No theory forbids me to say "Ah!" or "Ugh!", but it forbids me the bogus theorization of my "Ah!" and "Ugh!" - the value judgments. - Theodor Julius Geiger (1960)

Theodor Litt (pedag.)

Theodor Litt (1880-1962) was a German cultural and social philosopher and educationalist. He identified with the Weimar Republic and had conflicts with National Socialism as the rector of the University of Leipzig. He was banned from lecturing in 1937 and prematurely retired, but continued to publish critical works against the ruling ideology. After the end of World War II, he was unable to reconcile with the ideology of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and moved to the University of Bonn, where he founded the Institute for Educational Sciences.

As a philosopher, Litt was influenced by the dialectical thinking approach, which was shaped by his engagement with Kant and Herder on the one hand and Hegel on the other. Litt sought to overcome one-dimensional views and their credibility in a comprehensive context with his dialectical way of thinking, approaching the matter rationally and dialectically, and developing a cultural philosophy (individual and community) and a philosophical anthropology (human and world). Litt's didactic approach to supporting humanities, especially historical education, with reference to technology, natural science, and the world of work was continued by Wolfgang Klafki's "free thinking" education science and the education reform of the 1960s. Talcott Parsons' social theory is also trained in it. Litt saw history as a cultural overall situation, defined as the entirety of what people have created in a community through thinking, acting, and production. Education is, under these conditions, an "action that is directed by nature to the connection of the human-social world, to the progressive development of the individual in the continuity of the historical process."

Litt believed that education and upbringing are interconnected, as there is always an educational aspect to teaching. He believed that the educational impact is crucial for effective and consistent teaching that aims to educate students in the values of accuracy, work ethic, and fulfilling their duties. According to Litt , these values should be passed on by teachers without directly influencing the students, as each teacher has a different educational influence and perspective. Litt saw a connection between intelligence and character, and between knowledge and education. Litt saw it necessary for teachers to have certain characteristics, including a systematic and methodical approach to teaching, knowledge of educational theory, and a "historical self-awareness" that helps students understand their place in the world. He also believed that good teachers have self-control and do not take sides, and that they should be able to adapt their teaching style to the needs and abilities of their students.


Leading or letting (go to) grow

"To lead or to let grow?" is an age-old question. In 1929, Theodor Litt examined the role of educators and answered the well-known and much debated question of whether the educator's role is to lead or to allow growth. He believed that both of these approaches are useful for understanding the purpose of education, but that neither one alone could fully capture the complexity of the educational process. He argued that both leading and growing must be balanced in order to truly understand and effectively practice education.

Litt was inspired by Jonas Cohn's 1924 Theory of Dialectics, which encouraged him to consider the tensions and oppositions within education, such as the individual versus the community and reason versus life. He believed that these tensions could be resolved through syntheses, but that they would always be present in some form.

Litt argued that there is a gap between human existence and organic being, and that the human mind longs to find meaning and harmony in the world. He believed that education should aim to help individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives and to live in harmony with the world around them.

Reading Litt's text made me think about David Provan's "Benefactor or burden" article. When trying to apply Litt's approach to the management of safety in an organization, we can think about balancing the need to lead and guide employees with the need to allow for growth and development. So, setting clear safety rules and procedures for employees to follow goes together with giving them the freedom and autonomy to find creative solutions to safety challenges and to take ownership of their own safety. This goes hand in hand with learning from work, where employees are encouraged to identify and address potential risks and to learn from past experience.

In addition to balancing the roles of leading and growing, Litt's emphasis on the dialectical nature of education suggests that safety management in organizations should also be mindful of the tensions and oppositions that can arise within the work environment. This might include addressing conflicts between the needs of the organization and the needs of individual employees, or finding ways to reconcile conflicting perspectives or approaches to safety.

A summary of the book is available: