The Education Systems of Germany and Other European Countries of the 19th Century in the View of American and Russian Classics: Horace Mann and Konstantin Ushinsky

By Arthur Ellis, Reinhard Golz & Wolfgang Mayrhofer | January 5, 2014

Summary: The article deals with comparative studies of the American founder of the Common School and public education in the U.S.A., Horace Mann (1796-1859), and the founder of the Russian pedagogy and public school, Konstantin Ushinsky (1824-1870) . They were visiting several European education systems, in order to get inspirations for the reform activities in their own countries. In the early 19th century the education system in the German Kingdom of Prussia was considered the most progressive in Europe. The article shows what Mann, Ushinsky and others could learn from their comparisons, what they thought to be useful for their countries or what might be rather rejected. It is mostly about the question if and to which extent national educational experiences are importable, exportable and interchangeable. Some of the instructive findings of the American Horace Mann and the Russian Konstantin Ushinsky, but also their misconceptions are both historically relevant and of most currency.

Резюме : Статья занимается сравнительным исследованием деятельности американского основателя „Common School“ и государственного образования в США, Хорас Манн (1796-1859), и основателя русской педагогики и народной школы, Константина Ушинского (1824-1870). Они знакомятся с некоторыми европейскими системами образования для того, чтобы начать реформирование данной области в собственных странах. В начале 19-го века образовательная система королевства Пруссии считалась самой прогрессивной в Европе. Статья показывает, чему научились Манн, Ушинский и другие из своих сравнений, что они считали полезным для своих стран и что вынуждены были отвергнуть. Прежде всего, речь идет о вопросе, насколько национальный опыт в области образования подлежат импорту, экспорту и обмену. Некоторые содержательные выводы американца Хораса Манна и россиянина Константина Ушинского, а также ошибки являются релевантными как в историческом, так и в современном плане.

Zusammenfassung: Der Artikel beschäftigt sich mit den vergleichenden Studien des amerikanischen Begründers der „Common School“ und der öffentlichen Bildung in den USA, Horace Mann (1796-1859), und mit dem Begründer der russischen Pädagogik und Volksschule, Konstantin Uschinski (1824-1870). Sie besichtigten einige europäische Bildungssysteme, um Anregungen für Reformaktivitäten in ihren eigenen Ländern zu erhalten. Im frühen 19. Jahrhundert galt das Bildungssystem im Königreich Preußen als das progressivste in Europa. Der Artikel zeigt, was Mann, Uschinski und andere von ihren Vergleichen lernen konnten, was sie für nützlich für ihre Länder hielten oder besser abgelehnt werden sollte. Es geht vor allem um die Frage, ob und inwieweit nationale Bildungserfahrungen importierbar, exportierbar und austauschbar sind. Einige der instruktiven Befunde des Amerikaners Horace Mann und des Russen Konstantin Uschinski, aber auch ihre Missverständnisse sind sowohl historisch relevant als auch von großer Aktualität.

Challenges and Functions of Historical and Comparative Studies in Education

Higher education today, especially the branch of higher education devoted to teacher training, is challenged by the computerized information age. Schools of education are subject to manifold criticisms, including their very relevancy in a world where technologies have made possible access to learning in ways hardly imaginable even a generation ago. But criticisms of the pedagogical training of teachers are nothing new. From the late 18th century forward when normal schools were conceived first in Germany, detractors have seen teacher training as failed bridge between knowledge of subject matter and practical experience in schools. It is argued here that teachers should understand the development of their profession from a historical perspective in order to become internationally orientated and able to develop their own, and their students‘ humane, social and intercultural competencies. History of Education as part of teacher training is not fit for the future if it continues to deal only with the long-ago and sufficiently known historic developments and figures and refuses to take into account the intellectual developments and profound ideas of the countries from which one might learn to cooperate now and in the future. International educational discourses must consider their historic genesis. A mere pragmatic-practical consideration of the current status is too cursory and often misleading. The development of sound, democratic, and humanistic professional ethics begins with reflection on the contributions of those who have laid the groundwork for present theory and practice. We need, so to speak, a longer, deeper breath, in order not to follow an unreflected pragmatism, but to think beyond the moment, both historically and prospectively. The German pedagogue Friedrich A. Diesterweg (1790-1866) put it this way: Those who don’t know the history of their subject, will never understand the coherence of the whole issue, the moving power beyond the impact of the current moment (Diesterweg, 1958, 205). And we should keep in mind the words of the American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) who famously noted that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“ (Santayana, 1905, 284).

Scarcely anything in the human communication gets by without a comparison. Comparative educational studies are part of teacher training as well and of special importance in contexts of the globalization. In this respect the different positions of the classics in the field of comparative education are newly current, offering valuable historical insights against which to think about new theoretical and practical problems and challenges of the processes of Europeanization. In 19th century Europe there were those who desired to improve their own national education by importing the best elements of other education systems. To be named here is, of course, Marc-Antoine Jullien de Paris (1775-1848), one of the most quoted French founders of Comparative Education (Jullien von Paris, 1954; see also Gautherine, 1993).

We want to say, however, a bit more about two other figures whose works are of special relevance in the above mentioned sense. At this point we refer the reader also to the fact that our article is simultaneously published in an anthology edited by Kucha & Cudak (2013, 9-38)1 . In particular we want to say more about comparative studies of the American founder of the “Common School”, Horace Mann (1796-1859), and of the “Father of the Russian and Ukrainian2 pedagogy and public school”, Konstantin D. Ushinsky (1824-1870).3

Comparisons of foreign education systems, theories and practices did have and do have different functions, or intentions; it was and remains about a search for new and different directions: 1.) the search for the particular and the unique in other education systems (the ideographic-theoretical function) in relationship to the societal and cultural environment; 2.) the search for the universal; the comparison takes the role which has the experiment in the natural sciences (the experimental-theoretic function); 3.) the search for the general international trends, which become a guideline for the own educational reform (the evolutionist-practical function); 4.) the search for the better model; you want to constructively learn and use positive foreign experiences for the improvement of your own system (the melioristic-practical function) (Hörner, 1993, 6-11; 1997, 71).

In the early years of the 19th century the education system in the German Kingdom of Prussia was considered the most progressive in Europe and thus in the world. Certain German educational thinkers enjoyed especially favorable reputations in the developed world. No wonder that several leading foreign figures in the field of education, but also writers and others took a great interest in the Prussian educational theory and practice, among them e.g. Horace Mann, Calvin Ellis Stowe, Edward Everett and others from the United States and Konstantin D. Ushinsky and Leo N. Tolstoy from Russia. There were many seekers in search of new pedagogical insights who travelled to Prussia for that purpose. Here we have chosen to focus on two such visitors to Europe: Mann and Ushinsky, in order to develop the different educational perspectives of these two intriguing representatives of their own national education and of the comparative studies in the 19th century. Horace Mann and Konstantin Ushinsky were searching for the particular, for the trends, for the universal but (first of all) for the better model by visiting several European countries and by studying the according literature, in order to get inspirations for the reform activities in their own countries. They visited Europe independently from each other, at different times and with very different durations of their stays; Mann visited England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany in 1843 for a period of about six weeks. Ushinsky’s visit was from 1862 to 1867 in Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium and Italy. They didn’t know each other personally. While Horace Mann could not know the works of Ushinsky, the latter, however, knew some works of Mann and his activities in the field of education. In 1858 Ushinsky published two comprehensive essays on “School reforms in North America” and on “The inner composition of North American schools” (Ушинский / Ushinsky, 1948, 167-203 & 204-232) . For lack of space here we are not able to include these works into our observations, although they are worthy of newly-discovered, especially by students of Russian-American comparative studies of education. At this point, however, we want to indicate at least Ushinsky’s reference to Horace Mann and other important figures of the Common School movement in America (ibid., 180). It seems to be meaningful – in the sense of Diesterweg und Santayana – to find out, what they could learn from their comparisons and what they thought to be useful for their countries or might well be rejected. Some of their findings, instructive impulses but also their misconceptions are not only historically relevant but of most currency.

