The Civic Seminary: The Sources of Modern Public Education in the Lutheran Reformation of Germany
48 Pages Posted: 26 May 2011 Last revised: 8 Mar 2020
Date Written: 1995
This Article documents how and why the sixteenth-century Lutheran Reformation helped to build the modern public education system of the West. Rejecting the medieval tradition of church education primarily for and by the clergy, Martin Luther argued that all Christians need to be educated to be able to read the Bible on their own, to participate fully in the life of the church, state, and society, and to prepare for their distinct vocations. Lutheran Germany and Scandinavia thus set up public schools as “civic seminaries,” in Philip Melanchthon’s apt phrase, designed to offer general spiritual and civic education for all. In early modern Lutheran lands, the state replaced the church as the chief educator of the community, and free basic education with standard curricula was made compulsory for all children, boys and girls alike. The Article offers case studies of new German city and territorial laws on education on the books and in action, and it reflects on the enduring significance of this early experiment in education even in our day.
Keywords: Lutheran Reformation; Martin Luther; Philip Melanchthon; Johannes Brenz; Education; Public Schools; Germany; Curriculum; Girl Schools; Brunswick; Württemburg
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