The Deutsche Didaktik and the American Research on Teaching

In P. Kansanen Discussions on Some Educational Issues VI (pp. 97-118). Research Report 145. Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki. (ED394958)

0. Introduction

My interest in the Didaktik began in my early studies in psychology of education and learning theories. All the textbooks were in English or in Swedish and the students of my generation got a very thorough understanding of the American way of thinking of the educational problems and how to do research correctly. There was only one way: according to the method of science. In the late 1970s I found the book of Wolfgang Klafki Studien zur Bildungstheorie und Didaktik in a book sale. I remember that I understood practically nothing of its content.

As a university teacher of foundations of education one of my courses was about the basics of Didaktik. It was always confusing to use the concept of Didaktik without really knowing what it meant. I knew that it came from Germany but its content was from the American curriculum research or from American educational psychology. Although we co-operated with the IPN in Kiel when the curriculum research was at its peak in the 1970s the content of the Didaktik were in the background. At that time there was no need to get acquainted with the human sciences or Geisteswissenschaften or its method, hermeneutics.

Gradually, when the general attention began to focus more and more on the theoretical background of the empirical models, the question of the nature of the Didaktik became of current interest. In the Finnish teacher education Didaktik is the main subject and because my chair represents teacher education, it became a personal problem to find an answer to the question What Didaktik really is?

It was not possible to get an answer from the American literature or from the German literature of curriculum research. After some conceptual analyses there was no other way to solve the problem than to begin to read German Didaktik books, among others the old Klafki. But it was not easy at all. In the Nordic university libraries you cannot find a sufficient number of German books, you must go to Germany. Luckily, in those German universities that I know the libraries are excellent. This literature opens a wholly new world and you can notice how it is possible to think differently of the same problems.

1. The background of German didactic models

The German Didaktik (didactica) was founded by Wolfgang Ratke and Johan Amos Comenius (1592-1670) at the beginning of the 17th century. Its idea was to develop a general method to teach compared with the logical method which at that time was thought as the best way to present the teaching content in order to bring about learning. Didaktik was a practical and normative doctrine by nature (Lehrkunst) and the best-known presentation of its early characterisation is Didactica Magna by Comenius.

The position of Didaktik with regard to pedagogics (Pädagogik) changed during the next centuries. The work of Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) brought again the status of Didaktik to the centre of education with his formal stages and with his principle of education through instruction. At his time Didaktik had a strong position as a science of education (Wissenschaft). Didaktik was mainly concerned with education at schools. Schools were practically the only places were organised education took place.

At the beginning of the 20th century die Reformpädagogik acquired its great representatives (Kerschensteiner, Gaudig, Petersen) with the main focus on child-centered activities. On the theoretical side, the pedagogical thinking was dominated by geisteswissenschaftliche Didaktik (Nohl, Weniger, Klafki) until the early sixties when the empirical-analytic paradigm gained some ground (Heimann, Schulz, Otto). Thirdly, critical-communicative Didaktik offered an alternative based on critical theory and especially on the ideas of Jürgen Habermas.

In addition to these three theoretical models, in the contemporary Deutsche Didaktik there are numerous minor variations and local versions. The development has brought the main models closer to each other as the theoretical background of the models has been analysed. Die Didaktik has also been in close contact with teacher education. By nature, die Didaktik in Germany has always been philosophical thinking, theorising, and construction of theoretical models.

2. The American tradition of research on teaching

The American tradition of research on teaching and on the problems of curriculum development is not as long as in Germany. It can be traced back to pragmatism and to its main representatives Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) and William James (1842-1910). The influence of John Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick in particular has been great. At the same time, educational psychology, with Edward L. Thorndike, achieved its central position in research on teaching in the US. The fundamental interest in teaching was practical by nature.

The predominant approach to the problems of teaching has been research on teacher and teaching effectiveness. Along these lines there has been a series of model building from Mitzel, Dunkin & Biddle to Shulman (Gage 1963, Dunkin & Biddle 1974, Shulman 1986a). The purpose of this kind of thinking has been an attempt to find those teachers who could attain the best possible results and to determine those factors which are crucial in planning and acting in the teaching process. In this way research is also connected with teacher education.

On the theoretical level, the development of theoretical models has concentrated on empirical research and on testing these in real situations. Mastery learning in particular, based on the ideas of John B. Carroll and Benjamin S. Bloom, is well known in this respect. Bruce Joyce and Marsha Weil have collected the various philosophical and psychological strategies and formulated applications to teaching.

Most of the research on teaching has been empirical and with quantitative methods. The latest developments, however, have led to alternative approaches. The most commonly used process-product -paradigm is not as dominant as earlier and studies with qualitative research methods have greatly increased. The theoretical background of the discussion of research problems is clearly research methodology which leads to other philosophical questions.

3. Some preliminary conclusions

3.1. Comparison of terminology

Die Didaktik – didactics

Didactics (die Didaktik) is a difficult term to use. Its origin is an applied translation from Greek meaning both teaching and learning (Heursen 1986, Knecht-von Martial 1985). Wolfgang Ratke and Johan Amos Comenius were the founders of this terminology and the first to launch the term in their writings, but Didaktik was an artificial term in a certain way. The respective family of words in Greek was not translated with a German word but with an application of the original didáskein via Latin didactica, which also was artificial. Its very first meaning was about the same as the art of teaching or Lehrkunst.

Die Didaktik was gradually taken into more general use alongside die Pädagogik or pedagogics, but its use was limited to German-speaking countries or to countries having cultural relations with Germany. As a result, Didaktik is nowadays in use in Central Europe and in the Scandinavian countries, but it is practically unknown at least in English or French-speaking countries in the area of education. The very word can be found in dictionaries with quite different meanings, however. It is based on didascalia in the meaning of didactic poem (Blankertz 1975, 14), and that makes its use most awkward and disturbing.

What is then the proper translation of Didaktik? (cf. also Kansanen 1987). If we emphasise the normative side of Didaktik, the most convenient word would be the art of teaching. This expression, however, already has its own context (cf. Gage 1978). But if we want to keep the definition as wide as Didaktik is nowadays, the art of teaching is too narrow because there is no reference to learning in its meaning. Naturally, there are various interpretations of teaching (cf. Smith 1987 with older references), but what is essential in this analysis is that Didaktik is at the same time a second order term. It is thus a model or a system of how to envisage the teaching-learning process as well as a kind of metatheory where the various models can be compared with each other.

If we emphasise the descriptive side of Didaktik, the research aspects come to the centre of its content. Then the proper word would be research on teaching. If we look into the well-known research models of Mitzel, Dunkin & Biddle, and Shulman, the aspects of learning can also be seen there. The difference between the descriptive Didaktik and research on teaching is in their background or in the purpose of their model building. The first, Didaktik, is mainly meant for teacher education and the models are based on a philosophical conception of man and on the nature of research concerning his education. The empirical research results are not a prerequisite for its building, but the results are used, naturally, in a corrective way when they are in conflict with the model variables. The second, research on teaching, is meant for research purposes and that’s why the models are mainly inductive by nature and based directly on research results. The practical conclusions can be drawn from these models and thus they can function in teacher education, too.

Earlier, the American research mainly based on empiric-analytic foundations, most of the research was conducted with the so-called process-product model. The picture has changed and alternative research paradigms can be found (cf. Guba 1990). At the same time, the philosophical foundations have become more versatile and the situation reminds us in many ways of the respective state of affairs in Germany.

Looking at the same problem from the other side, we can pose the question of how to translate research on teaching. Here we can find an easy solution: it is Unterrichtsforschung. This translation makes it clear that the core is classroom research with a psychological or social psychological emphasis. The research problems are mainly empirical. If we now compare Didaktik and Unterrichtsforschung we can notice essential and great differences in their use. First of all, Unterrichtsforschung is only part of Didaktik and with their comparison the different philosophical traditions come to the fore. Secondly, Didaktik is of genuine German origin. It is based on philosophical tradition of its own with such names as Kant, Herbart, Schleiermacher etc. The different schools of Didaktik which exist in the German literature mainly refer to the German tradition. It should be noted that the more empirical elements in a model of Didaktik, the more references can be found to American research on teaching. The content of Unterrichtsforschung consists of empirical results; it is descriptive by nature and it is classroom research employing all possible means and in principle with different kinds of philosophical backgrounds.