The special case of the German (Prussian) education and its relevance for the work of Horace Mann and Konstantin Ushinsky

Education in the 19th century Prussia: Facts and developments

What was the situation of education in Prussia4 when Horace Mann, Konstantin Ushinsky and other travelers visited the country? At the end of the 18th century, Prussia was one of the first countries in the world to try to introduce a generally compulsory primary education, comprising an eight-year course of primary education, the so called Volksschule. It provided not only the skills needed in an early industrialized world (reading, writing and a little arithmetic), but also an education in ethics, duty, discipline and obedience. Though several Prussian ministers, particularly Freiherr von Zedlitz, sought to replace local control over schooling with a centralized, uniform system administered by the state during the eighteenth century, not until the implementation of the Prussian General Land Law of 1794 did the state first attempts to take over responsibility for all educational institutions. But the implementation of these ideas was difficult and till the end of the 18th century not carried out, so that these measures were mere paper reforms. The real beginnings of modern public education in Prussia must be placed in the nineteenth century (Good & Teller, 1970, 348f.).

This century began for Prussia with the defeat in the battle of Jena and Auerstedt in October, 1806, where Napoleon’s army annihilated Prussia’s military forces. Nine month after the defeat, France imposed the severe peace of Tilsit on the humiliated Prussians. The country lost vast territories and was enforced to support the further occupations of Napoleon with soldiers. The defeat and the drastic peace treaty aroused on one side the patriotism in the country and on the other side political and social reforms in Prussia, the so called reforms of Stein and Hardenberg. These reforms had to include educational reforms as well and of this the leaders were well aware. The reorganization of the central educational administration and the founding of the University of Berlin testify to Prussian concern for education. The former “Oberschulkollegium” was abolished and a new institution was set up in 1808 as a division of the Ministry of the Interior.

The first chief of the division was Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). With others, Humboldt founded the University of Berlin (today Humboldt-University), he secured for Prussian students the right to study at non-Prussian universities, introduced a state examination for all prospective secondary school teachers, and reformed the gymnasium on a more thoroughly humanistic plan, with domination of the old languages Greece and Latin. One principle he stated (and which is still existent in the German educational system) was the strict division of general education and vocational training. But the greatest changes in education occurred in the elementary schools. The idea of compulsory primary education, with an eight-year course of primary education, was realized step by step during the 19th century.

In 1816 visited about two millions of children (about 50 per cent of children in the age from the 6th to the 14th living year) 20.345 elementary schools and were taught by 21.766 teachers. In the year 1846 this were 2, 43 millions of children (about 78 per cent of children in the age from the 6th to the 14th living year) in 24.044 schools, taught by 27.770 teachers (Herrmann, 1993, 256). The results of this endeavor are rather impressive, especially for the Middle and Western Provinces of Prussia, while the Eastern Provinces were still underdeveloped (see table 1).

Table 1: School attendance in Prussia 1840
(in percent of all children in the age from the 6
th to the 14th living year)

District (Regierungsbezirk) Per cent
Merseburg 93,06
Magdeburg 91,90
Erfurt 90,03
Koblenz 89,85
Potsdam 88,77
[…] […]
Posen 67,52
Danzig 67,49
Marienwerder 65,69
Bromberg 56,01

Source: Hoffmann, 1843, 155–161, elaborated by Wolfgang Mayrhofer

The fast development of the Elementary Education during the 19th century is shown in table 2.

Table 2: Progress of Elementary Education as shown by the Decrease in Illiteracy in Prussia, by Provinces

Provinces 1841
Per cent
Per cent
Per cent
Per cent
East Prussia 15,33 16,54 7,05 0,99
West Prussia 8,79 1,23
Brandenburg 2,47 0,96 0,32 0,06
Pomerania 1,23 1,47 0,43 0,12
Posen 41,00 16,90 0,97 0,98
Silesia 9,22 3,78 2,33 0,43
Saxony 1,19 0,49 0,28 0,09
Westphalia 2,14 1,03 0,60 0,02
Rhenish Prussia 7,06 1,13 0,23 0,05
The State 9,30 5,52 2,38 0,33

Source: Cubberley, 1920, 583.

It is difficult to estimate if the figures in the table are correct. But they show a tendency: in Prussia it was a prominent aim of the state to eradicate illiteracy and it could be nearly realized till the end of the century. One of the reasons for this was the development of the training of Elementary Teachers, because without the adequate number of well-trained teachers it was impossible to fulfill these aims.

Since the beginning of the 19th century more and more Teachers’ Seminaries (Volksschullehrerseminare) were established, to increase the quality of teaching. There existed in 1811 15 seminaries (Sandfuchs, 2004, 16), and in 1840 45 seminaries in Prussia (Reble, 1995, 249), and alone in the Prussian Province Saxony in 1839 eleven seminaries with altogether 402 participants (Mayrhofer, 1995, 171). In 1826 a final examination for the seminaries and a second examination after three years teaching were introduced (Sandfuchs, 2004, 17).

This, from the educational point of view, progressive development continued till the 1840th and was one reason, because the educational system in Prussia was much admired by diverse foreign visitors, for example Victor Cousin of France and Horace Mann of the United States. But the political situation had changed by the time Konstantin Ushinsky visited Prussia, and he wasn’t nearly as euphoric as Mann and other American visitors some years before.

Many teachers were active organizers and participants of the revolutionary events of 1848/49 in Prussia and other states in Germany and Europe. After the revolution failed, it was upon the elementary schools (Volksschulen) and the Teachers’ Seminaries that the most severe official displeasure now fell. “Over-education” was regarded as the main reason for the revolutionary activities. So, for example, the Teachers’ Seminary at Breslau was closed, and the head of the Seminary at Berlin, Diesterweg, was dismissed because of his progressive demands. He campaigned for improved teacher training of the elementary school teachers and for higher salaries, and he organized educational associations, directed conferences, delivered speeches and conducted institutes. He fought against clerical administration of schools and opposed the teaching of sectarian religion (Good & Teller, 1970, 353).

Bitter reproaches were heaped upon the elementary-school teachers, and the new King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV. (1840–1861), considered their work as the very root of what he considered to be the politically disastrous situation of the State (Cubberley, 1920, 582). To a conference of Seminary teachers, held in 1849 in Berlin, he said:

“You and you alone are to blame for all the misery which the last year has brought upon Prussia! The irreligious pseudo-education of the masses is to be blamed for it, which you have been spreading under the name of true wisdom, and by which you have eradicated religious belief and loyalty from the hearts of my subjects and alienated their affections from my person. This sham education, strutting about like a peacock, has always been odious to me. I hated it already from the bottom of my soul before I came to the throne, and, since my accession, I have done everything I could to suppress it. I mean to proceed on this path, without taking heed of any one, and, indeed, no power on earth shall divert me from it.” (quoted in Cubberley, 1920, 583)

In 1854 the so called “Prussian Regulations” were issued which put the course of instruction for elementary schools back to the level of the 18th century. The one-class rural elementary school became the standard. Everything beyond reading, writing, little arithmetic, and religious instruction in strict accordance with the creeds of the Church, was considered as not necessary and therefore not allowed. The elimination of illiteracy, the creation of obedient citizens, and the nationalizing of education became the aim of these schools.

The training in teachers’ seminaries was reduced to the lowest necessities, and those entrusted with leadership in the seminaries were given clearly to understand that they were to train common elementary teachers, and not to prepare educated men. Such subjects as theory of education, didactics and psychology were eliminated. A return was made to the subject-matter theory of education, and a limited subject-matter at that, and it once more became the business of the teacher to see that this was carefully learned. Religious instruction was of first importance in the training (ibid., 583f.).

After about 1860, largely in response to modern scientific and industrial forces among a people turning from agriculture toward industrialism, a slight relaxation of the reactionary legislation began to be evident. This expressed itself chiefly in a diminution of the time given to “memoriter” work in religion, and the introduction in its place of work in German history and geography, with some work in natural science. In the Teachers’ Seminaries instruction in German literature, formerly rigidly excluded, was now added. It was not, however, until after the unification of Germany, following the Franco-Prussian War, and the creation of Imperial Germany under the directive guidance of Bismarck (1870/71), that any real change took place. Then the changes were due to new political, religious, social, industrial, and economic forces which belong to the later period of German history. In 1872 a new law gave to the Prussian elementary schools a new course of study that reasserted the authority of the State in education, extended the control of the public authorities, and made the State instead of the Church the authority even for religious instruction. The schools were now to be used to build up and strengthen the nation, but particularly to support the new Prussian idea as to the work and function of the State. Natural sciences and modern languages (Realien) were given a new prominence, because of new industrial needs, and instruction in religion was revamped. The old memoriter work was greatly reduced, and in its place an emotional and political emphasis was given to the religious instruction (Scheibe, 1974, 155f.).

The secondary schools also were redirected. A new emphasis on scientific subjects and modern languages replaced the earlier emphasis on Greek and Latin. In 1890 the Emperor interfered to force a reform of the gymnasial programs in order better to adapt them to modern needs (Mayrhofer, 1994, 38f.)

Horace Mann and Early 19th Century American Educational Reform

The primary education system of 17th century in Colonial New England was well established and nearly universally subscribed. The so-called ‘Old Deluder Satan’ Act of 1647 ( The Massachusetts Law of 1647) provided for basic education in reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion in all the towns of Massachusetts. Calvinist doctrine required each individual to seek his or her own salvation through a reading and understanding of the Scriptures. All formal education from primary to college was subjected to a religious motive. The intercessory function of priests to hear confessions and otherwise act as an intermediary between the individual and God was anathema to Protestant reformists in general, whether Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin. Therefore, it was axiomatic that literacy must prevail, and as a result the New England literacy rates of that era were probably the highest in the world. However, over time, Calvinist influence waned, and a growing secularism gained strength, particularly among Unitarians, Transcendentalists, and even Congregationalists. Thus the original reason for becoming literate held far less sway, and literacy rates dropped accordingly. By the time of the American Revolution (1775-1787) primary school attendance had dropped precipitously in New England. A new reason for acquiring basic literacy and numeracy was needed if schools were to exist. That new reason according to Horace Mann and others of his persuasion was democracy (Cremin, 1957).

As early as 1830 Charles Brooks had visited Prussia to learn more of the school system in that German province. Returning home via Liverpool to New York in the wake of his visit, he encountered Dr. H. Julius, an educator from Hamburg. Spending 41 days in the company of Julius aboard ship, Brooks later wrote, “I fell in love with the Prussian system.” Thus began the American love affair with Prussian schools (Albee, 1907). Brooks, who termed the Prussian system, “better than any of which we are acquainted,” wrote that “[T]he Prussian principle seems to be this: that everything which it is desirable to have in the national character should be carefully inculcated in elementary education. (…) Over and over again have the Prussians proved that elementary education cannot be fully attained without purposely-prepared teachers. Out of this fact has come the maxim, ‘as is the master, so is the school.’” He saw in the Prussian system three crucial elements that must of necessity be adopted if American public schools were to succeed: 1) that the state must recognize the national importance of education, 2) that “purposely prepared” teachers be produced by the normal schools, and 3) that the “State must commit the details to a Board of Education with a secretary who shall supervise and recommend” (ibid.).

Henry Barnard (1811-1900), who served as commissioner of public schools for the state of Rhode Island, and later as superintendent of common schools in Connecticut, visited Europe in 1835-1836 for the purpose of studying the various school systems found there. The book he wrote on the basis of his experience, National Education in Europe, was published in 1854 and represented the most thorough examination of European schools ever published for an American audience in the 19th century. Like Brooks before him and Mann afterword, he was deeply impressed by what he saw in the schools of the various German states. He writes:

“To Germany, as a whole, as one people, and not to any particular state of Germany, as now recognized on the map of Europe, belongs the credit of first thoroughly organizing a system of public education under the administration of the civil power. Here, too, education first assumed the form and name of a science, and the art of teaching and training children was first taught systematically in seminaries established for this special purpose.” (Barnard, 1854, 2)

But Barnard’s most effusive praise is reserved for the schools of Prussia. Citing an obscure work titled, “Social Conditions and Education of the People,” Barnard points to “the three great results which the Prussian government has labored to ensure by this system of education” (Barnard, 1854, 94). Those results included 1) the commitment of management of the parochial schools in different towns to the people under certain very simple restrictions, 2) to assist the school committees with advice from the most able inhabitants the county; 3) to gain the cordial cooperation of the ministers or religion.

In anticipation of the criticisms of government control these strictures might bring from American educators and the public, he writes “I know there are many in our land who say, ‘But why have any system at all?’” Barnard answers his own question by replying pragmatically that “So great have been the results of this system, that it is now a well-known fact, that, except in the cases of sickness, every child between the ages of six and ten in the whole of Prussia, is receiving instruction from highly educated teachers, under the surveillance of the parochial ministers.” And to further conclude his rhetorical argument he writes, “A proof of the satisfaction, with which the Prussian people regard the educational regulations, is the undeniable fact, that all the materials and machinery for instruction are being so constantly and so rapidly improved over the whole country, and by the people themselves“ (Barnard, 1854, 94f.). Thus he ties together such governmental controls as teacher qualifications, school inspections, and religious oversight to the idea of popular support.

Barnard, as Horace Mann (1844a) did after him, uses English schools as a foil against which to extoll the virtues of Prussian schools where all children were sent to school at no expense to parents. He takes considerable effort to point out the failures of the English system which relied at the time on charities and volunteerism and where many parishes had no schools at all for people of the poorer classes. “Nothing,” he writes, “can be more liberal, than the manner in which the Prussian towns have provided for their educational wants” (Barnard, 1854, 103). He notes that “the character of the instruction in all the German schools is suggestive: the teachers labor to teach the children to educate themselves” (ibid., 110). This he contrasts with English schools where “the teacher still contents himself with the old cramming system” (ibid.). His conclusion is that Prussian schools teach “reasoning powers” while likening the English schools to places that “impart facts to a fool, [which] is like intrusting (sic) fire to a madman” (ibid.).

Horace Mann (1796-1859) knew Henry Barnard rather well and was certainly influenced by his insights to European education including their shared disdain for England’s schools where compulsory attendance was not required. Mann was a lawyer by training who served from 1827-1837 in the Massachusetts legislature where he made a name for himself through his advocacy of the need for state mental hospitals. It was during this time that he was approached by James G. Carter (1795-1849), Massachusetts House Chairman of the Committee on Education to consider the position of Secretary to the newly created Board of Education, a post that, according to his supporters, among them Charles Brooks, ought to have been Carter’s own given the leadership he had shown in establishing the first state board of education in America (Albee, 1907). The significance of Carter’s work is found in, among other things, the precedent-setting moves of government funding and thus of control of schools and the founding, with Charles Brooks and others, of the first normal school at Framington, Massachusetts (Mann, 1846, cited in Cubberley, 1920).

Readily accepting the post of Secretary, Mann, in the midst of his political career, famously proclaimed: “My law books are for sale….” Answering a call to advance the cause of public education, he served for twelve years (1837-1849) as Secretary to the Board of Education for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was during the course of his tenure that he visited Europe for six weeks in 1843 for the purposes of examining schools and taking a year’s leave of absence to rest and celebrate his marriage to Elizabeth Peabody, the sister of the author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s wife. This seemed a perfect time for Mann, upon whom history has bestowed the title of “Father of the Common School Movement,” and who was exhausted from his labors which included among other things editorship of The Common School Journal, turning that post over to the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. He visited schools in England and Scotland, as well as schools in Belgium, Holland, and Germany (Martin, 1915). There was nothing particularly unusual about Mann’s desire to visit and learn from European schools and educators. A number of educators had done just that in the 1830s, most notably Henry Barnard of Rhode Island and Connecticut, and Calvin Ellis Stowe of Ohio, both of whom brought back reports of what might be learned from these older nations, Prussia in particular (Stowe, 1837). Persuasive as Barnard was about the need for compulsory tax supported schools in Connecticut where he served as Secretary of Education and was instrumental in the passage of an 1838 law which made this official, in 1842 the state legislature, with the concurrence of the governor, repealed not only the law but dissolved the Board as well using the rationale that the law was a “dangerous innovation.” Lamenting this outcome in the American Journal of Education, Horace Mann (1846a, 719) wrote “[I]n an evil hour the whole fabric was overthrown. The Educational Board was abolished. Of course, the office of its devoted and faithful Secretary fell with it.”

Following his own visit to Europe and writing in The Common School Journal, Mann concluded that “the most interesting portions of the world in regard to education are the Protestant states of Germany. It was Luther’s reformation which gave being and birth to their systems of public schools” (1844a, 10). His enthusiasm for Prussian teaching methods and school system organization seemed boundless.

Although Mann was indeed deeply impressed with the public schools he visited while in Prussia, he acknowledged that “those who detract from the prerogatives of education as the means of conferring talent, power, wealth, the arts, [and] prosperity upon a people” (ibid.) had a point, especially when they claimed that Prussia was inferior to England in the useful arts and to France in the exact sciences. But it was Mann’s considered opinion that this conclusion was held on a misunderstanding of Prussian history. Mann’s claim was that under Frederic William III and his advisors von Stein and Hardenberg, Prussia became “a new creation” as serfdom was eliminated and “men were elevated into owners of the soil they tilled, and made, comparatively, freemen.” He gave great credit to the state-controlled system of schools for Prussia’s advances (Mann , 1844a, 11).

With much rhetorical energy Mann concluded on the basis of his visits to Prussian schools that the work of education was “rising more rapidly in the scale of civilization than any other of the nations in Christendom” (ibid.). He claimed that the “better methods” and greater efficiency of teaching school subjects such as arithmetic and reading found in Prussian schools were valid reasons for public schools in the USA to emulate the system of education found in that Germanic province.

Mann’s Seventh Annual Report is filled with praise for what he saw in Prussia (Mann, 1844a). Not everyone embraced his enthusiastic desire to put Prussian methods into practice. His answer to critics who accused Prussian schools of teaching passive obedience to government or blind adherence to the articles of a church, was that American schools can surely use the same methods for “the support and perpetuation of republican institutions.”

Mann was stung by a 143 page “pamphlet” (as he termed it) written by thirty-one Boston school masters who took umbrage at what they perceived to be his denigration of the state of education in Massachusetts and “the general unsoundness and debility of the Common School System of Massachusetts” (Association of Masters of the Boston Public Schools, 1844, 15). They questioned not only his “superficial” knowledge of Prussian schools (his time spent there was admittedly brief) and his expansive claims of their effectiveness, but in fact his knowledge of the Boston schools and those throughout the state. Their claim was that Mann, in order to advance his cause, had created a canard in which the typical Prussian school teacher might be likened to Melanchthon himself while portraying the typical Massachusetts teacher as something like Washington Irving’s caricature, Ichabod Crane. The Boston school masters in turn compared Mann’s view of the state of education in Massachusetts to the writings of “Madame Trollope” whose dim view of things American was widely known (ibid.).

Among other criticisms leveled by the Boston school masters was Mann’s advocacy of normal schools. It was the school masters’ point of view that the “normalites,” as they called graduates of the normal schools, were equipped with shallow methods and unproven theories as opposed to masters who had gained their expertise through their knowledge of subject matter and practical experience. They claimed that Mann and his followers had created “a spirit of distrust in teachers” as backcloth to his demand that normal schools were needed to upgrade the level of instruction in Massachusetts. This debate continues to the present day and is certainly not confined to this single period of American pedagogical history (ibid.).

Mann took the time to write and have published a rebuttal in which he attempted to refute the claims of the school masters. It is obvious to the reader of his “reply” that he was caught off guard by the attack, which one might imagine strengthened the school masters’ claim that he was not in touch with the day-to-day work of Massachusetts schools. He denied in particular that he had denigrated Massachusetts teachers, using them as a foil against which to contrast the superior methods employed in Prussian schools (Mann, 1844b).

In spite of this furor, Mann, a gifted orator and writer, seemed to have the upper hand. Among the many functions of Prussian schools that particularly impressed Mann were two: 1) age-graded classrooms and 2) a new teacher(s) each year. Both of these were novelties as far as American public school organization was concerned. The two innovations ultimately carried the day. These 19th century ideas are today dominant practice in American schools, public and private. So dominant are they, in fact, that no one has come up with a sustaining alternative even though attempts have been made, including multi-age grading, continuous progress, and the practice of “looping” in which a teacher stays with an elementary class of students for a two-year period. Similarly, the practice of specialized teacher training as pioneered by the normal schools, is currently, in spite of its detractors, found in schools and colleges of education in universities today.

Mann was obviously more interested in administrative matters and organizational structures than in pedagogics. In fact, he had almost no scholarly or experiential background in that area (Association of Masters of the Boston Public Schools, 1844). He had been trained as a lawyer but left that pursuit as well as his political career for the “bully pulpit” opportunity he saw in the position of Secretary of Education in Massachusetts. He completed his life’s work as a member of the U. S. Congress and as President of Antioch University in Ohio. As President of Antioch, he instituted and taught a course on methods in education (Ellis, Cogan & Howey, 1991).

Mann’s legacy becomes clear to the reader of his twelve Annual Reports to the Massachusetts Board of Education. He fought tirelessly for public support of universal common school education (Cremin, 1957), leading to the passage ultimately of the first State law requiring compulsory school attendance in 1852. The English, whose school system Mann (1844a) disdained, had no such compulsory attendance laws, and the influence in this regard clearly came from what Mann and others saw and liked in Prussia.

Mann advanced the pragmatic argument, particularly in his Fifth Annual Report (1841), that economic wealth and opportunity would naturally increase as a result of universal public education. Thus was his appeal to businesses that it is in their self-interest to pay taxes for public schools because more productive workers would emerge from the system. In his book, The Legacies of Literacy, Harvey Graff (1991, 75) offers a note of caution to such optimism when he writes that “It appears unlikely that the common school served as a vehicle for occupational mobility…. [I]t did not alter patterns of economic inequality, but, rather, tended to perpetuate them.“ Reading between the lines, one could conclude that while this statement is true, the “training” children receive in school did and does equip them to be compliant and industrious, thus serving business needs. Graff (1991, 352) writes further that, “(…) [I]n part, public education gained assent because of its close relationship to the dominant ideology of democratic capitalism in nineteenth-century North America”.

Mann argued persuasively for proper buildings and equipment, for the formal training of teachers, for state certification, for non-sectarian teaching and curricula, and for the use of the more-child centered methods found in the educational theories of Johann Pestalozzi, Friedrich Fröbel, and Johann Herbart, Swiss and German educators whose ideas were instrumental in the shaping of what was to become the Progressive Movement in American education and the movement away from what John Dewey called the “traditional” approach to teaching and learning.

Without question, Mann deserves a place in the pantheon of American education. His embrace and influential endorsement of what might be called the Prussian model, changed American education from a localized, haphazard system in which the favored few received formal instruction to one in which all children were not merely allowed, but were required, to attend school. Even today, critics argue that compulsory attendance in state schools represents a usurpation of the authority of the home and a means by which the state can shape young minds towards questionable ends. But a most telling fact is that Mann’s arguments, now nearly two centuries old, have in large measure carried the day.

The appraisal of the educational and cultural situation in Germany and other European countries by Konstantin D. Ushinsky5

The life and work of Konstantin Dmitrievic Ushinsky (1823/4–1870), one the most important figures in Russian historic and current pedagogy is, of course, well known in Russia but also in most of Eastern European (first of all in Slavonic speaking) countries. Regarding the Western world the situation is different. Even a few older and some recent publications (Boguslavsky, 2011; Cipro, 2001, Golz, 1993, 2003; Hans, 1962;) cannot hide the fact that Ushinsky’s scientific legacy is still virtually unknown. In contrast, in Russia many editions of his works, starting with the „Collected Works“ in 11 volumes (Ushinsky, 1948) until the different new editions in the 21 century as well as countless books and articles, which must here go unmentioned, are proof of an unbroken tradition of respect for and in recent times a growing interest in the “father of Russian pedagogy and public education” (see also Golz, 1993, 2003, 2008; Günther, 1976).

His work contains not only insights which are still relevant today, but also more problematic aspects, especially in the field of historically comparative education. The latter refers primarily to the relationship between Russian education and the education of the progressive European countries of the time. In 1857 Ushinsky defined “the general historical foundations of European education” (Ушинский /Ushinsky, 1948 , 71) . He is concerned with creating an awareness of the character of a “folk” (people) in contrast to that of other peoples, that has been inherited and should be preserved. The specific character that is specific to each people draws on all the aspects that form the historical life of a people: religion, the natural environment, family life, traditions, poetry, laws, industry, literature etc., but in particular on the public education system.

According to Ushinsky the European education systems share superficial characteristics, not only in the choice of school subjects studied, but also in their organization and didactic methods etc. Despite these similarities, however, each people has its own educational aims and methods which stem from its own national identity and individuality (Ушинский /Ushinsky, 1960, 60). In other words: Russia cannot and should not copy foreign methods. It needs neither their diseases nor their medicine. It is education which forms the character of a people, not an appropriated system (Kegler, 1991). Some of Russia’s leading educationalists expressed opinions in this vein: “The unchecked gushing in praise of everything which has come from other countries […] does not educate our young people to be patriots. But at the moment patriotism seems to be gradually reassuming its proper place” (Nikandrov, 2000a, 41). In doing so both Ushinsky and contemporary Russian educationalists question the vision proposed by the actual founder of comparative educational studies, the French educationalist M.-A. Jullien de Paris and the founder of comparative educational studies in Germany, Friedrich Schneider (1881–1974).6

Ushinsky did his search from a somewhat fixed position as can be seen in his special investigation into German academia and the German people’s character. A typical feature of the German character, according to Ushinsky’s observations, is a tendency to abstraction, systematization and definition. Every matter begins and ends with a philosophical reflection. The German’s task is to ensure that no object on this earth escapes being classified in some category of his system. This underlying feature of the German character has thus influenced the public education system in Germany. Despite the fact that the majority of German educationalists were convinced that they were studying the education of humankind in general, regardless of nationality, German educational studies were in fact a purely German phenomenon. German educational textbooks are, in fact, about the ideal of a modern German (Ушинский /Ushinsky, 1948, 76).

Ushinsky was often critical of his German educationalist contemporaries. One exception is Karl Schmidt (1819–1864), a German teacher, executive of educational institutions and writer. Schmidt’s anthropologically naturalistic philosophy regarding developments in the world history of educational thinking and practice as well as its connection to the cultural life were clearly important influences on Ushinsky’s anthropologically educational work (Golz, 1993, 105f.).

Some of the works of Schmidt on anthropological foundation of pedagogy might have appeared to Ushinsky virtually as a revelation. Finally there were problems reconsidered which were obviously of special interest in Russia in the 1860’s and in the following years. In 1860 Ushinsky published the work „The grammar-school pedagogy of Karl Schmidt” and referred particularly to Schmidt’s book “Gymnasial-Pädagogik …” (1857). With this publication Ushinsky hoped, to have established a basis for a reform of the Russian school. Similar to Schmidt he wrote about: the idea of the school in general and of the grammar school (Gymnasium) in particular; the students in physiological and psychological respects; the instruction as a means of the development of the emotions, the mind and the volition; the method of instruction in all subjects of the grammar school courses. Therewith Ushinsky wanted to contribute to the Russian discussion about a reform of the grammar school (Gymnasium) by its division into a „classical“ and a „realistic“ type of school, just as it was suggested by Schmidt. In Russia there weren’t any publications dealing with the problem in an appropriate way.

The positions of Schmidt were also a considerable basis for Ushinsky’s own educational-anthropological theory and practice . Perhaps the best example of this is the unfortunately not completed main work “Man as the Subject of Education. Pedagogical Anthropology” (first published in 1868) (Ушинский /Ushinsky, 1948) . Ushinsky points out in his foreword, that the educator must aspire to know the human being with all its weaknesses and with all its dignity, with all its everyday inane needs and with all its great spiritual demands. The educator must be able to draw the means of educational influences from the respective human nature, and those means are boundless (ibid., 35). Despite all appreciation and partly critically constructive acceptance of positions of German and other European pedagogues ‒ Ushinsky keeps his Russian-national attitudes and interpretations. Also his positive appraisal of Karl Schmidt’s work and of parts of the works of other German pedagogues could not prevent him from a rather critical or at least reserved observation of the pedagogy and spiritual life in Germany. He treats some well-known German pedagogues, psychologists and other thinkers, like e.g. Fröbel, Diesterweg, Beneke, Herbart (Zajakin, 2004) and others never as a mere follower but always with a profound but fair reviewer of their work. This position is also to be observed in his rather critical and sometimes ironic attitude towards the then much-admired German institutions of higher education and their societal environment.

Ushinsky initially admires German universities. They epitomize for him the true ideal of general human knowledge – for within their walls every new insight is examined openly and from all perspectives; is developed systematically as far as it will go and thus gains acceptance within the system of general human knowledge (Günther, 1975, 30). Ushinsky then, however, points out the unusual contrast between the scholarly universal and the “penny” interests of the masses which threaten to dominate all human thought. He had indeed earlier observed that families and citizens were not well-informed about the work of German scholars “who were quite plain in their appearance and were happy to drink a beer with their neighbors or talk about the price of potatoes with Lottie (…)” (ibid., 31). However, by the 1860s trade and industry had developed at such great speed that Ushinsky describes the “dull” reverse side of this “coin”: the bad influence of industrialization on morality. On a trip through Germany in the 1860s he wonders where the famous German honesty and conscientiousness have gone. They calculate the prices too high and cheat when weighing out goods etc., exactly as they would do in a Moscow shopping arcade. The difference being that when caught cheating the German retains his unflappable expression of superior dignity and unblemished honesty, whereas when accused the Muscovite will puff himself up, scratch his head and be patently confused. Ushinsky is amazed at the Germans’ feverish striving for profit, at the ubiquitous conversations about guineas, crowns, shillings and sixpences. No one is interested in hearing about last night’s opera or operetta, about a recently published work of literature or about a new scientific discovery – except the specialists, that is (ibid., 32).

Other Europeans are clearly more akin to Ushinsky in their mentality than the Germans. He enthuses about the national cheerfulness of the French at their traditional festivities. They show genuine pleasure at the theatre whereas all German festivities are terribly dull and influenced by “penny” interests. It has become clear that Ushinsky is no stranger to satire. Here is a further example: “A Frenchman is never an expert, but a German is an expert by nature. If he is a scholar then he is a thorough scholar; if he is a proprietor then he is a thorough, particular proprietor who should have no other business; and finally if he is ignorant then he is thoroughly ignorant (…)“ (ibid., 88).

In contrast to German public education English public education is less concerned with comprehensive and systematized knowledge and more with developing character, habits, ways of thinking and manners. When a young English gentleman reads the classics it is not as the object of historical research or philosophical analysis which would be the German approach. Above all the Englishman strives for transparency of language, clarity and accuracy of expression – of which the classics provide excellent examples – and which have had such a powerful influence on the logical nature of English speech. At the center of an English education is the characteristic, the habit, of disciplining oneself which is a marked feature of any real gentleman (Ушинский /Ushinsky, 1948, 86). Ushinsky comments on an idea of John Locke’s that boys should be treated as adults from as early an age as possible so that they will become adults earlier. This cold common-sense is a typical feature of the English and is a tenet of the English education system. A foreigner observes “with some disquiet those small ten-year-old gentlemen (…) who maintain their dignity at all times and in all places” (ibid., 88). Perhaps the English education system has not deliberately created adolescent philosophers and systematic scholars but it is just their premature reserve that makes such an unchild-like impression: “These small, reserved gentlemen who know how to behave themselves so well, which goes against the grain of the warm-hearted Slavs.” It should not be forgotten that “childhood is a phase in life too, and often the best one” (ibid). Here we see the premise: the nature of education is reflected in the nature of the people (ibid., 89).

Ushinsky claims that a people’s sense of their “folk” character is so strong that it will be the last feature to go after everything sacred and noble in a nation has declined. In this context he touches on the problem of migration. “There are people who hate their homeland, yet how much love is sometimes hidden behind that hate! (…) You can forget the name of your homeland and yet still carry its character around inside you (…)” It is therefore not surprising “when an education that has been created by the people on a national basis is more effective than even the best education systems which are based on abstract ideas or borrowed from other peoples” (Uschinski, 1963, 66).

Public education can only be successful to the extent to which literature and public opinion provide a forum for it and questions of education become public issues which everyone understands and which are as relevant to everyone as family matters (ibid., 69). This sounds almost contemporary. Ushinsky calls for more educational literature, more educational societies, more frequent assessments of educational results, trips of an educational nature, a lively exchange between chalk-face teachers and finally “the heart-felt involvement of society itself in the public education system” (ibid., 70). These views are clearly ahead of their time, although public education at that time by no means meant the education of an entire nation. In a contemporary perspective we might say that he anticipated certain aspects of socialization theory when he referred to the natural environment, family life, cultural and religious traditions, poetry, laws, industry, literature etc., “all the things that form the historical life of a people are our real education. Compared to this the influence of educational institutions are inconsequential, especially when they are built on artificial elements.” (Ушинский /Ushinsky, 1948, 148). On the other hand there is also a strong emphasis on the idea of the Russian nation when he categorically rejects an education system built on foreign elements because it “would have significantly less effect on the development of character than a system that has been created by the people of the nation concerned themselves” (ibid., 165; see also Uschinski, 1963, 70).

Ushinsky’s ideas play an important role in current Russian pedagogy on issues such as national revival, national rebirth and ethnic self-education (ethno-pedagogy). This form of education aims to create patriots, sons of the nation with a highly-developed sense of national pride and human dignity. In this context we can see a pronounced return to Slavonic and in particular Russian educationalists of the past. This was clearly a phenomenon of the current Russian zeitgeist of the last years (see Nikandrov, 1997, 1999, 2000a; Volkov, 1999). For the leading Russian educationalist N. D. Nikandrov for example, “the aim of socialization and education now and in future” is “the Russian patriot who sets his priorities according to Russian national values – while respecting the values of other cultures” (Nikandrov, 2000b, 266). Nikandrov is convinced that a return to a national idea will provide the basis for the survival of Russia’s moral values. These are orthodoxy, patriotism and a sense of a shared “folk” identity (ibid., 263). Alongside these educational developments which place an emphasis on the national there are, however, other positions of a more relativist nature where it is feasible that the values of the world culture are learned together with those of the native culture, but always only when combined (Golz, 2001). The emphasis on national elements is an understandable and yet also problematic development. It is understandable in the context of a perceived loss of national and universal human dignity. Yet it can be problematic in the context of the potential danger that a national (patriotic) movement could become a nationalistic one and the desired tolerance within a nation between the different cultures could become the undesirable dominance of the majority culture and thus lead to conflict (Geršunskij, 2002, 472) .

Even Ushinsky wondered whether along with national virtues there are also national vices. “All along the line history has proved that our concepts of virtue and vice cannot be applied to entire nations” (Ушинский/Ushinsky, 1948, 165). In this regard it might be useful to consider the dialectic way Ushinsky deals with the relationship between universally valid (European) virtues and indispensable national specifics of education. He points out that – on the one hand – the educational experience of other peoples is a valuable legacy for all; however, on the other hand, only insofar the international historic experiences belong to all peoples. Every nation must try to use its own strengths. Therefore it is especially necessary to develop a strong interest of the respective society in an active public education. The only enduring basis for any possible improvement in the field of education is the awakening of the public opinion (ibid., 166). The rediscoveries and new editions of Ushinsky’s works will not only reflect his views on the “folk” character of education but also put his complete works up for discussion. There are many of his societal and social observations still to be discovered, and it is unsatisfying not being able to discuss some of them because of the limitations of a single chapter. Among them is Ushinsky’s intensive and enlightened analysis of the role of women in the European societies of the era, especially his critical appraisal of the situation of women in Germany (Ушинский/Ushinsky, 1948, 262-276). His insights could well lead to more balanced judgments in contemporary and historical contexts that do justice to Ushinsky’s work and the immense role it could play in the discussions on „European integration through education“ (Kucha, Ed., 2004).

Conclusion: The contribution of Horace Mann and Konstantin Ushinsky to the comparative studies of German and European education

Let us begin our conclusion with the words of Horace Mann who wrote: “Arrange the most highly civilized and conspicuous nations of Europe in their due order of precedence, as it regards the education of their people, and the kingdoms of Prussia and Saxony (…) with several of the western and south-western states of the German nation would undoubtedly stand preeminent, both in regard to the quantity and quality of instruction” (Mann, 1843, 38).

Konstantin Ushinsky in contrast was of the mind, that “there is no educational system that would be common to all nations. Every nation has its own specific education system. Experiences of other nations in the sphere of education are a valuable legacy to all, but not even the best examples can be accepted without being first tried by every nation with the exertion of its own efforts in this sphere” (Cipro, 1994; 2001).

What can we learn from the 19th Century visits to Western Europe of Horace Mann, who wrote enthusiastically about Prussian education and Konstantin Ushinsky, who expressed reservations about an uncritical superficial adoption of other nations‘ educational systems? After all, this was long ago, prior to the rise of modern and post-modern ideas about education. Both men were products of their time and place, and they were limited in that regard just as we are today. But each had a vision of what might be. In Mann’s case, the dream was of state-controlled public schools for all boys and girls, rich and poor alike. For Ushinsky, the goal was of a progressive system of education rooted in the best values and virtues of Russian culture based on an “intuition of national origins.“

Horace Mann (1796-1859) died the very year of John Dewey’s birth, and at a time of the beginnings of the industrial state. The America that Mann knew was largely Protestant, agrarian and a country that had only recently begun to accept large waves of immigrants from European countries other than those of Anglo-Saxon origin. In fact, America was still in a process of inventing itself, attempting to shed its English colonial status. Mann was a New Englander whose influence was hardly felt or even known in the slave-holding South, so when we speak of Horace Mann and the Common School Movement in America, we refer to the Northern states. The state of education in the slave-holding states of the American south was quite another matter. Konstantin Ushinsky (1823?-1871) grew up in a time of severe autocratic rule in Russia. It was not until 1855, when he was twenty-two years of age that the political climate changed during the early years of the more progressive regime of Alexander II. During this brief seven-year time period, he was able to publish his enlightened views including the idea that both male and female deserved an education, that education should be based on sciences such as psychology and anthropology, and that education should be democratic in manner with progressive methods used to nurture the young. His close study of European education from 1862-67 came about basically at a time of exile in his life for falling out of favor with authorities who chose to send him abroad.

Horace Mann was a New Englander born nearly two centuries after the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was an inheritor of a tradition of free public primary education that dated to 1642. But the primary schools established by the Calvinist settlers and which insisted on literacy so that each person could read the Scriptures for himself had largely fallen by the wayside, and newer world views such as Unitarianism and Transcendentalism had taken hold among New England intellectuals, displacing to some considerable extent the Trinitarian influence promulgated by the founders. Public schools had fallen into disrepute, and private schools and tutorial teaching were the means by which more affluent families educated their children. It was in this societal milieu that Horace Mann accepted the position of Secretary to the Board of Education of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1837. He immediately began an active pursuit of his plan to establish state controlled primary schools with compulsory education for all children with democracy replacing salvation as motive. Mann was persuaded by certain enthusiasts who had visited Europe that the model he should establish in America already existed in Prussia.

Ushinsky, on the other hand, lived during a time when the rise of the industrial state in Europe, though much less so in Russia, was evident to behold. The effects of a transformation of societies from an agricultural to an industrial basis would be profound, raising serious questions about the purposes of schooling. It is obvious from his astute observations that he saw Prussian schools more as places of training than of education. He well understood that Russia had longstanding traditions and a deeply-rooted folk culture that should form the basis of schooling. Unlike Mann, who held to the idea that Prussian educational methodologies were to be eagerly adopted, Ushinsky was wary of such borrowing. It is the case that Ushinsky differed with Mann that teaching arithmetic and reading involves something more than methodology. If one can accept the analogy that school subjects are the bricks, then the cultural context in which they are taught is the mortar. In other words, borrowing piecemeal from another culture is fraught with imminent peril. It runs the risk of underestimating the normative cultural values that are the fabric of social and moral life and which are unique to each society.

To be sure, each of these men saw a different Prussia. Mann saw an educational system that had somehow emerged from its 18th Century shadows of tyranny to become the most progressive in the world. Most notable was the institution of the primary school, a compulsory, state-controlled eight year course of study that quickly achieved remarkable results in literacy levels. Using new methods which eschewed such traditional measures as corporal punishment and ridicule of children, and which embraced progressive methods of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, the Prussian system rapidly attracted attention. Ushinsky arrived in Prussia well after the 1849 reaction to “over-education“ which included closing of normal schools, elimination of progressive methods of teaching, dominance of religious instruction, and a return to one-class rural primary schools. Largely gone were the age-graded classes, the practice of a new teacher each year, and even compulsory attendance. Ushinsky had left Europe by the time Bismarck had reoriented state-controlled schools largely to serve industrial and military expansionist needs, but no doubt he saw this coming.

With reference to Hörner’s claim that comparative education serves four functions, the search for 1) the particular, 2) the universal, 3) international trends, and 4) the better model, it is clear that Mann (not to mention Edward Everett, Calvin Ellis Stowe and to some extent Henry Barnard, who also brought back from their European travels enthusiastic accounts of Prussian schools) considered many elements of Prussian education to exemplify “the better model“ the essence of which could and ought to be adopted by American schools. Ushinsky, in contradistinction, saw in Prussian education “the particular“ or unique elements few of which were compatible with Russian culture and traditions in spite of the fact that one always learns something of value from visiting foreign schools.

