapter 4 probes this critique along with the consequences that Moritz draws for the cultivation of independent thought, a goal that he shares with the Philanthropists. The present chapter sets the stage through a discussion of the origin and development of Philanthropism, situating this pedagogical project within a line of antiauthoritarian epistemological and pedagogical thought reaching back to René Descartes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These thinkers advocate methods of cognition intended to free the knowing subject from textual and verbal authority, and promote the capacity for independent reasoning. For all three thinkers, such reasoning involves constructing a rational order. Basedow attempts to translate these methods into pedagogical practice through the use of one teaching aid in particular: the Naturalienkabinett, or natural history cabinet. Laying the Foundation for Independent Thought 65 3. Descartes, Discourse on Method, 3. The Philanthropist pedagogues writing in Basedow’s wake clearly build on his work but shift the...