I have also suggested that Didaktik can be found in the textbooks of educational psychology (Kansanen 1987). Those books (e.g. Gage & Berliner 1984) have lengthy sections containing background material of a purely psychological nature, as well as clear normative sections. The psychology of education and Didaktik are linked together, being referred to as educational psychology. Teaching methods in particular are those parts in which the practical side comes into consideration. The theoretical references are to the theories of curriculum and that is why the analysis of the term Didaktik is not possible without considering the meaning of curriculum.

Curriculum – das Curriculum – der Lehrplan – die Didaktik

Josef Dolch (1959, 318-319) has pointed out the early use of the word curriculum in both German and English. In Anglo-Saxon educational literature it has remained since then in the terminology, in German it was displaced during the 18th century with the word plan and further with teaching plan (Lehrplan). It was the philantropists who took the new term up and Herbart was already using it at the beginning of the 19th century.

The word curriculum came back into use in German during this century, in the late sixties (e.g. Blankertz 1975, 118-122). Through American influence, das Curriculum was taken into use as a better version of a teaching plan. It was Saul B. Robinsohn (1967) who introduced a new approach of curriculum planning with his book which at the same time was broader in its meaning than the former teaching plan (Lehrplan). The application of the term curriculum was based on the American idea of Reformpädagogik by John Dewey and its focus was on every individual pupil and his learning experiences. Herwig Blankertz describes (1975, 122) the differences between these two terms from the German point of view. The teaching plan had become more and more a plan for the teacher of how to organise the activities when teaching a special subject and choosing the content within this subject. The new conception of the teaching plan curriculum concentrated on every pupil and his learning.

Thus, the curriculum was defined through the learning experiences, and common to various definitions was the focus on the individual pupil and the learning experiences which he was to encounter during his time at school (cf. Hosford 1973). If we take the broadest meaning of the curriculum, it consists of all the experiences organised during the time the school is responsible for the pupil. This also contains, by definition, such experiences which are not consciously planned but which are happening in the school. Thus, in this case there is no room left for the hidden curriculum because all the experiences are within the curriculum. (cf. Jackson 1992, 4-12.)

Gradually, the meaning of curriculum was broadening and as curriculum theory, its scope was nearly the same as traditional Didaktik. The word, das Curriculum, was directly taken into use without any special translation and its content was becoming more and more the same as Didaktik with a particular emphasis of its own (cf. Frey 1971). Wolfgang Klafki (1974) wrote an article in a dictionary under the common heading “Curriculum – Didaktik” and it seemed that Didaktik would be subsumed under the more general curriculum. It was a radical interpretation of traditional Didaktik and it showed a certain change in thinking about the old subdiscipline of education. It was, however, only a question of how to compare these two aspects which were parts of the more general Didaktik. In this article Klafki described the old directions of didactic models and in addition to that, the aspects of curriculum planning and controlling or evaluation. So one can say that it reflected at least a different conception of the problems of Didaktik and it had great influence on practical curriculum development.

The research on curriculum problems concentrating on development, planning, and evaluation grew greatly during the 1970s and it reached its peak in the early 1980s. The results were reported in large handbooks (Frey 1975, Hameyer & Frey & Haft 1983): Didaktik and curriculum theory were considered as parallel areas of the same subdiscipline. During these years the emphasis was on curriculum theory and it had a very important role in the efforts to achieve school reform, and in particular in reforming the old teaching plans into a modern curriculum.

It is not easy to define the curriculum, and difficulties arise because curriculum as a concept has numerous semantic contents and nuances depending on the context in which it is found and on the purpose for which it is used. Reisse (1975) points out that the term curriculum is strongly culture-bound which is why comparison of its meanings across linguistic boundaries is fraught with a variety of difficulties. Additionally, of course, any term may also have several meanings within a specific cultural environment (cf. Connelly & Lantz 1985). The American influence of the implementation of the term curriculum can be evaluated from the point of view of planning and evaluation of education in institutes. The problems of formulating educational goals and objectives as guidelines for teaching practice were focused on, and methods of evaluation, both in the classroom and on the school level, became more important than earlier.

The question of the relation between Didaktik and curriculum has gradually lost its interest and the status quo seems to have been achieved. The impulses have come from the American research, but there is hardly any evidence of impulses in the opposite direction. One could conclude that the didactic aspects of curriculum have integrated into Didaktik. Zimmermann (1986) is of the opinion that discussion can be reinstated because we now know the good and bad sides of the problem.

3.2. The independence of education as a discipline

The first independent chair of education was established at the University of Halle in 1779. The very first professor of education was Ernst Christian Trapp (1745-1818). His idea “Versuch einer Pädagogik” was to no longer base education on philosophy and theology but on the nature of man and on contemporary society. He also spoke about such modern research methods as observation and experience as a basis for conclusions. This professorship is considered as the start of an independent discipline and it is clear that it happened in Germany where there had been much educational thinking in the area of philosophy and theology. It took about one hundred years before independent professorships in education were established in England, Scotland and the US (cf. Sjöstrand 1967, Wulf 1977.)

From the beginning, education was considered as an independent discipline with its own problems. The current classification of education can be traced back to the German tradition and there are certain differences between the German and the American way of classification. There are three or four common basic problem areas: education in general, the psychology of education and sociology of education. Usually, the classification must be made according to one criterium at a time, and this point can arouse some confusion. The most common criterium is the classification of disciplines. However, there can be such criteria as the content of education or the age of pupils etc. In a well-known German example (Röhrs 1969) general education consists of pedagogics and Didaktik (Pädagogik und Didaktik) and the latter is usually seen as a subdiscipline concentrating on the questions of teaching. General education is further divided into sub-areas using educational reality and the period of life as criteria for the division. This leads to school education (Schulpädagogik), special education (Sonderpädagogik), pre-school education (Pädagogik der Frühen Kindheit), vocational education (Berufspädagogik) and adult education (Erwachsenenbildung). In addition to the basic classification, the history of education and comparative education overlap all the other areas.

In British educational literature there has been a consensus of opinion about the nature of education. However, Paul Hirst does not agree with the term discipline, he prefers to use the term a field of study (Hirst 1983; Tibble 1966). Lee S. Shulman also says the same: “education is not itself a discipline. Indeed, education is a field of study” (Shulman 1988, 5). So there are some doubts about the status of education depending on the way we think of formulating its problems. At the same time, there are many aspects and many possible approaches resulting in various research methods which have their foundations in several background disciplines. That is why any attempt to make a systematic classification does not succeed without many simultaneous criteria.

In any case, in British as well as in American educational literature, the sub-area of Didaktik seems to be lacking. As we have seen earlier, much of its content belongs to educational psychology. In the American literature of research on teaching, the problems of teaching and learning in general are usually held together without any theoretical model building. Attention is paid to the methodological problems, and there the various background principles can be seen. In German educational literature, didactic problems define an independent subdiscipline of education which really is quite the same as general education, however, with its own point of view. The area of Didaktik is mainly larger than educational psychology and it includes much philosophical and theoretical thinking. In German literature Didaktik and educational psychology are clearly separate fields with different representatives. The situation in Great Britain and the US is quite the contrary; the same people are working in this common area. Naturally, there are differences as to the importance given to some aspects of the problems, e.g. the role of learning in the teaching process.

4. How the traditions separated

We know that at the end of the 19th century American educational research had many contacts with German research. Walter Doyle (1993) refers to the term didactics as he quotes Paul Woodring’s text in the 1975 Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education with the astonishing remark that a chair of didactics was created at the State University of Iowa in 1873. We also know that John Dewey was a member of the first executive council of the National Herbart Society that later changed its name to the National Herbart Society for the Study of Teaching and once more to the National Society for the Study of Education. The texts of Hegel and Herbart were known to him and to other colleagues through translations. At the personal level there were numerous contacts and study trips and consequently the language of education was common to both.

Stephan Hopmann has analysed in depth the early history of German Didaktik and the common background of German and American Didaktik (Hopmann 1992). Although there were many contacts with Herbart’s ideas and progressive education had its respective version as die Reformpädagogik in Europe, the contacts suddenly ended at the beginning of the 20th century. Hopmann (1992, 7) also remarks that there were, however, certain differences between the progressive movement and reform pedagogy; the latter emphasised teacher education and schooling whereas the former was more concerned with social change and politics.

Further, Hopmann (1992, 8) states that it was the educational psychology that the Americans (Hall and Dewey) took from Herbart, not the whole of Didaktik. The main reasons for the spread of Didaktik in Germany were the state guidelines for the curriculum and the system of teacher education in the seminaries (Hopmann 1992, 4-5; Hopmann & Riquarts 1992, 22). These required a central solution and central models of schooling problems in society. The criticism of Herbartianism that was a mechanical application of the ideas of Herbart led to the reform pedagogy and through it to new conceptualisations of Didaktik. This new development did not reach American education and at the same time the word didactics disappeared from the terminology. That means a different sort of development in both countries with amazingly great disparities.

Walter Doyle and Ian Westbury (1992, 138-145) explain the development of American education by referring to the structure of governance in the system of schooling. The local boards of education had the responsibility for the effectiveness of the schools and the role of the superintendent was central. The interaction between the school and the local community was very intimate. Although the individual states had constitutional responsibility, the control was merely a formality. In addition to these basic characteristics, the absence of church had many consequences in the curriculum and in practice. The model of teaching was the same as in business life: “They (teachers) were and are a labor force to be motivated and managed as any large enterprise’s labor force was motivated and managed.” (Doyle & Westbury 1992, 140). It is easy to see, I think, that the atmosphere was not very encouraging to independent and autonomous action. Accountability was always narrow and the local boards and public held a direct control over the school and the teachers.

Instead of Didaktik, psychology of education took its place as a discipline of the science of education in the US. At the same time this line of research in Germany became separated from Didaktik, although there was at first a close relationship between them. Concening this development in the US there is a certain important point that needs special attention. Doyle and Westbury (1992, 141) quote Ellen Lagemann as saying “one cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the 20th century unless one realizes that Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost”. This can be seen e.g. in the well-known textbook of Robert M. Travers (1978) where Thorndike’s position is central. Afterwards it is easy to say that this way of thinking was too fragmented and its behavioural and experimental features were too narrow to apply to the whole process of education. This phase, I think, however, was necessary in the development of educational research. The defects are not to be found in the psychology of education itself but in the way it was applied over the whole field of education without alternatives.

Empirical research can be done in many ways. Some of us do it without thinking of the philosophical assumptions behind the procedures. Some practical problem guides the thinking, and research methods are selected according to their practical value in finding solutions to the problem. In this example the awareness of the method has not aroused and the way of doing research is self-evident and it is not problematised. To follow the Kuhnian language, the action is happening inside the dominating paradigm where all researchers agree with each other. I think that looking at the problems of education through the glasses of psychology of education has been this kind of paradigmatic work and all the participants have been content with it. The science of education has been a practical tool in administration at the local level and attention has been on practical problems in real situations. Thinking with psychological concepts is thinking with the problems of students (learning, motivation, ability, achievement, tests etc.). It is at the same time empiric-analytical as well as democratic towards the process of education.

The other side of the coin, many American colleagues claim, is that the practical approach has neglected the importance of content in the curriculum and instruction. Naturally, psychology of education as a background discipline leads thoughts to the psychological content and particularly to management and learning problems. These are no doubt an important part of the totality but not sufficient in themselves. Finding the content has led to looking at the European Didaktik again but this time from a special point of view, Fachdidaktik. I dare to point out, however, that the psychological problems have not vanished from the instructional process and that’s why the general aspect of Didaktik should be kept in mind constantly.

Peter Menck (1993) has referred to the early German tradition of empirical educational research that was existing alongside the old tradition of Didaktik. As we know, Wilhelm August Lay and particularly Ernst Meumann (1862-1915) are its main representatives. Meumann had been a student of Wilhelm Wundt but his interest had turned to the problems of Didaktik. Their experimental Didaktik could not gain status and it got only a marginal position in the area of German Didaktik. Heinz-Elmar Tenorth (1988, 214-219) calls it “der szientifische Flügel” – the scientific wing of reform pedagogy. Although its influence seemed to be small it had some very important disciples who were to continue the approach in a way that was discovered only after many years. Aloys Fischer (1882-1937) was the first and he turned the research from experimental to descriptive and Peter Petersen (1884-1952), a disciple of Meumann, was the other one who is generally considered the founder of the so-called Pädagogische Tatsachenforschung, empirical research on pedagogical facts.

Fischer developed his ideas in a phenomenological sense but independent from Husserl (Tenorth 1988, 217). The basic idea in this descriptive empirical research was to look at the instructional process as a phenomenon that is as much as possible theory-free. That requires observing the process as it is, without any predetermined theoretical assumptions. Petersen developed a sort of observation system in his Jena-Plan-School. The most important and central concepts were the pedagogical situation and the various aspects, pedagogical facts, that describe the pedagogical situation.

The descriptive line of Didaktik did not succeed in gaining a respected academic position and it remained a side trend behind the erudition-centered Didaktik. The latest well-known work is that of Friedrich Winnefeld in Halle (1957).

This line of development of the descriptive Didaktik is the German alternative to the empirical Didaktik. The literature is almost unanimous in stating that educational psychology in Germany has been an independent discipline without any close relations with Didaktik and that the empirical influences have in general come from the US and from its psychology of education. In Berliner Didaktik the empirical approach is to be seen but gradually that part diminished with the work of Schulz. The contacts between German Didaktik and American research on teaching have been rather few.

As a conclusion it can be said that the erudition-centered Didaktik did not gain a footing in the USA in the beginning of this century. Instead, the reflection on teaching continued in psychology of education. In Germany reform pedagogy transformed into erudition-centered Didaktik which got later some rival directions. The empiric-analytical approach did not succeed in getting a break-through in Germany in spite of a good beginning with Meumann and Lay. It lived some time as descriptive Didaktik but it did not develop into psychology of education. The latter got its impulses from the USA and has been a separate area alongside Didaktik.

The work of Peter Petersen is, however, very interesting from the viewpoint of German-American relations. Herman Röhrs (1993, 11-19) takes Petersen as an example from this interaction as he analyses progressive education in the USA and its influence on European reform pedagogy. On the practical level the discussion about progressive education was international and the well-known systems of school reforms of Helen Parkhurst, Carleton Washburn, Maria Montessori, and Peter Petersen were influenced by each other. “New Education Fellowship” was a connecting link between educational practical workers and researchers. In 1928 Petersen made a visit to the USA and became familiar with the American situation. This was later seen in his Jena-Plan. In spite of these kinds of relations between individual colleagues, the main trends in the area of Didaktik grew apart. Naturally, the political situation in the world contributed, but there were some ideological reasons, too.

5. Some contemporary trends

The role and the meaning of knowledge in educational research in recent years have clearly increased. Some interesting viewpoints have been brought into the terminology and communication. Shulman (1986b) has focused on teachers’ understanding of the subject they are teaching. In addition to content knowledge, the essential substance is pedagogical content knowledge. This same aspect has been referred to by different names, and Reynolds (1992, 5) introduces various alternatives which all have something special: content-specific pedagogy, subject-specific pedagogical knowledge, content-specific cognitional knowledge, and subject matter specific pedagogical knowledge. (cf. also Gudmundsdottir & Shulman 1987, 54-55.)

This old idea of pedagogical reduction of factual content for the purposes of teaching is known in the traditional German Didaktik as Fachdidaktik. The modern view of Fachdidaktik takes into consideration all the factors in the teaching-learning process from the content point of view. It was Ch. Helwig who as early as 1619 made a distinction between the common aspects of teaching (didactica generalis) and the content aspects of teaching (didactica specialis) (Knecht-von Martial 1985, 17-28). The very idea, however, in spite of the use of different language, has always been known to parents and teachers. In any case, this comparison between pedagogical content knowledge and Fachdidaktik could offer useful knowledge to both sides.

The renaissance of content has aroused the idea of comparing the erudition-centered Didaktik with the new conception of research on teaching. Stephan Hopmann (1992) as well as Gudmundsdottir and Grankvist (1992) have already made a start in this respect. The latter also tell that the new trend had nothing to do with the European Fachdidaktik (1992, 185). Although the idea looks the same there are essential differences.

Looking at Shulman’s content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge it is clear that the focus is on the substance that is the content in the instructional process. The introduction of these concepts has brought about lively discussion in the journals. When looking at this discussion more precisely, it is possible to notice that the focus is not exactly on the substance or subject-matter but on the structural analysis of this substance. What is presented is a reflection on what kind of elements there may be in the specific content. Frank Achtenhagen (1992, 316) remarks e.g. that “…the distinctions are useful: knowledge is regarded as the “subjective” aspect of subject matter and content as “objective”.” My suggestion, however, is that the presentation of content is as formal and general as the former focus on students’ properties: learning, motivation, achievement, etc. In other words, psychology of education still has a strict hold but from a different point of view than before and the possible paradigm shift is only a change in the themes and topics.

The change is, however, to be seen in the area of curriculum planning and in emphasising the importance of the instructional content in the curriculum. This is to do with cognitivism and action research along with the growing power of the teachers themselves in preparing their own curriculum. But if we compare the pedagogical content knowledge with Fachdidaktik on this level we soon notice that there are different kinds of assumptions behind them.

There are, however, only slight principal differences between pedagogical content knowledge and Fachdidaktik or between content knowledge and Fachwissen if we compare the German models of Didaktik with the American way of thinking in this respect and leave the erudition-centered Didaktik out of this comparison.

Heimann, Otto, and Schulz had, in principle, in their Berliner Didaktik a very similar conception of the position of content in the curricular or in the instructional process as Shulman. Because their starting point was empiric-analytical there was no exact standpoint according to the substance but only a category named. Content was one central category in the totality of their model and the criteria of selection were brought from developmental psychology and the life situation of the pupils but no direct stand was taken on the selection of subject-matter. Later with the changes produced by Schulz, the model got much of the same characteristics as erudition-centered Didaktik. With these changes the position of content changed as well.

Critical-communicative Didaktik, however, has a clearly normative overstructure where content is selected with certain value criteria. The same features are found in critical pedagogy in the US but content in this model is not reflected from the viewpoint of structural analysis. The background is openly normative and political, and this is to be seen also in the instructional process itself. Group work and co-operation are the slogans, but the nature of pedagogical content knowledge is general and does not focus on the school subjects as much as on the methods.

The curriculum movement brought its own conception of content with educational aims, goals, and objectives. It was structure again that was the guiding principle. Taxonomies stimulated very precise analyses of the psychological content. They also offered a good basis for the presentation of subject matter, but this movement had weaknesses in other respects and that’s why it was not possible to build a curricular totality with this idea. The same can be said of cybernetic Didaktik although the level of exactness required was extremely high. Content was given in the curriculum and the method algorithm was based on the conditions of the factors given in the curriculum.

In all these examples the common aspect is the interpretation of content as formal and general that can be further refined in the curriculum and in the teacher’s work. This is very understandable because the models are built for all possible situations, subject matter and curricula. The selection of content is left to practitioners, textbook writers, and curriculum makers. The researchers have stayed out of this process because the concept of doing research has not included taking a stand on value questions and schooling policy. Changing the theme to the content of the teacher’s thinking or to the cognitive structure of the teacher’s thinking does not change the basic assumptions of the research; it remains within the same paradigm. Naturally we get other types of research results and our attention is focused on other kinds of problems, but the philosophy of doing research stays on the same foundation.

Gradually I am coming to my point of how to compare the German Fachdidaktik with the American way of thinking about the same problems. The comparison can not be made by putting content or the analysis of the structure of this content or the typical characteristics of this content side by side. This is only on the surface. The various curricula or textbooks can be compared in this way, of course, but if the motive is to compare the whole frame of reference, this is not enough. In the German Didaktik the key is German idealism with such names as Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Wilhelm Dilthey with many more recent names. We know this as Geisteswissenschaften and I have used erudition-centred Didaktik as its English equivalent in the area of teaching. The whole comparison can be simplified by putting erudition-centered Didaktik on one side and all other models on the other.

One more point must be taken into consideration and it is the purpose for building the Didaktik models and the models for research on teaching as well as the conception of curriculum planning. It has already been said that the German Didaktik models are built for teacher education and for instructional planning. The various models have a different approach to the selection of content and especially to the normative criteria of this selection. Only the erudition-centered Didaktik has a clear stand on this question and that is why it has a close connection with Fachdidaktik or pedagogical content knowledge. Research models are general and take no position on value questions, and that it why content comes into research according to its position in the design.

In the erudition-centered Didaktik the main task is seen as a theory of educational content (Theorie der Bildungsinhalte). The content of education is selected according to its value in the curriculum and in the instructional process. The decision is always based on tradition and history. It is also dependent on the particular group of students for whom the curriculum is written. As can be seen, the erudition-centered Didaktik has its main role in the planning and writing of the curriculum where the decision-making is openly value laden. The selection of content that is at the same time the selection of aims and goals is, however, not pure policy making because the erudition-centered Didaktik claims to have educational autonomy and expert knowledge in educational matters. In this system there are both formal educational criteria and clear normative decisions.

