Immanuel Kant – Summary of the Treatise on Pedagogy

Immanuel Kant in Über Pädagogik, which can be translated as Treatise on Pedagogy, gives his vision of education, of school, of learning.

This work is one of the last of his life, since it was written in 1803.

→ 5 books on School and Education

Definition of Education – Immanuel Kant

For Immanuel Kant, education is man’s own thing. It is not possible to educate animals. It is then necessary to understand what this “education” consists of.

The human being is the only thing that can be educated. Unter der Erziehung nämlich verstehen wir die Wartung (Verpflegung, Unterhaltung), Disciplin (Zucht) und Unterweisung nebst der Bildung. Demzufolge ist der Mensch Säugling, – Zögling, – und Lehrling.

Man is the only creature that can be educated. By education we mean the care (treatment, maintenance) that his childhood requires, the discipline that makes him a man, and finally the instruction with culture.

A Treatise on Pedagogy – Immanuel Kant

For this essay on pedagogy, Immanuel Kant identifies two major sets of education:

  1. Physical education: be careful not to confuse with a “sports education”. In particular:“the culture of the mind, which can also be called physical in a certain way” in
  2. practical education: which gathers the skill, the prudence and the morality.

The Treatise on pedagogy
is one of the last works of Immanuel Kant

Physical education

> How to cultivate one’s memory – Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant insists particularly on texts, reading and writing. But he does not forget the oral part of education and learning, for which languages are essential.

We shall cultivate memory: 1. by giving it to remember the names that enter into the stories; 2. by reading and writing; children must be trained to read from the head and without having recourse to spelling; 3. by languages, which children must learn by hearing them, before they come to read anything of them.

A Treatise on Pedagogy – Immanuel Kant –

> The aims of education – Immanuel Kant

According to Immanuel Kant, the purpose of education is to cultivate. We must thus distinguish:

1. General cultivation of the faculties of the mind, which must be clearly distinguished from particular cultivation. Its aim is skill and perfection; it does not teach the pupil anything in particular, but it strengthens the faculties of his mind (…)

2. Particular culture of the faculties of the mind. Here we have the cultivation of the faculties of knowledge, of the senses, of the imagination, of memory, of attention and of what is called the mind.

A Treatise on Pedagogy – Immanuel Kant –

For the general, General Knowledge of the faculties of the mind, Immanuel Kant presents 2 aspects:

  1. Physical culture: the child is passive since he simply reproduces the actions of his teacher
  2. moral culture: it is a question of allowing the child to think by himself, to acquire his own values, his own maxims, his own morals. It is necessary to leave a system where education would be based on punishment, on external constraints, which prevents the child from developing its own moral culture.

For the culture particular of the faculties of the spirit, Immanuel Kant specifies that the children have already a very developed imagination. It is therefore not necessary to feed this imagination, but it is important to give it directions, limits, and to put it to work.

Practical education

> Definitions

Practical education includes: 1. skill; 2. prudence; 3. morality.

With regard to skill, care must be taken to ensure that it is solid and not fleeting. One should not appear to possess knowledge of things, which one cannot then achieve. Solidity must be the quality of ability and must turn insensibly into the habit in the mind. It is the essential point of a man’s character. Skill is necessary for talent.

As for prudence, it consists in the art of applying our skill to man, that is to say, of using men for our own ends. (…) It is difficult to penetrate others, but one must necessarily understand the art of making oneself impenetrable. It is necessary for that to dissimulate, that is to say to hide its faults. To dissimulate is not always to feign and can sometimes be allowed, but that touches closely with immorality. (…)

Morality concerns the character. Austin and abstinence are the means of preparing oneself for wise moderation. If one wants to form a good character, it is necessary to start by putting aside the passions. A man must get used to not letting his inclinations degenerate into passions, and learn to do without what is denied him. Sistine means to endure and to get used to enduring; it takes courage and a certain disposition of mind to learn to do without something. One must get used to refusals, resistance, etc.

A treatise on pedagogy – Immanuel Kant –

> Don’t make your children humble

The most important thing is to be frank. One must be neither too sure of oneself, nor too little. You must believe in yourself in a modest way, but be frank with yourself: you must tell yourself the truth.

Thus, it is good to take into consideration the judgment of others. Otherwise, one would be insolent, which is to be feared.

But Immanuel Kant detects a major problem in society: it is that of making children humble, rather than them acquiring humility through their reason. Immanuel Kant takes the example of the Christian religion, which preaches humility, but teaches it in a counterproductive way.

One excites envy in a child, by accustoming him to estimate himself according to the value of others. On the contrary, he should value himself according to the ideas of his reason. Also humility is properly nothing else than a comparison of his value with moral perfection. Thus, for example, the Christian religion, by ordering men to compare themselves with the sovereign model of perfection, makes them humble rather than teaching them humility. It is very absurd to make humility consist in estimating oneself less than others. – See how this or that child behaves! Talking to children in this way is not the way to inspire them with noble feelings. (…)
The case where emulation could serve a purpose would be when one would want to persuade someone that something is practicable, as, for example, when I demand a certain task from a child and I show him that others have been able to do it.

A Treatise on Pedagogy – Immanuel Kant –

> Should children be taught religion?

In summary, Immanuel Kant’s position on whether one should teach children about God, explain religion, the divine, metaphysics, is the following:

Since in our society children will encounter the name of God, or any religious practice, then yes, it is important to teach them early what religion is.

One suggestion from Immanuel Kant is to use the analogy of the father (God) as he watches over the family (Humanity).

What is certain is that, if it should happen that children never witness any act of veneration of the Supreme Being, and even never hear the name of God spoken, then it would be in accordance with the order of things to direct their attention first to the final causes and to what is suitable for man, to exercise their judgment, to instruct them in the order and beauty of the ends of nature, and then to add to this a still more extensive knowledge of the system of the world, and to open up to them by this means the idea of a supreme? Being, of a legislator. But, as this is not possible in the present state of society, and as it is impossible for them not to hear the name of God and not to witness the demonstrations of devotion to him, if one wanted to wait to teach them something about God, the result would be either great indifference or false ideas, such as fear of divine power. Now, as it is necessary to prevent this idea from creeping into the imagination of children, we must, in order to preserve them from it, try to inculcate religious ideas in them from an early age. (…) The best way to make the idea of God clear at first would be to look for an analogy to that of a father of a family under whose supervision we would be placed; in this way, we arrive very happily at conceiving of the unity of the men whom we imagine as forming a single family.

A Treatise on Pedagogy – Immanuel Kant –

It is the occasion for Immanuel Kant to give a definition of religion:

“What then is religion? Religion is the law that resides in us, inasmuch as it receives its influence upon us from a legislator and a judge; it is morality applied to the knowledge of God.”

> Let children be children

Immanuel Kant addresses the question of children being educated as adults with great relevance and modernity.

Immanuel Kant’s contribution on this point seems more relevant than ever, while in our 21st century society many criticize the increasingly early sexualization of young people, the inhuman involvement of children in war conflicts, or the race for performance with the correlate of the increasingly intense solicitation of children, from their earliest years.

Children should only be taught things that are appropriate for their age. Many parents rejoice to see their children speak with the wisdom of old men. But nothing is usually done with children of this kind. A child must have only the prudence of a child. He must not be a blind imitator. Now a child who puts forward the maxims of the wisdom of men is completely out of keeping with his age, and it is pure antics in him. He must have only the intelligence of a child, and must not show himself too early. Such a child will never be an enlightened man of serene intelligence. It is equally intolerable to see a child wanting to follow all the fashions, for example, to have a curl, wear rings and even a snuffbox. He becomes an affected being who hardly looks like a child. A polite society is a burden to him, and he ends up lacking the courage of a man altogether.

A Treatise on Pedagogy – Immanuel Kant –

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