Notes on Nietzsche, F. (2009) [1910] On the Future of Our Educational Institutions. Trans Oscar Levy. Ebook, via Gutenberg

Dave Harris

Nietzsche begins by denying that he is there to produce any direct plan for the future of education, and he also says he's not going to pretend to be a prophet.  He's not talking about the specific institutions in Basle, but means mostly German institutions.  He warns that he is going to be controversial.  He expects the readers to read his work slowly and thoughtfully, to try and stand outside their normal cultural reactions, and to continue to think about what he has said [in other words, to pursue a writerly approach].  The main themes that he is going to address turn on two issues: first, should education be expanded to the maximum possible, or restricted to a few; second, should it be obliged to follow the main purposes of the state, or be allowed to be entirely independent. He suggests that one set of options is underpinned by nature while the other set can only produce a false culture. [I think we can probably guess where his own preferences are going to lie].

First lecture 16 January 1872

A rather chatty and  long winded introduction to an initial discussion of the main themes.  I have included the chatty bits in case they are parables, metaphors,aphorisms or something else. The discussion proceeds through Nietzsche recollecting an episode when he was a student and he had gathered with his friends had to pursue a particular project of generating artistic work and then having it criticized by friends.  Nietzsche and his friends had been at university for a year, but had so far resisted any notion that they might become interested in a career in the state bureaucracy.  Instead, they enjoyed dabbling in various cultural areas, and even prided themselves on not doing anything useful.  During one of their gatherings, which happened to be outdoors, they overheard a conversation between an elderly philosopher and his student. They abandoned their pastime of pistol shooting [!] and sat quietly out of sight. The theme of the conversation was the relation between mass education and culture, the purpose of education being to produce a few men [sic] of genuine culture.  This purpose was being combined with and diluted by the state's reason for expanding education which was to produce mere functionaries.  Academic culture had also been much restricted by the development of various kinds of specialism, so that scholars who were adepts in one specialism ['scholars'] found themselves no better than the ordinary man in any other field. Journalism has had a pernicious influence too. There is even a hint that should the masses become interested in education, they would only receive this specialized and utilitarian version and dismiss anything else as elitist. The old guy warned his students that pursuing the goal of being a man of culture would produce isolation and misunderstanding. This is one of the problems which confronts teachers and it is understandable that the young man has had second thoughts -- but teaching is important!

Second lecture 6 February 1872 [I have more detailed notes here because it makes all the arguments - -the others just repeat and embellish them]

The student says he has  withdrawn because the current state of education is so depressing. Why struggle on against so much anti-educational pressure, like that in journalism? The philosopher agrees and says most educated men know how awful it is, especially in the public schools,  even though they know it is important to submit to it. Pedagogy has been dominated by the excessively  'practical' people and their broad brush approaches, where what is needed is a combination of insight and practice. But we should cheer up because there are signs of change.

In the meantime, let us think what we might do with the teaching of German. This will be the key to developing artistic tastes generally. Teachers should rigorously expel sloppy habits and new unhelpful words ( with a list), many of them popularized by newspapers [a footnote says they are solecisms]. A rigorous approach is needed, even if this produces 'fear' in the  less gifted: it will produce 'great enthusiasm' in the others. We should favour formal education,aimed at developing mental faculties, rather than 'material' education aimed at the acquisition of facts: most schools, however, aim at scholarship at best, maybe even journalism. We need 'severe self-discipline' in learning German. We should avoid an external 'historico-scholastic' approach which ignores future usage and pursues an 'anatomical' approach instead of a grasp of the vitalism, the cultural aspects. We must do language as well as know it.
Practical uses of language in cultural matters is more difficult, but there should be no attempt to justify a more comfortable teaching method with 'grand pretensions and stately titles'.

More generally, we should value the cultured few.  We need a proper discussion of the classics of German literature not the journalistic accounts of them, for example when they vulgarize and make laughable even Schiller. We should revive composition, regardless of the fact that only the  most gifted [sic] kids are enthusiastic.

