Hartmut von Hentig: Education as Political Training

Hartmut von Hentig talks about education, politics, the dangers of public school and the importance of cooperation.

| July/August 1972

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    Hartmut von Hentig: "It's the duty of education to eliminate the totally ignorant man and replace him with a man who can ... take responsibility for his society."

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Hartmut von Hentig—a wiry, energetic man with a thin, craggy face—doesn't really look old enough to have gone to school during the Nazi rise to power in Germany . . . but he did and, possibly because of that experience, he's become both a philosopher and a professor of education. Von Hentig is now the driving force behind a new German university dedicated to developing more humane schools and preparing more human teachers. 

LIFESTYLE!'s Tom Carr got to know von Hentig in Cuernavaca, Mexico, last February when both were attending (von Hentig was one of the organizers) the World Law Fund's Education for a Global Community of Man seminar at CIDOC (Ivan Illich's meeting place for people who'd like to see society's present institutions—especially its schools—revamped or replaced).  

Attending the February seminar were Europeans Latin Americans who discussed the roles that education might take in recreating society on more peaceful and equitable terms . . . and the meeting soon became a debate on the relative merits of working for change within the system versus dropping out to start something new. In those discussions, von Hentig—who has been a consistent critic of Illich's proposals to deschool society—was an ardent exponent of rationality and continuity.  

The following interview with von Hentig (who's been referred to as Germany's John Holt) was conducted by Tom Carr in the kitchen of von Hentig's small rented bungalow in Cuernavaca. 

LIFESTYLE: Under the leadership of Ivan Illich, CIDOC has become a gathering place for people who feel that it's impossible for schools to provide the skills and abilities necessary to rebuild our damaged civilization. You take issue with Illich and his cohorts on this . . . what do you feel is the place of formal education in alleviating society's ills?

VON HENTIG: In my discussions with Illich I insist that he must not always connect schools with industrialization and production, with making people fit into the various economic pigeonholes society has constructed for them in order to maintain itself. Schools weren't originally intended to be instruments of oppression and have been twisted to perform these functions. One reason for which they were first set up was to satisfy the body politics requirement for enlightened men who know how the system works, men who are capable of using the system to accomplish worthwhile goals and capable of changing the ground rules if such goals become impossible to achieve.

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