KANT IN THE CLASSROOM     Materials to aid the study of Kant’s lectures

Kant’s Writings
Academy Edition
Kant’s Life


> Students


> Introduction
Königsberg Schools
Kant’s Career [classes at the Coll. Frid.]
Student Life at the University
Student Finances
Composition of the Student Population
The Hofmeister

Kant’s Lectures
The Student Notes

Introduction: 18th Century College Students

“There were no specialists attending the lectures of philosophers, mathematicians, and philologists − no students of mathematics or philology − but simply young people wanting to expand and deepen their general education. [They] had learned their Latin in school, and now in the first years of university studies they wanted to widen their minds through anything attractive or promising a worthwhile enrichment and instruction. No exams in their disciplines awaited them; they were led there, rather, by a simple interest in the subject or the teacher.”

— Friedrich Paulsen [1921, 139-40]

1. Latin Schools: Preparing for the University
2. German Schools and Poor Schools
3. School Reform in the 18th Century

Because the notes we have from Kant’s lectures were written down by his students, it will benefit any user of these notes to become better acquainted with the authors.  Who were these students who showed up in Kant’s classroom over the years?  How prepared were they?  How old were they?  Where did they come from? 

What follows is just the beginning of an answer.

Students attending the university in Königsberg were mainly East Prussian, typically rural and often quite poor, receiving one of the many scholarships available.  Their abilities and preparation varied tremendously, as did their age, although the average was between 16 and 22.  Unless they were already citizens of Königsberg, they had three days to matriculate at the university once they arrived in the city, and they generally stayed at the university for three years, often taking courses in the philosophy faculty (the “lower” faculty) during the first year, and the remaining in one of the higher faculties (theology, medicine, or law) — an attempt at standardizing this was made by von Fürst in 1770; see the study plan reprinted in Oberhausen/Pozzo [1999, xxix-xxxv].

Students were supposed to declare their academic intentions when they first matriculated, but this was often left unnoted, and they were supposed to register themselves with the dean of the higher faculty of choice.  Most students received no degree at the end of their studies, and there were no set courses that needed to be completed, although most students were expected to take logic and metaphysics during their first year.  Theology students typically took additional courses in the philosophy faculty — other than the professor of logic and metaphysics, there were professors of practical philosophy (ethics and natural law), rhetoric and history, poetry, Greek, Oriental languages, mathematics, and physics [more] — since most elementary and secondary schools were directly attached to a church, and thus anyone entering the ministry was usually expected to teach or at least supervise the teaching of children.

Latin Schools: Preparing for the University [top]

Most students making their way into the university first attended a Latin School or a Gymnasium. These typically consisted of grades ascending from Sexta to Prima, with a minimum of two years in each grade, and students were expected to spend some time in the Prima class before moving on to the university. Promotion from class to class was also more than an academic affair, often carrying with it various privileges and symbols of privilege, such as the manner of dress; La Vopa [1988] notes the right to wear a cape, or to carry a stick rather than the sword normally worn by pupils.

The move from Latin school to university was far from orderly, however. Students often left for the university after only the briefest time in the Prima, or even bypassing it altogether. Similarly, students would begin their studies at different ages and at different levels depending on the education they had received at home, either informally from a family member, or more formally from a hired tutor or Hofmeister [La Vopa 1988, 61-70].

The weekly school time was generally 30 hours, and the content of instruction included a fair amount of Latin vocabulary and grammar: around one hour per day in the lower grades, and up to one-half of the instruction time in the Sekunda and Prima grades. Promotions to the next class, and the ranking within each class, was typically based on one’s grasp of Latin. The goal was to keep all instruction in Latin as well, although German was occasionally used by necessity. This emphasis on Latin served to level the playing field in this linguistically diverse population; it also helped isolate these pupils from children of similar age not destined for the university.

Königsberg children of the 18th century could choose from any of four Latin schools to attend: the three city schools (one in each of the old city sectors — Altstadt, Löbenicht, and Kneiphof, this last also called the Domschule or cathedral school) — and the Pietist Collegium Fridericianum or Friedrichskolleg (see Königsberg Schools for more detailed information).  The Collegium Fridericianum, given its name by Friedrich I, was founded in 1698 — the first Latin school in Königsberg, and unattached to any local church — by Theodor Gehr (1663-1705) on the model of the Pietist schools in Halle founded by Franke, and with whom Gehr was acquainted.  It accepted both boarding students as well as day students from town, and it was here that Kant — attending from Easter 1732 to St. Michaels 1740 (ages 8 to 16) — learned to love Latin and to despise the outward manifestations of organized religion.  Just two years before Kant began attending, Friedrich Wilhelm I decreed the Fridericianum as the model school for the three other city schools (1730), and eventually for the rest of Prussia (1735).  This was the only boarding school of its kind in all of Prussia, and attracted wealthier students from throughout the Baltic, as well as Russia and Poland [Baczko, as qtd. in Herder 1846, 157-58; see also Gause 1996, ii.125].

At the Fridericianum, Latin and Greek were mandatory subjects, with French and Polish as optional languages. A French class was formed in 1730, and was eventually offered regularly at several levels, although always privately, and so at additional tuition. That Kant is reported to have taken French suggests that tuition for private lessons must have been waived on occasion [Goldbeck 1782, 235]. Karl Heinrich Rappolt [bio], the full professor of physics at the university, gave English lessons at the school as well, and in 1731 published a textbook — written in Latin — for learning English. Goldbeck includes Italian and Polish among the languages taught [1782, 235-37], and Gause mentions attempts to offer Italian and Oriental languages that failed for lack of students [1996, ii.125-6].

German Schools and Poor Schools [top]

The Collegium Fridericianum included three German classes (totaling 200 children of both sexes and six teachers), alongside the six Latin classes for boys only. In the German classes, the students learned reading, writing, arithmetic, religion, Bible history, and the composing of letters, along with some essentials of geography and physics [Goldbeck 1782, 247].

Friedrich William I viewed public education as a moral duty of the state. In addition to the Fridericianum and the three city schools, there were also eight church schools whose classes were conducted in German (thus the name "German schools"), and that operated like "poor schools" and at roughly the same level: the Altroßgärten, the Tragheim, the Sackheim, and the Haberberg schools, as well as the Neuroßgärten cantor school, and the schools connected with the large hospital, the Friedrichsberg fortress, and St. George’s hospital. In addition to these was a Lithuanian school in the Sackheim district, and three Polish schools (in the Steindamm, Oberhaberberg, and Kneiphof districts). Goldbeck reports that most of these schools employed a single teacher, with three at Sackheim, and two each at Tragheim, Altroßgärten, and the Haberberg [Goldbeck 1782, 254-55; Gause 1996, ii.126]. All these schools were Lutheran, and in the Polish and Lithuanian schools, the instruction was in German as well as the second language. There was also a French-reformed school with two teachers and instruction in French, and a Roman catholic school attached to the cloister. These schools taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion, as well as letter-writing and occasionally some basics in the natural sciences, history, and Latin. The teachers were usually employed in some capacity at the church (such as a cantor or organist), but in any event they were expected to have studied at the university. All schools — Latin, as well as the German and poor schools — would have an inspector as well as a rector. The smaller schools often had only one teacher (who also served as rector) and shared an inspector.

The church schools all involved some tuition fee, it appears, although much of it might be waived; the poor schools, on the other hand, offered free tuition. These poor schools all fell under the supervision of the director of the Fridericianum, and so were infused with the same pietistic spirit. The first such school was opened by Gehr in the early 18th century; by 1745 there were fourteen, and records from 1753 show 2300 children attending eleven different poor schools. Apart from these schools there was also the German Reformed school (also called the Burgschule) founded in 1730 by the Präzentor Raphael Biehahn. Goldbeck highly praised this school, recommending its enlightened instructional method that emphasized understanding over memorization. Three full time teachers were employed, with eleven adjuncts (nine of whom appear to have been university students) [Goldbeck 1782, 189-201; Gause 1996, ii.269].

