“Federal Educational Institutes” (Bundeserziehungsanstalten) represented the avantgarde of state school reform after WWI in Austria. In this article,1 I analyse the place of film in one of these model institutions, the Bundeserziehungsanstalt Vienna-Breitensee. Drawing on the history of reform pedagogy, I aim to ask how its consequential notions of “wholeness” and “naturalness” might challenge the understanding of the dispositif of educational film performance.
Until the end of World War I, Austria’s compulsory education system was governed by a once progressive law dating from 1869. After the revolution of 1848 which was driven by the pro-democratic citizenry and bourgeoisie, the Liberals pushed it through. As a result, school was no longer a matter of the church, but a matter of the state. The duration of schooling was increased from six to eight years, the new subjects of natural history and history were introduced, replacing religion as the main source for explaining world events. Opposition to the law came from the church, industry, farmers and small businesses. Children were needed as a labor force. Conservative imperial and state governments within the Austro-Hungarian empire administratively enforced a revision of curricula in 1883 with the so-called school attendance facilitation (Schulbesuchserleichterung) intended for students of the seventh and eighth grades which again granted greater influence to the church.2 Illiteracy subsequently became one of the main educational problems. In Austria (excluding Hungary) in 1900, 230 of 1000 inhabitants could neither read nor write.3 Elementary school (Volksschule) was considered the stepchild of the state, and the eight-year elementary school became a school for the poor. Those who could afford it went to the three-year secondary school (Bürgerschule) after five years, the wealthy attended private schools and then switched to high school (Gymnasium). Elementary schools were dominated by a regime of drill, disciplining and control. The curriculum was dominated by the “subject matter principle” (Stoffprinzip): passive-receptive behavior of the students in class, memorization of rules and formulas, authoritative coercion.4
In 1905, the Free School Association (Verein Freie Schule) was founded as a non-party initiative to fundamentally reform the backward Austrian educational system5 and to push back the influence of the Catholic Church in the school system. Freie Schule initially aimed less at a new didactic approach than at analyzing the conditions under which education could first take place. Among its founders, campaigners and activists, the teacher Otto Glöckel – undersecretary of state for education in 1919/20 and executive president of the Vienna State School Council from 1922 to 1934 – played a central role. He understood education first as a socio-medical task: education had to begin with maternity protection.6 A well-developed and healthy body was a prerequisite for meaningful education. At the beginning of the 20th century, Vienna struggled with the highest infant mortality rate in Europe after Moscow and Bucharest.7 Education thus implied a careful upbringing at preschool age in nurseries, children’s homes, kindergartens; it meant food and playgrounds not least to prevent the necessity of later medical repair.8 Glöckel’s programmatic text Das Tor der Zukunft (The Gateway to the Future) is a sharp political attack against the lawmakers who allowed child labor and against the conditions that made child labor necessary as a survival strategy.9 Last but not least, his criticism was directed against the “ingrained failing (Erbübel) that ails our school system”:10 the entanglement of school and church. At the center of his program for a new school were the democratization of the school system, the professionalization (Verfachlichung) and de-bureaucratization of the school administration, which until then had “administered the educational system according to juridical and authority-state points of view,”11 the reorganization of elementary school curricula and the associated methods of work-schools (Arbeitsschule) with their reform pedagogical ideas of self-activity (Selbsttätigkeit), down-to-earthness (Bodenständigkeit/Lebensnähe) and “Gesamtunterricht” (no splitting of the subject matter into individual subjects, but rather bringing it “in its natural context”).12 In addition, the creation of a unified school system (Einheitsschule) for students between the ages of six to fourteen, with a subsequent four-year secondary school with differentiation according to performance in two classes, was to realize the idea of social coeducation, improve the possibility of making one’s own decision about one’s educational path, and abolish educational privilege.