German composition appeals to the individual and releases talents.  Compositions must be about suitable subjects, however, not just describing life and development, for example.  This 'premature demand for personal work—for the unripe procreation of thoughts' can lead to suffering and neglect.  It is a 'pedagogic original sin against the intellect'.  It is a premature way to direct the first moments of self reliance.  The literary form is one of the best examples of the pleasures of becoming self reliant, especially combined with an invitation to converse.  The first compositions should be properly treated by teachers.  Instead, they tend to criticize what is excessive or individual, often necessarily appearing in a crude way.  Instead, teachers aim at 'an unoriginal decent average'.  Although originality is demanded, the ,most usual shape for it in the young is rejected.  There is an assumption that every one can develop literary talents and that their opinions are worth discussing.  Instead, the young should be encouraged in 'obedience to the sceptre of genius'.  Exercises in diction should aim at removing barbarism.  Hasty and vain literary production is greeted with flattering remarks, and it's not surprising that literary tastes decline in later life, as seen in journalism.

In fact very few are justified in calling themselves literary, and only a few recognize this fact.  Other efforts should be greeted with 'homeric laughter'.  We should not let individual personalities flourish if they are not based on proper intellectual habits and views.  Above all, the teacher of  German language must be tied to German culture.  Teachers should raise their game and not encourage 'outrageous and irresponsible scribbling', nor treat their mother tongue merely as 'a necessary evil or a dead body'.

Current notions of classical education are highly doubtful.  The Greeks and the Romans had a much better stance towards the language, and should be properly understood as a model.  Current notions of classical education are simply used to justify the purpose of public school.  They are slogans in a strategy to dispel criticism, and claiming to do formal or scientific education are others.  A proper classical education is actually unattainable in current public schools.  Formal education [of the intellect] is a clumsy phrase, ill defined and with no obvious opposite.  Scientific education is not compatible with the others and should not be pursued to their exclusion.  In practice, it is difficult to find any actual examples of the teaching of German which looks anything like classical antiquity and its methods.  Formal education has really become a matter of developing the 'free personality', itself a sign of 'barbarism and anarchy'.  Scientific education is actually poorly connected to actual science, which develops mostly through the activities of individual university professors.

In this way, the public school has neglected real culture.  The proper grasp of the importance of the classics can only be obtained after 'stern, artistic, and careful discipline and habit'[which reminds me of the pieces in A Thousand Plateaus on how creativity requires discipline and sobriety].  The situation has been covered sometimes by the aesthetic hobbies of a few teachers, but great poetry has always had to follow a hard path.  Discipline is required for an elegant style, and the development of taste.  It is far more important than trivial issues about who is a real poet.  It is necessary to have a 'physical loathing', disgust, at tasteless work.  Everything starts with a self disciplined approach to the mother tongue. It is like joining the army as a recruit and having to learn how to walk in a particular way.  Learning to march helps us to realize to appreciate walking fluently and elegantly afterwards.

'Severe and genuine culture', 'obedience and habituation' should be the object of public schooling.  Specialism should be avoided, especially if it is in science, because specialist scholarship can go together with barbarous taste or even journalism.  Very few of us obtain the same standards as the greats.  The great men should be seen as 'preparatory leaders and mystogogues of classical culture'.  It should all start with fluency in the mother tongue.  Great leaders and tutors are required to instil the love of form.  Ancient Greece should be the focus.  The legacy of Greece has not been grasped in public schools, and classical education has too often turned into philology.  Instead everyone should testify to the uplifting influence of reading Homer or Sophocles.  A proper appreciation of Greece is the exception in the current age, which is sensationalist, skeptical of dead civilizations, relativist in its taste for literature.  Classical education should not be evaluated according to its utility.  It requires discipline to understand it, a compulsory element.

We can judge the quality of modern institutions in terms of the earnestness with which they studied Latin and Greek languages, and learned the rules.  Everyone knows what a mistake is in those fields  There is no need to justify forms against modern variants.  Translating from classical into current languages is particularly useful, as long as it is done with enough strictness and dignity.  The classical tongues should be applied as well as just known.  Scholasticism should not be allowed to dominate over the cultivation of the pupil.  The original impulse to study the classics in public schools should be revived.  In modern public schools, the main point has been missed: the teachers themselves should develop the right stance and not be distracted by Scholasticism.

Attacking classical German culture also destroyed a suitable foundation [German culture has become 'almost foreign or cosmopolitan'].  The German spirit must be revived or excavated from beneath the modern ruins.  It is not just equated with modern culture, which is a cosmopolitan aggregate, related to classical culture as journalism is to the great works of literature.  There has been an undue influence from France, which has been merely copied uncritically into a particular literary style.  Literature survives much better in France and Italy, still connected to a social order, although it still has it struggles.  There are no such roots in German culture, merely scholars and journalists.  Even the Russians have borrowed French culture to better effect.  The German spirit showed itself in the Reformation and in German music, in German philosophy and in the loyalty of German soldiers in the recent war, and schools must develop an enthusiasm for it. 