After his completing legal studies at Brown University, Mann worked variously as a tutor of Greek and Latin and as a librarian. From 1827 to 1837 he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and in the State Senate. He was both progressive and pragmatic in his views and an legislator/administrator at heart. To be sure he had a vision of what American education might be, and his twelve annual reports are by any measure classics of educational literature. His vision included free public school elementary education for all American children, not just the favored few. His pragmatic views led him to accept wholeheartedly the “efficiencies“ he saw in the Prussian idea of compulsory attendance, age-grade classes, subjects taught separately, teachers trained and certified, and a new teacher(s) each year. It is clear in retrospect he did not see that these efficiencies would have a profound effect on school life in ways that critics claim have led to training over education, and regimentation resulting in a sense of restraint and coercion over creativity and freedom and for young learners.

One notable difference in their perceptions of Prussian education was Mann’s enthusiastic, almost naive embrace of what he saw, while Ushinsky formed quite another impression, one of benign skepticism. Of course, they each saw a different Prussia in a different time. Furthermore, Mann’s 1843 visit to Europe was a matter of weeks while Ushinsky spent five years (1862-1867) in Europe. They each brought unique preconceived ideas of what their respective nations needed to learn. Perhaps Ushinsky had a different idea of global/comparative education’s purpose, that is, that an embrace of the exotic is not always necessary and should be approached with caution. Rather, his considered view was that one learns more about one’s culture and society by seeing how others go about organizing theirs. In that sense, comparative educational study is extremely useful. But to be fair, it is quite possible that Mann himself would not have been impressed with the Prussian education of the 1860s.

Ushinsky, also a lawyer by training, could be described as a scientist of education. His prodigious work was based on pedagogics and the rudiments of the nascent disciplines of anthropology and psychology. In fact, Ushinsky was quite impressed and influenced by Karl Schmidt’s ideas of anthropologically naturalistic philosophy with its connections to the cultural life of a people. While Mann’s vision of schooling was for the masses of children, Ushinky was a product of a more class-based society where such a possibility was remote. Therefore, Ushinsky’s views of educational propriety could be mistakenly considered elitist compared to Mann‘s who was an advocate of the rights of all, rich and poor, to a free public education. It is probable that Ushinsky would have agreed with this premise had he thought it possible. This represents a profound difference of goal structure since Mann saw the public school where children of all backgrounds studied together as a cradle of republican democracy, Ushinsky saw the school as a place of greater intellectual endeavor and achievement as well as the locus of enculturation into the history, literature, religion, and love of country and folkways of a person’s native land, in his case, Russia. In this respect he could be considered, as Nikolay Nikandrov and other Russian educationalists are today, an advocate of patriotism and love of country at the heart of a person’s education. Certainly, he had respect, as Nikandrov does for other systems of education and their achievements, but from this viewpoint, patriotism, no matter how much it is universally valued, is unique to each culture. Therefore, it cannot be separated from the social/moral fabric of life. Each culture has its own unique characteristics and attributes. Given this perspective, it is misleading to think that superficial borrowing of ideas and methods developed in one society could serve another in any appreciable depth.

The lessons learned by these two educational reformers continue to reverberate in their respective cultures. Many aspects of the Prussian model touted by Horace Mann are evident today in American schools, most particularly schools of education for teacher training, age-graded classes, new teachers for children each year, the separation of school subjects by discipline, state control and certification of teachers, and acceptance of standardized examinations for marks and promotion. Mann was convinced that the teaching methods found in Prussia, an autocratic state, were usefully adapted to American schools where republican democracy was the goal of education. This conclusion, that the American embrace of the Prussian model, remains controversial to this day.

In the case of Russia, the imprint is less dramatic. Without a doubt many of the more progressive methods based on psychology and anthropology owe much to Ushinsky’s astute observations of what he saw in European schools. This much was clear during the Soviet period. And as a result, Ushinsky did refine his thoughts about the anthropology of education and its potential to inform emotion, mind, and volition in teaching and learning. In this sense, we can fairly say that his ability to enhance the spirit and richness of Russian education was furthered by his knowledge of comparative education.

What would these two classics think of the educational systems of their respective countries today? To some extent this represents an untestable hypothesis. On the other hand, it could be a worthwhile discussion but only if it is informed by a knowledge of the history of our profession.


1 Kucha, R. & Cudak, S. (Eds.)  (2013): The old and new thinking about education. Łódź (Poland): Społecznej Wydawnictwo Akademii Nauk (Academy of Social Sciences Publishing).
[The authors thank the Polish editors for the permission to republish this article (with small formal, Internet-based changes) in the current issue of “International Dialogues on Education: Past and Present”.]

2 Ushinsky is the most important classic of Russian education. It is, however, also understandable when not only Ukrainian educationalists consider Ushinsky as of Ukranian heritage. He was born 1823 in Tula (Russia), died and was buried in Odessa (Ukraine) in1870. Different information in the literature about the dates of birth and death (1824-1871) are caused by different documents and even by some information derived from his family and himself but also by different Russian calendrical countings (old/new style). The most instructive and interesting research questions and information regarding the biography of Ushinsky are still to be found in the chapter “Different documents and materials about single periods of K.D. Ushinsky’s life“ in Volume 11 of the “Collected Works“, 238ff. [See also: Hans, N. (2012): The Russian Tradition of Education. New York: Routledge, 75; see also: Vykhrustsch, A. (2004): Pedagogical Ideas of Ukraine in the Context of the European Traditions. In: Kucha, R. (Ed.) : European Integration through Education. Lublin: Maria Curie-Sklodowska University Press, p. 493 f.]

3  Because of the different (Russian, German, English) sources used in this article, the name of the Russian (and Ukrainian) pedagogue is written in different ways and transcriptions, e.g. as Ушинский, Uschinski, Ushinsky, Ushynskyi, or Ušinskij. As this article is written in English we use the most common English version: Ushinsky . This form of the name is also used in the literature list, regardless of whether the relevant titles are translated into other languages such as German. At the end of such references is: (Russ.) – as an indication of the original language.

4  Prussia (German name: Preußen; Königreich Preußen): the largest and most influencial state in Germany, leading the North German Confederation from 1867 to 1871 (establishing of the German Empire); dissolved in 1947, divided between East and West Germany, Poland, and the former Soviet Union.

5  Some passages of this chapter on Ushinsky partly based upon earlier publications of the co-author R. Golz (1993, 2003, 2013).

6  Marc-Antoine Jullien de Paris (1775-1848), a child of the enlightenment, published his “Sketches and Preparatory Studies for a Work on Comparative Education” in 1817, in order to form the foundation for school reform using a comparative analysis of materials on the educational institutions of several European countries. His aim was to improve France’s education system by importing the best elements from other countries. Friedrich Schneider (1881–1974), the founder of comparative educational studies in Germany, emphasized the point – at first glance similar to Ushinsky – that a country’s education system is not a conglomerate of outside influences. On the other hand, however, according to Schneider, education is not something to be isolated nationally. To isolate the national from international developments and experiences will lead to an academic cul-de-sac , because: “No country and no people can in the long term exclude the influences of other peoples on their education system. By the same token they cannot stop their own educational ideas and ideals influencing the educational philosophy of other peoples“ (Schneider, 1947, 327).



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About the Authors

Prof. Dr. Arthur K. Ellis, Director, Center for Global Curriculum Studies at the Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, United States of America.  Contact:

Prof. em. Dr. Reinhard Golz, University of Magdeburg, Germany;  CEO, Translation Service;  International member of the Russian Academy of Education. Contact:

Dr. Wolfgang Mayrhofer, University of Magdeburg, Germany. Contact: