The History of Education: European Influences on the American Educational System (Herbart)

[Editor’s Note: This is the 16th in a series of blogs that examine how education developed throughout history until the present. Links to previous blogs are included at the bottom of the post.]

Education is the process by which a society delivers knowledge, culture, and values from one generation to the next. Individually along the process, the student should develop physically, mentally, emotionally, morally, and socially.

Johann Herbart was a German philosopher and educator, born in Oldenburg, and educated at the University of Jena, whose system of philosophy stems from the analysis of experience. He didn’t believe all concepts are separate mental ideas, but instead he suggested that all mental activity results from the interaction of elementary ideas.

That led Herbart to espouse that educational methods should be based on psychology and ethics. Psychology would furnish the necessary knowledge of the mind, while ethics would be used as a basis for determining the social ends of education.

When he left Jena to become a tutor in Switzerland, Herbart became interested in the work of the Swiss education reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, whom we met in last week’s blog. Herbart liked the Pestalozzian system, “in which the child is guided to learn through the natural employment of the senses.”[1]

In 1805, Herbart returned to the University of Gottingen, where he was appointed a professor of philosophy, then left in 1809 to fill a similar position in Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia).

In 1833, Herbart returned to Gottingen for good, but the success of his educational methods led to their adoption in the teacher-training systems of numerous countries. In addition, his stress on studying the psychological processes of learning as a means of creating educational programs based on the aptitudes, abilities, and interests of students can be seen even today in the American educational system.


Next week: European Influences, Spencer


To read part 1: Introduction, click here.

To read part 2: Purpose of education, click here.

To read part 3: Prehistory to pre-industrial, click here.

To read part 4: Mesopotamia and the Sumerians, click here.

To read part 5: Ancient Egypt, click here.

To read part 6: Ancient Greece and Rome, click here.

To read part 7: The Greek philosophers, click here.

To read part 8: China, click here.

To read part 9: The Olmecs and the Maya, click here.

To read part 10: The Islamic World: Basics, click here.

To read part 11: The Islamic World: The Golden Age, click here.

To read part 12: The Renaissance, click here.

To read part 13: American Educational System Overview, click here.

To read part 14: European Influences, Jon Amos Comenius, click here.

To read part 15, European Influences,  Froebel, click here.



[1] Jankoviak, Nick. (June 15, 2004). History of American Education Web Project. Retrieved from


Author: AceReader Blogger

The AceReader blogging team is made up of specialists in a number of different areas: literacy, general education, content development, and educational software. For questions about posts, please submit them in the form below. For suggestions about blog topics, please email them to

Leave a Reply