The poor schools were not schools in the modern sense, insofar as they lacked buildings. All teaching occurred in rented rooms of private homes. Nor did the government provide financial support, leaving them to survive from bequests and donations, often from Pietists. These meager funds often failed to meet the expenses, and so small tuition fees would be charged, but often left unpaid. The inspectors of the poor schools were affiliated with the Fridericianum, and the teachers were university students living at the Fridericianum. Students who taught at the poor schools were also given preference by the King when seeking employment later in life, and their stint in the poor schools was seen as a preparation for a later position as a teacher or pastor. The teachers often changed, and the pupils often changed the school they attended (to the extent that they attended; attendance appears not to have been recorded at these schools). Gause claims that these poor schools in Königsberg provided the general model for the rest of Prussia [Gause 1996, ii.125-27].

School Reform in the 18th century [top]

Mandatory schooling in Prussia was instituted in 1733, and with that came a sudden increase in the demand for primary school teachers. The burden of teaching fell where it had always fallen, on the local pastors and deacons, but this began a shift towards the professionalization of teachers, bringing changes in the universities as they sought to create a class of non-theologian teachers. New courses on pedagogy were introduced — of which Kant took his share of teaching — and it was this rise of professional school teachers that eventually led to viewing the Philosophy faculty not as a preparatory set of courses for students going on to study theology, law, or medicine, but instead as a training ground for these new professional educators, thus putting it on a level with the three “higher faculties” and leading to the granting of doctorates in philosophy that would parallel the D.D., J.D., and M.D.

Another push for reform came in 1768, in a directive from the ministry in Berlin under the leadership of Karl Abraham von Zedlitz [bio], who had served as the Prussian Minister of Culture and Education since 1771. Von Zedlitz introduced the Abitur [glossary], an exit exam for all pupils preparing to enter the university, and he attempted to reform the content of the schools as well, although this met with a predictable amount of resistance.

Christoph Samuel Domsien was the inspector of Fridericianum (having succeeded Schiffert), and its director, Gotthilf Christian Reccard [bio], was not interested in pedagogical matters. Zedlitz attempted a reform in 1780 along the principles of the “Enlightenment Pedagogy” and of the Philanthropinum, but could not overcome the resistance of the teachers [Paulsen 1921, 67-100]. In 1800 the Fridericianum had 250 pupils, with another 1000 attending the eight poor schools under its supervision, and the enrollment kept sinking. The other Latin schools suffered similar fates, despite their rectors, with Flottwell and Pisanski at the Kneiphof, Thack at Löbenicht, and Weymann (Kant’s declared enemy) at Altstadt. The Altstadt school had 11 teachers and 250 pupils in 1800, the Kneiphof 10 and 110, the Löbenicht 8 and 115. None of these schools wanted to replace the classics with the natural sciences. The German Reformed school fared better, having begun its changes in 1773 with Seibert (d. 1779) as its rector; enrollment here rose from 40 to over 100, most of whom were Lutheran.

Small private schools were opened in Königsberg near the end of the 18th century, such as the one founded in 1795 by Christian Friedrich Puttlich [bio], one of Kant’s former students. Johann Gottlieb Bötticher (b. 1754) also opened a private school, and another former student of Kant’s, Gotthilf Christoph Wilhelm Busolt [bio], planned a school in 1795 in which pupils would be given practical training, with natural science and technology being taught alongside German, French, and Polish. This was to be an “Enlightened” School, following the principle that “the happiness of the state depends upon the moral worth of its individual members, and to neglect the latter is to bury the former,” although it appears that Busolt never actually opened his school. After traveling throughout Germany studying innovative schools, returning to Königsberg in 1800, he was given a government post as church and school advisor, where he promoted Pestalozzi’s pedagogical methods [Gause 1996, ii.268-72].

Copyright ©2006 Steve Naragon (Manchester University)
Last modified: 24 Jul 2010
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu