At a loss

By Mathias Maurer, November 2018

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation has published a study which looked at educational and parenting guides and the underlying styles of education since 1945.* If we look at the curve of their development, we can see that authoritarian and liberal styles of education alternate in monotonous regularity about every ten years. It could thus also be read as the intergenerational fluctuation in the relationship between grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren, whereby it is surprising to note that certain styles of education stubbornly persist.

An interesting sidelight of the study is that the different styles of education, existing, as always, in parallel, reflect the political situation of their time like a mirror: the National Socialist guide for parents by Johanna Haarer, Die Mutter und ihr erstes Kind (The mother and her first child), first published in 1934 with a run of millions and with its last edition in 1987 (!); competing with that, Alexander Neill’s cult book of antiauthoritarian education, Summerhill, first published in 1969 also with a run of millions, with the last edition in 1995. 

Yet happily the overall trend is that we are moving towards democratically collaborative concepts of education which focus on the needs of the child. But the frustrating result is that the insecurity of parents with regard to the education of their child has never been greater than today. The reasons for this should give us pause for thought: the diversity and complexity of the range of parenting guides; the growing performance and quality demands made of the family and its ability to bring children up; the discrepancy between the differing demands of the “systems” comprising family and the world of work, leading to the gradual overload of parents – and children. The whole thing still largely placed the greatest burden on mothers since their commitment and attentiveness did not readily harmonise with today’s educational concepts of equal rights, autonomy and letting go. 

There must be some doubt as to whether there can be a synthesis of conservative (e.g. motivating to perform) and modern (e.g. social skills) values, as the study claims, because a different view of the human being underlies these separate styles of education which would lead to constant conflict in the everyday life of the school. A good relationship between parents and children simply cannot be established through interpersonal efficiency but is characterised by a loving, slowly progressing type of process with frequent repetition. This contradiction cannot be resolved by any of the 10,000 parenting guides and parents are left at a loss in the reality of life. 

If the parental guides focus on the relationship – be it authoritarian, authoritative, laissez faire or democratic – between parents and children, I would call for real parental guides to be produced which also give parents “tips” about how to maintain a separate fulfilled relationship between one another – that is independently of the children. For their relationship is the starting point and foundation of all upbringing and education.


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