Another side of this question is that the same decision-making continues inside the curriculum when teachers select the instructional content or the textbook writers decide on what is valuable to be transformed from content knowledge to pedagogical content knowledge. This second part is similar to teachers’ work in general and in this phase the problem of learning comes to the fore. Erudition-centered Didaktik has been criticised for its neglect of learning and method problems in the instructional process. It has been more interested in what is valuable in content and what is worth teaching than controlling how much has been learned. In this respect there has been development in recent years.

6. The Nordic Alternative

The Didaktik in the Nordic countries has been educational psychology with an emphasis on the teacher and on the instructional process. The German geisteswissenschaftliche Didaktik has been practically unknown with certain, mainly Danish and Norwegian exceptions (e.g. Reidar Myhre, Torstein Harbo and Bjorg Gundem). When the educational psychology line and the geisteswissenschaftliche line get into contact with each other there are almost always conflicts to be seen. Yet the focus of both approaches is the instructional process, teaching and the teacher, and the curriculum etc. Why is it so?

You can easily notice this conflict if some researcher is asked to evaluate the works of the other trend. The representative of the empirical research quite often says that it is not research at all, it is a number of opinions. The hermeneutic says that empirical research is only making notes about something which already exists in practice, but what then. Quite often they speak of technology, that means thinking without creativity or alternatives.

A very good example of this situation is Wolfgang Brezinka who is said to represent critical rationalism along with Karl Popper’s ideas. He divides education into three parts: philosophy of education, education and the practice of education. The first, philosophy of education is not scientific at all. It is policy making, decision making, opinions etc. Naturally you must have some basis for your opinions but that does not change the essence of it. The practice of education is action and has nothing to do with science or Wissenschaft. You can use facts behind your practice but the action itself is not scientific by nature. Only the description, understanding, and explanation of the educational process is scientific.

Consequently, the difference is not in the focus, in the instructional process itself, it is behind the process in its theoretical assumptions. And it is not possible to combine them, the conflict remains.

In the Nordic countries with the above mentioned exceptions the instructional process has been investigated along the empirical paradigm. That is why it is very difficult to make a difference between Didaktik and educational psychology. In practice these two subdisciplines have been a combined area with certain emphases on partly one, partly on the other. If someone has claimed the name of Didaktik in his writings, it has not been the geisteswissenschaftliche Didaktik. A good example of this has been the Didaktik discussion in Sweden.

In general, we can note two perspectives in this discussion. The first line of research concentrates on the macro level, on the societal, economic and political prerequisites of education (Dahllöf, Lundgren, Englund). We can not say that it does not take the very process into consideration, because Dahllöf and Lundgren has made this kind of research, too. Its emphasis and interpretation of the empirical results has, however, been on the macro level, on the frames. Curriculum research is a natural part of this line.

The other line of research concentrates on the other end of the educational process, on the learning of individual students or on their conceptions of this learning (Marton, Svensson, Lybeck, Kroksmark). There is much research in this group of the very instructional process but, nevertheless, the focus is on a certain part of. So one could say that both of them have a very important part of the instructional process as its focus but neither of them can be said to concentrate on the whole totality of the instructional process. And that is the very essence of the general Didaktik. At the same time this object is enormously large and that is why most of the research is done in some subarea. Accordingly, the totality of Didaktik is divided into subdisciplines and naturally research made in these areas is didaktikal research, too.

It is not exceptional to have various schools of thinking inside the Didaktik. As a matter of fact, it is more a rule to have different approaches of Didaktik. There is, however, a big difference on what bases they are considered different. In the German Didaktik it is the decision of the philosophical background which is determining the different perspective. In the Nordic countries, I think, the differences are not seen through these kinds of lenses although the philosophical base may be different. The various approaches live inside the empirical tradition although there may be a strong emphasis on e.g. phenomenology. Naturally this leads to the comparison of Geisteswissenschaften and phenomenology which is not an easy task. In any case the starting point has been within the empirical tradition and the various emphases have emerged gradually alongside the research work.

7. A Concluding Remark

The erudition-centered Didaktik is a very good example of how education is a national thing in a broader international context. The question, however, remains whether it is possible to compare educational systems in different cultures and to transform new ideas from another culture if there is not criticism enough.



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