The Social Democrats emerged as the strongest force from the first equal general election of the Republic of German-Austria in March 1919. A coalition government was formed with the Christian Socialists. Otto Glöckel was appointed to head of the education department and immediately began his reform program. During his time as undersecretary of state for education, he founded what was to become the Federal Educational Institute Vienna-Breitensee (Bundeserziehungsanstalt Wien-Breitensee), which will be discussed in the following. One of Glöckel’s closest confidants, reform pedagogue Viktor Fadrus, was in charge of designing the state- later federal educational institutes. He was appointed by Glöckel as head of the School Reform Department at the State Office for Education (Staatsamt für Inneres und Unterricht). Fundamental ideological differences led to the breakup of the coalition government after 19 months. New elections in October 1920 brought a heavy defeat to the Social Democrats, who then went into opposition.13 However, the School Reform Department was able to continue its work even when the Federal Ministry of Education was subsequently headed by Christian Social ministers. Although the “Reform Department” lost its special position, it was still present until 1932 through its officials, such as Viktor Fadrus or the later central director of the federal educational institutes, Viktor Belohoubek.14
With the law, passed on November 28, 1919, for the establishment of, initially, six Austrian state educational institutions (Staatserziehungsanstalten) in Vienna, Lower Austria, and Styria, the young republic launched its ambitious school reform program. It was based on plans for a unified school (Einheitsschule), the methods of work-based learning (Arbeitsunterricht), and the abolition of educational privilege. Emerging from former military educational institutions, these model schools, renamed “federal educational institutes” (Bundeserziehungsanstalten) after the adoption of the new constitution on October 1, 1920, represented the avant-garde of state school reform. Starting from them, socio-politically far-reaching school reform was meant to set an example, tried and tested in practice, for all other schools to follow. Operated as boarding schools, the individual units, which combined in themselves teaching institutions, dormitories, sports facilities and workshops as well as gardening and small-animal husbandry facilities, pursued the goal of “holistic,” “natural” education “through the cultivation of physical, mental, and moral faculties,”15 based above all by the principles and practices of German countryside educational homes (Landerziehungsheime) of reform pedagogues Hermann Lietz and Gustav Wyneken as well as the English New Schools.
One expression of the close interaction of education and instruction16 (Erziehung und Unterricht) in the community practice of this ‘school state’ (Schulstaat) was the integration of cinemas. In 1919, the later Federal Educational Institute in Vienna-Breitensee took over the entire equipment of the local Imperial and Royal Infantry Cadets School, including an Ernemann film projector plus operator. Still in that same year, a school cinema license was acquired, and operations began in the school year 1922/23 in a room on the mezzanine floor with a capacity of 190. The founder-director of the school cinema, Heinrich Fuchsig, a doctor of natural science and botany, had worked for the school as a teacher since its very first year and, from 1920, as deputy principal. From 1924 until his death in early 1930, he also was the editor of the journal Das Bild im Dienste der Schule und Volksbildung [The Image in the Service of School and Popular Education]. Being the Organ der Film- und Bildarbeitsgemeinschaft der Lehrer Wiens [House Journal of the Vienna Teachers’ Film and Image Working Group] (published under the name Organ des Schulkinobundes [House Journal of the School Cinema Association] from 1926), Das Bild (as was the journal’s abbreviated title) remained until the 1930s the most important platform in Austria dealing with questions of slides and moving images in contemporary reformed teaching as well as in adult education.
How does this school cinema of the Bundeserziehungsanstalt Vienna-Breitensee inscribe itself in the reform-pedagogy complex of “wholeness” and “naturalness”? What does this mean for teaching practice or the pedagogical dispositif of educational films? In three steps, an attempt will be made to establish connections from an educational science perspective. This also means that, in contrast to other contemporary readings of theorists of reform pedagogy such as Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi in film studies, I will not try to develop insights into film aesthetics out of pedagogical theory.17 Rather I want to demonstrate that, from the point of view of historical concepts and practices of reform pedagogy, the understanding of the temporal and spatial limits of an encounter with educational media might need to be expanded. In a final fourth step, hypothesis-like answers will be brought together.
The first step of this paper presents four basic motives18 of the European reform pedagogy movement, which developed around the turn of the 20th century out of criticism of the antiquated “Old School” with its authoritarian structures. What is set against the rigid rule of the curriculum is orientation to the questions, needs and interests of the child. The keyword of this first motive is “pedagogy starting from the child” (Pädagogik vom Kinde aus) – the child is no longer understood as a mere “immature adult,”19 “but as an original form of the human being in and of itself, with its own specific possibilities and challenges,”20 writes educational scientist Heiner Ullrich. Set against the dominance of passively receptive forms, which impart mere knowledge of facts, and the associated “frontal teaching” in the “textbook school” (Buchschule) is a new concept of learning. This second motive is associated with the keyword “self-activity” (Selbsttätigkeit) – learning is understood as an active, creative, self-empowering “natural” activity. This means as little instruction and as much self-directed knowledge acquisition as possible in pedagogical spaces provided for this purpose, which enable practical and subject-relevant experience. Against the authoritarian “coercive character” (Zwangscharakter) of the “Old School,” governed as it is by fear and obedience, stands the image of the “New School” as a model of living together in cooperation as a holistic entity. The keyword of the third motive is “community” (Gemeinschaft) – the "New School" is intended to be a pedagogically, socially, ethically, and aesthetically designed space, a stimulating and inspirational community of students and teachers. Education happens in community for the community. Against the predominance of intellectual learning stands the education of the “whole person” with their respective intellectual, physical, social and emotional abilities and possibilities. The keyword of the fourth motive is “wholeness” (Ganzheit) – the emphasis is on individuation, but as a social self, an “I” (Ich) within the community.
To ensure the practical success of these motives, the federal educational institutes mentioned before were set up in Austria as a model for the education of the 10- to 18-year-old based on the triad of home, school and business. Accordingly, each institution comprised a school (Schulanstalt), a community home (Erziehungsheim), and business enterprises (Wirtschaftsbetriebe), which were supposed to “form a whole, inextricably unified by the educational goal”21 of becoming a useful member of society, a useful citizen. Ideally, each student class was to have its own complex of spaces, a classroom, living room and dormitory, or group room.22 Depending on the location and size of the individual institutions, small animal husbandry, gardening, beekeeping, fish farming and crop farming were done on or off the school premises. In addition, there were workshops for bookbinding, carpentry, weaving and locksmithing, etc. For the training of manual dexterity skills, rooms and studios were set up to practice drawing, reproduction techniques, modeling, sculpting, or music. Physical exercise was based on a “natural lifestyle,”23 which included, apart from a balanced diet, health preservation and strengthening, hiking, skiing and swimming. Teaching was supposed to take as much inspiration as possible from the school premises themselves and their close surroundings. Classroom, lab, workshop, garden, field, stable, and cinema, as well as field trips (Lehrausgänge) in the surrounding region or adjacent districts all informed the encompassing totality of this new type of school. Even the school infirmaries became an integral part of teaching and education.
The second step outlines in some detail two central concepts (which have already been mentioned several times) in the context of European cultural criticism at the turn of the 20th century: “wholeness” and the holistic category of “nature.” The conceptual complexity of these notions of wholeness and nature, including their political impact, the idea of deliverance, promise of salvation, and hopes of redemption they brought on will, however, be touched upon in this text only as far as aspects are concerned that are also relevant for the educational film practice at Bundeserziehungsanstalt Vienna-Breitensee’s school cinema.
The enormous interest in holistic life and thought in science and everyday life around the turn of the century was, above all, predicated on a 19th-century worldview that was informed by the idea of exact natural science. The efficiency of human activity was heightened to an unprecedented degree through technical application and utilization of the laws of nature, the measuring of the world, and rational purposive thinking. Science and technology became the productive forces that “brought forth the modern capitalist economy,”24 educational historian Tobias Rülcker writes. On the downside, this was perceived to have led to a disenchantment (Entzauberung) and desensualization of the world, to mechanistic models of explanation, and questions of meaning being tabooed. This is where the holistic approach comes in as a precondition, to its proponents in the closely connected fields of life reform movement and reform pedagogy, of insightful knowledge and dealing with issues of meaning.
“Wholeness is not defined by the amount of knowledge in an area or by the number of activities in a field,”25 Rülcker continues, reconstructing the concept’s contours in late 19th and early 20th century reform pedagogy. The most important and often-named criteria of holistic ideation (Vorstellungsvermögen), as referenced in pedagogical theory at the time, consist in four complexes, which may occur individually or in combination.26 Firstly, one basis of holistic thinking is the correlating of elements from different areas of existence. The linking of, for example, theory and practice, mind and body, thinking and feeling, or, to quote Pestalozzi’s famous formula, of “head, heart and hand”27 is considered as evidence of holistic thinking and action. Secondly, a whole is more than the sum of its parts, for the fact that those parts are not merely concurrent but interrelated gives the whole a suprasummative quality. Thirdly, this connects with the idea that a whole cannot simply be split up into isolated parts, since each part contains again the whole. That means that parts of a whole cannot be understood without referring back to the whole. Fourthly, holistic explanation and understanding is perceived as a counterposition to monocausal, mechanistic patterns of explanation.
Aside from biology, psychology and cultural philosophy, it was in particular reform-oriented pedagogy that showed great interest in the idea of wholeness at the turn of the 20th century. Learners were now to be addressed and become active in a holistic way. Learning processes were to be designed so that self-acting work and feeling could coalesce, and intellectual and practical-physical activity interrelate. The subjects taught were no longer abstract bodies of knowledge but what was called “holistic matters”28 (ganzheitliche Sachen): animals, plants, devices, materials from which children could obtain their own knowledge. Learning was no longer about being able to memorize and reproduce large numbers of details but about recognizing holistic interconnectedness. Much like Rülcker, art historian Klaus Wolbert dates the “‘divorce’ of Western man from nature”29 to the 19th century. According to Wolbert, the domestication and “silencing” of the human “inner nature” – instincts, urges, and affects – had its counterpart in the relentless occupation and exploitation of “external nature” by industrial capitalism. The idea that the human “inner nature” as the dark side of reason can be altogether eliminated or at least made a calculable and hence controllable factor was to turn out to be an illusion and cause of profound alienation. This alienation would find expression in a sense of “feeling strange in one’s own body,”30 as education scholar Ehrenhard Skiera writes. Self-estrangement was taken to be a consequence of an encompassing disciplining through division of labor and specialization, through morality, fashion, and educational institutions.
Against the background of a world perceived as fragmented, threatening, and cold, nature became – in the context of the turn-of-the-century “life-reform” (Lebensreform) and reform-pedagogy movements – a place of refuge, a site of bliss, and the projection space of a backward-looking pre-industrial utopia of paradise. Nature was no longer the alien, the uncanny, an object of scientific investigation and, eventually, technological subjugation. Nature, or naturalness, was the unadulterated, the pristine, the eternally healthy and health-giving. And: when the reform-pedagogy movement had recourse to nature, it was, according to Skiera, again “resonant with the gospel of nature as a redemptive power”:31 natural or nature-based teaching, natural learning, natural method, natural educator, nature of the child. The gospel of nature as a redemptive power even extended into subject didactics: painting from nature, nature as a learning and living space, observations outdoors in living nature, as opposed to the dead classroom specimen, the lifeless teaching chart (Lehr-Bild). This came in parallel with the rehabilitation of the body, and with it, issues of body care (nutrition), health, hygiene and liberation, exercise and, not least, aesthetic perfectioning.
The third step presents two texts on educational film published in 1928, whose authors were members of the Film- und Bildarbeitsgemeinschaft der Lehrer Wiens mentioned at the beginning. The first is a text by Bürgerschul teacher Theodor Guth on “film in natural-history class”32 (“Film im naturgeschichtlichen Unterrichte”) and the second is by secondary-school teacher Ferdinand Lettmayer on “film as a teaching material”33 (“Film als Lehrmittel”). Both texts provide a vivid insight into the contemporaneous practice of teaching (or at least its best-practice ideal from the vantage point of pedagogues involved in school reform), the understanding of nature and the notion of wholeness, as well as a glimpse of film use in school, or at least of the potentials of using film.34 The texts and their writers are also representative for the general bent towards nature in educational film production and use at schools at the time: Like other contemporaneous proponents of films in school such as Felix Lampe in Germany, Guth and Lettmayer taught geography, with “natural history” often taking precedence as a subject. Geography and biology had pride of place among subjects in pedagogical debates on film’s uses in school.
Guth states that the first objective of the teacher of natural history must always be to directly confront students with nature or natural objects. Didactically, the subject of natural history is informed by the “biological principle” of “becoming and passing away”35 in conjunction with the idea of self-activity teaching (Arbeitsunterricht). To teach natural history in this sense means “observing, looking, inspecting, comparing” (“Beobachten, Anschauen, Betrachten, Vergleichen”). The goal of enabling conscious looking (“bewusstes Schauen”) and respect of natural processes requires a totality of interrelated parts in a non-predefinable order: namely, nature itself and the communal experiences that students gain from it, as well as specialized teaching aids and accompanying, moderating teachers. The advantages that, for example, insect and plant collections, or specimens and pictures have over film as teaching aids primarily are 1) that observation time can be freely selected, as well as 2) the free choice of the sequence of presentation and 3) the possibility of repetition. By contrast, the advantages of educational film in natural history teaching are manifold in other ways: Film shows life in motion and individuals in their natural habitats and communities. Film affords viewers an opportunity of observations that would otherwise be very difficult or even impossible to make, like forest animals, for example, or sea creatures and microorganisms. Slow-motion or time-lapse shots can give visibility to otherwise imperceptible movements, like in the case of plant growth and movement. Processes inside a living organism can be visualized as well. Guth emphasizes, however, that film as a teaching aid is not a substitute for nature, but a partial translation of reality. A film can be another mosaic stone in the activities of “observing,” “looking,” “inspecting,” “comparing” in order to arrive at conscious looking, at genuine apprehension (Anschauung).
In the spirit of wholeness, Guth eventually calls for two types of educational films: on the one hand, so-called “compilation films” (Sammelfilme) – these are long films composed of a collection of shorts of related content, which can be used both in part and as a whole. Moreover, he calls for so-called “concentration films” (Konzentrationsfilme), which thematically allow for a rather casual stringing together of geography, natural history, technical and other teaching units into one film, which can nevertheless be used again in its individual parts.36
Ferdinand Lettmayer argues in a similar fashion as Guth. For him, too, students must first get out of the classroom and into reality – into the forest, up the mountain, into the factory or mine. And he does not fail to note that nature is not always very accommodating in providing teaching aids: “We cannot grasp any complex phenomenon of nature at a single glance, but only, after getting an overview of the whole, by going from part to part, from function to function and, relating all these with one another, by returning to the whole again.”37 For the dissection of the whole, suitable teaching aids are needed that help to reduce the complexity of reality, to abstract, isolate, and are able to show some otherwise inaccessible detail, a certain characteristic, and make perceptible what is imperceptible to the senses. In the process of dissecting the world, the students are expected to build models, make drawings as attempted problem solutions, keeping an eye on the whole while making, in shared viewing, use of the ability of educational film to isolate movements from a complex by “inserting time into the image.”38
The final step tries to bring together parts of answers to the questions raised at the beginning. The two questions were: How does the school cinema of the Bundeserziehungsanstalt Vienna-Breitensee inscribe itself in the reform-pedagogy complex of “wholeness” and “naturalness”? And: What does this mean for teaching practice or the pedagogical dispositif of educational films? As I will argue, the concept of holistic education puts a wrench into the concept of an educational performance dispositif as focused by Frank Kessler to the space and time of educational media performance.39
The art of apprehension (Anschauungskunst) of the new that the reformed school was supposed to promote lies in the relationality of its teaching practice. Every subject, every single object, every place in a workshop or any of its operations is related to one another. Every single site, every stable, every laboratory, points beyond its immediate (teaching) purpose. The school cinema is thus not only a place of learning, of character and aesthetic education, a designated place of popular education or a training ground for teacher education. The school cinema is also, and above all, a place of shared perception and social experience. Applied to educational film, this means that the gain of knowledge of preparation, viewing, and follow-up discussion of educational films primarily works in the procedural work of the community, not as an individual task.
Like all other premises and facilities of the Bundeserziehungsanstalt, the school cinema was part of a school state. The basic idea of running the Federal Educational Institution as a school state was adopted from the country educational homes (Landerziehungsheime) of the German reform pedagogue Hermann Lietz. The school was understood as a small state in itself, in which “education time is seen not only as preparation for life, but as a part of life itself.”40 This common citizenship of all school citizens included not only the boarding pupils, but also the teachers, educators and parents. They all committed themselves to the common goal of educating the pupils and to taking responsibility for the success of the transformation of the old learning school into a child-oriented, humane and fear-free working school.41 In order to meet this responsibility, a reorientation of role models was supposed to take place on all sides. On the part of the boarding pupils, supported by the teacher-educators, a school community (Schulgemeinde) was established according to the principles of self-government, in which all the pupils participated. The practical task of the school community included the participation of the pupils in maintaining order at the institution. The pupils negotiated their own statutes among themselves and took over parts of the disciplinary authority. An elected committee represented the concerns of individuals or classes to the teaching, educational and administrative body and had a say in matters of punishment. The school community served primarily for self-education, cultivation of public spirit, and civic education and was considered one of the central institutions in the democratization of all levels of popular education. It was passionately discussed, and found various forms of practical implementation in reform pedagogy, up to and including the establishment of school-owned courts. The Parents’ Associations42 (Elternvereinigungen), founded with the participation of educators and teachers, were in close contact with the central administration, took part in events at the institutions through “Parents’ Days” and were often welcome financiers of urgently needed funds for the procurement of equipment.
For the body of teachers and educators, the change in the role model meant, on the one hand, a legal and financial equality of teachers and educators and, on the other hand, a softening of otherwise strictly separated areas of responsibility. Full-time teachers took on educational tasks in addition to their teaching duties, and educators had to teach up to six hours a week. The psychologically and pedagogically trained educators, so-called “teacher educators”43 (Lehrererzieher), represented a personnel experiment. The implementation of the teacher educator was intended to develop the future profile of all teachers, away from being the ruler of the curriculum to being a friendly companion. In the federal educational institutions, teacher educators were assigned to individual classes and had to accompany, support and supervise the pupils as confidants throughout the day, in some cases even during their lessons. The teachers and educators also included so-called “contract educators”44 (Vertragserzieher), mostly craftsmen and artists, who were employed in particular in the workshops, studios and in the area of the business enterprises.
School as a self-contained small state, this concept was understood to imply: a common citizenry that fosters respect for work, makes responsibility a duty for school citizens, and negotiation of rules a shared right. Just like the parliamentary and juridical institution of the “school community” (Schulgemeinde) as a place of self-government and expression of self-determination forms an illustrative lesson (Anschauungsunterricht) in social life, the school cinema above all was supposed to serve as a place of communal debate and social experience. The spirit of compromise was thus practiced not only as a balancing of the currents in the parts of the mass, but also as a communal effort to achieve the best possible result. In the reformed schools, the coming generation was to be prepared for participation in the democratic society and for taking responsibility. The school cinema was meant to be a part of this, with the useful citizen as the greater whole.
With respect to the pedagogical dispositif, reformed teaching practice had the strongest influence on this system of meaning production involving the moving image. For one thing, the audience is addressed not as consumers but as producers, and for another, a single partial media event is turned into a processual whole. In the sense of the pedagogical dispositif, this interdisciplinary meaning-producing order would not be limited to the performative simultaneity of individual media events. Rather, it represented a processual network. Individual events involving teaching material, each ordered in the pedagogical dispositif of a lesson or other guided pedagogical activity, join together across subjects within the framework of processes to form ever larger clusters. A network of vivid exchanges emerges, which constantly develops in the interplay of individual experiences, each within a social relationship. Some of them take place in and by tending to nature, others involve films, slides, wall charts, maps, preparations, texts, or handicrafts (e.g. building models, shaping at the sandbox) and artistic translation work (e.g. writing, drawing). A wide field of thought and ideas is unfolded before and after the film screening (encompassing days before and after) for pupils to experience and negotiate the meaning and significance of the subject presented in the film and to be able to see its holistic connectedness. This has consequences complicating the temporal and spatial bounds of the educational performance dispositif as conceived by Frank Kessler to analyze different material and institutional media projection and viewing setups. Considered from the point of view of holistic education, its concepts and their experimental realization in places such as Bundeserziehungsanstalt Vienna-Breitensee, the dispositif of a film’s educational use cannot be constricted to the close spatial and temporal continuity and contiguity of a single screen performance.
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