Reforming and purifying public schools will be difficult.  We must find a connection with the genius of Greece, to yearn for Greece, to see it as did Schiller and Goethe, to treat it as the Mecca of the best and most gifted.  This alone will revive classical education and public schools and provide them with a firm base, against which to evaluate other forms of culture and education.

Third lecture 27 February 1872

The philosopher and his student continue to discuss the failures of state education, in Prussia especially. The student says he has been persuaded by the philosopher to continue. They begin by reminding us that proper access to classical culture is likely to be impossible for all but a few, which implies that we only need a few universities, and, possibly, only a few people going to public school.  Obviously, only a few will be able to teach adequately. This implies that those who intend to offer the right sort of classical education will face a terrible struggle with their peers and with the public, including journalists, who will laugh and argue derisively at them and their pretensions.  Proper teaching is no career for fainthearts who expect recognition.

Our speakers don't seem to offer much for the masses to persuade them why they should put up with such a system, but they do suggest that the education system is already offering something different for them. Prussia, apparently, is developing a credentialist system, where diplomas of various kinds are increasingly required before one can enter state employment.  The state is also perfectly well aware that this will help to defuse mass resentment at educational expansion, although there is no suspicion as yet that the middle classes will be able to bend the system to their own requirements.  Meanwhile, standards are laughably low, and dumbing down proceeding apace.  Prussia is widely admired by other countries for its vigour and its advances in music and literature, but none of this is being maintained by the current education system.

We can see this with the current state of philology, which although it reads Greek texts tends to treat them entirely instrumentally, as a linguistic system, or as bearers of linguistic structures of various kinds [not that well developed, it seems, in Germany in the 1870s, but consisting of a series of apparently abstract formulae that you can apply to understand Greek verse].  The way philology is taught is similarly dull, with a lot of drills and practices.  Nowhere does the substantial classical content of the Greeks appear.  As a result, we get a 'pseudo culture'.

Fourth lecture 5 March, 1872

[Lots more repetition].  Public schools [presumably elite ones] do not offer true culture, aristocratic and confined to a few.  Their poor pedagogies at least means that pupils don't acquire much reprehensible culture as well!  It is all down to state intervention.  The true German spirit no longer applies.  This is not to urge us to go back, but to think of a new route back to the Greeks.  Of course, a good deal of useful learning does go on, devoted to the world of necessity and the development of individualism, but this should not occupy all our efforts.  Immortality awaits the seeker of true culture, but the usual routes have been turned into a means to gratify insatiable egoism.  Art might be sought for entertainment or diversion, but not to contemplate egoism and self centredness.  True culture is not to be confused with more instrumental culture, aimed at bread winning or gratifying personal needs.  Our current schools develop this sort of culture quite well, leading to effective civil servants, officers, or people in other professions, but they do not develop true culture.  [All this is fine as long as you have a suitable pension of course]

As an example, young people often develop a particular immediate and personal relation with nature, and if they progress, they might even come to 'feel the metaphysical unity of all things' and be able to focus on the eternal.  Most of us learn instead to try to subdue nature, against our instincts.  This is why the truly cultured man can remain faithful to the instincts of childhood.  Of course science and the secular subjects are very valuable, and may even become accepted at university, on an equal basis.  Even if this happens, it will be at the expense of educational institutions aimed at culture, however.  Of course these lower ambitions are necessary.  But there is a sense of betrayal when it comes to consider public schools, that they have become dreary and sterile, only pretending to aim at culture.  Alternative approaches are deemed to be more realistic, but this only shows a telling ignorance about what reality is, and implies we should master it.  There is an unbridgeable contradiction between those institutions that teach culture and those that teach us how to succeed in life, with all present institutions opting for the second.

The two younger ones listening to this conversation suddenly saw the light, that they had been pursuing the wrong kind of culture.  Both went up to congratulate the philosopher, but his dog bit them [!] [a limited metaphor ensues seeing the dog is equivalent to the ignorant, leading to the diatribe below].  They swap favourite quotations.  The philosopher is unimpressed and accuses them of having 'zig-zagging inclinations' [Deleuze likes this zigzag path of course].  They both regret that common men are more like reptiles, unlikely to be impressed, but our two friends are, and promised to pursue a suitable goals for the higher nature.  The philosopher's companion says the same, but then says he is constantly drawn back to real life which makes high culture meaningless.

Are there no intermediate degrees between the enlightened few were and the degraded mass?  How can we distinguish high and vulgar culture?  How might educational establishments cater for the former—surely the elite do not require educational institutions?  What about past German geniuses—how did they get an adequate education?  Lessing and Winckelmann, Beethoven, Schiller or Goethe?.  The philosopher is unimpressed by these arguments, and accuses his listeners of being into self understanding again [which has attracted his ire before].  He points out angry that the great men have been suffocated and crushed [see the entry on Winckelman in Wikipedia , for example].  All of them had to struggle.  It does not follow that the path to genius requires no assistance in schooling.  The great men created despite the attentions of the German public, and all of them suffered as a result.  Hegel can be blamed for arguing that everything that happens is 'reasonable'[does that mean indicating the ruse of Reason, or is it another example of beautiful souls?].  All genuine scholars see this resistance and become exhausted by it .  It is no good just praising cultural ttainment as an ideal without grasping the oppressive reality. Anyone who knows anything can distinguish between culture and vulgar culture [convenient and rather circular, of course.  Let's hear it for the habitus and its unconscious judgments].

The listeners were not downhearted, but saw a deeper bond linked them to the philosopher.  They even came to pity him as old and unduly challenged.  They realized that their challenges really were egoistic, that they were worried about where they fitted personally.  Personal commitment, however should not be a part of argument.  They realized they had developed their own little oases inside educational establishments.  The philosopher urges them to carry on thinking about the issue, and to choose the right path: one leads to the world and to all its rewards, but at the expense of joining the rank and file; the other offers few companions and a lot of mockery.  Consider how an educational institution could deal with this choice: obviously they would opt for the former, although they would cover what they're doing with 'pompous words' such as developing universal freedom or the sovereignty of the people.  Any institution choosing the second path would first have to fight for survival, and constantly encourage their select spirits.  It would rise above present issues and subjective elements, aiming at the eternal and immutable.  All participating would have to cooperate to maintain its purity.  It's possible to manage such commitment with episodes of normal life, but there is danger of being seduced by it.

Temptation is everywhere and is constant.  Rewards including the applause of public opinion will be offered.  To resist requires not only talent, but 'moral sublimity, the instinct towards heroism, towards sacrifice'[Nazi undertones again], and a positive need for culture, itself acquired through obedience and submission to genius.  There is an undoubted appeal, and occasionally a popular demand for the soul of culture as well. Plato inspired us first, and he was right to criticize the common people as insolent and proud.

The younger ones agree that they now need an institution to support them, not just a feeling that they are pursuing an ideal in splendid isolation.  The temptations of popular culture are everywhere.

Fifth lecture 23 March, 1872

The philosopher says he wants to walk away from a useless discussion.  Then he sees a signal from the companion that he is expecting.  He asks the young ones to reply by firing their pistols.  They were distracted by shooting stars.  They heard a chorus of voices, and saw people carrying torches—it is their friends.  The philosopher hopes that his companion is not among students, and despairs at the thought that his companion might deliberately have sought such company.  The others are fed up with this contempt for students.  They remind him that he was once popular with students as a lecturer.  Maybe he saw something in his encounters that others did not?  The philosopher is asked to talk about his experience in universities.

The discussion begins with the official aim of the public school to prepare students for universities in a way which will make them independent and self reliant.  The flaws of the public school can be forgiven if it leads to such independence, by providing preliminary skills.  Deeper intellectual interests will be awakened at university.  The philosopher says this independence is misleading, and the students are hardly perfect or mature.  The same might be said about university professors: they also claim to be independent, but when we look at methods, we get a different picture.  Students are expected only to listen, and become independent only in his own company.  Students choose what to listen to and what to take notes about, and can simply ignore anything he does not wish to hear.  'This is the " acroamatic" method of teaching' [apparently Aristotelian,meaning esoteric stuff intended only for followers --reminds me of Bourdieu on academic discourse and its veiled allusions and silences etc]   Thoughts are more difficult to convey.  Most professors want a lot of listeners, and like to retain their independence of the people listening: this is called '"academical freedom"'.  Both speaker and listener are allowed to say and listen to what they wish, but the State supervises them.  Indeed, this is a pedagogic technique that the state recommended.

There is no other training for culture.  Students are allowed to choose what they listen to, but this is hardly self training.  What is really needed is 'dependance, discipline, subordination, and obedience' instead of this 'bumptious' independence.  Again the implication is that the culture available is something already self sufficient, something external with its own demands, and the successful student has merely to follow the same techniques as in public schools, deprived of any further guidance to culture.  We can judge its superficiality by pointing out that students displayed no need for philosophy, no instinct for arts, and no knowledge of Greek and Roman antiquity. 

There is no philosophical wonder which might generate a more noble culture, beyond the personal trivia of youth, and no guiding hand to point to what is valuable in existence.  [we realize at last why 'self understanding' is anathema—it implies some sort of immediate personal grasp of issues?].  Philosophy is destroyed in the very teaching of it, especially if it uses an historical approach and celebrates irrationality as the only real thing.  It has relativized the 'eternally recurring problems', and personalized philosophy.  It takes a literary approach to the classical texts, or philological one.  In effect philosophy has been banished. 

There is little relation to artistic thinking, nor a priority given to art—chairs in philosophy of aesthetics aimed at literature are not the same thing.  Students have no experience of 'severe artistic discipline' and are allowed to just let their art happen.  It is not surprising that they see no need to investigate in depth the Greeks and the Romans.  These are devalued and are even more inaccessible.  Philology will not help.  There are therefore no ladders to lead us to culture, and the student is merely 'the barbarian believing himself to be free'.  They are not to blame themselves, of course, but accuse their teachers.  They have had to manage the threats to their independence offered by the need for culture, and become dependent.  They seek distractions.  They fear sinking out of sight.  Nothing seems to help.  Students feel they are either working under high pressure or in a state of 'melancholy enervation'.  Everything seems vacuous.  A genuine desire for self knowledge becomes 'an ironical skepticism'.  Nothing is too degrading.  And they have lost all guidelines.  That is what independence actually amounts to!  Some people thrive and become smug, comforted by their narrow limitations, but others suffer, and in their failure to grasp proper culture despise themselves.  Such people are not allowed to seek guidance from great leaders.

Pseudo culture has produced degeneracy and shipwreck, the hatred of culture.  Some of the victims become journalists.  Others advocate some sort of youth culture.  Some have turned to aesthetic [romantic?] novels [somebody called Gutzkow is singled out here].  We can seen in the popularity of these forms some corrupt acknowledgement that the self is not sufficient, but this leads to ascetic abstinence from culture, an attempt to annihilate individuality.  Modern novelists and writers urge us to forget ourselves.  [I think the term modernity is specifically mentioned in the third lecture].  Such people are 'guilty innocents', experiencing the need for real education and the real German spirit,but failing and becoming degenerate.  This is worse than the old system.  This pollutes proper culture, and distorts elements of the true German spirit. In universities, 'noble minded scholars' have a really hard time.

The freedom and sense of liberation that emerged from the struggle for unification [specifically from the wars]  was lost by those who returned to the university.  There they encountered scholasticism, and 'the non German barbarism' at its heart.  There were no leaders.  Youths were abandoning themselves to intoxication and to wild talk.  The bravest and most talented among the youth were feared, and their attempts to construct true educational institutions, representing all that was earnest, stern and manly in the German spirit was abandoned.  [Nietzsche here is talking about student fraternities expressing liberal and national ideals, important in fostering German unification - -the Bursenschaften].  Were these institutions defended by the university?  They should have been, since they have represented important lessons from battle: leaders are necessary, all culture begins with obedience, German spirit was all.  At last philosophy can be understood, especially the classics, and that promoted by the likes of Schiller.  No leaders were available, however, and members became uncertain.  The institution eventually perished.

Proper culture is the opposite of academic freedom, requiring subordination and discipline in some sort of harmony, and 'eternal hierarchy'.  Pseudo culture always threatens it.  It dumbs down, denying hierarchy and leaders, offering narcotics.  However, there are some breakthrough moments.  Look at the typical German orchestra and the sad specimens of humanity that are actually playing the instruments in a kind of parody of human activity.  Those scholastics of music are likely to see only the labour involved, and the mistakes .  Yet we can also glimpse an occasional real genius present, inspiring and leading the orchestra in their labours, in a harmonic organization.  This is what universes should be like.

Note 10 tells us that the historical method under attack is Hegel's.