Theoretical roots of social pedagogical ideas
Rapid changes that the Estonian society has witnessed over the last
years have brought up several new challenges. In order to cope with
these challenges, it is necessary to find and develop such strategies,
which would involve as wide segments of the society as possible.
Pedagogy as a mean to solve social problems has been used and
discussed in Estonia for a long time. Lately, both practically and
academically oriented studies in social pedagogy as well as training
of social pedagogues has begun to spread in pedagogical institu-
tions. However, social pedagogy as an academic tradition and
research field is relatively new in Estonia, generalisations of the
practice are modest (Leino 1998, 32; Kraav 1999, 25 etc). Estonian
social pedagogical tradition needs an historical and international
background in order to estimate our achievements and further
The current paper focuses on the theoretical basis of social peda-
gogical ideas in Estonian in pre-World War II. The aim is to give an
overview about the extent and nature of different theoretical influ-
ences on the development of Estonian social pedagogy. Another
aim is to show the extent and nature of handling the term social
pedagogy in Estonia before World War II.
As in other coutries (Hämäläinen 1996, 26; Mühlum 1996,
54 etc), there is no one certain criterion in Estonia to define the
beginning of the social pedagogical practice and theory. Due to
the political links of the development of pedagogical sciences in
Estonia, two main periods in the development of social pedagogical
ideas in Estonia before World War II can be seen as two periods:
Pre-independence period (until 1918) and The period of Estonian
Republic in 1918–1940.
The period, grasping a big part of Estonian history, can be divided
on the base of the relationship between theory and practice and also
by the extent of international influences.
Early social pedagogical practice, partly following the example
of the German one, spread in Estonia at least from 19th century,
mainly in the form of the pietistic charity schools — (Andresen
The early theoretical ideas from the tradition of German social
pedagogy are possible to find from the beginning of the usage of
the term social pedagogy in the German tradition. This era — the
middle of the 19th century—was also the period of the establish-
ment of Estonian national intelligence (Karjahärm / Sirk 1997,
299). The calls to solve social problems with pedagogical means are
noticeable in the period of National Awakening (1860– 1880). The
ideas of the leaders of the movement like national education (die
Nationale Erziehung) and the education in the mother tongue are
also possible to handle in social pedagogical frames.
The social pedagogical element strengthened in the works of
the Estonian pedagogues of the last decades of the 19th century.
Moral decline of the society as the result of industrialisation and
urbanisation, insufficient home education, mother’s role as an edu-
cator, narrowness of the one-sided intellectualism in school educa-
tion and school’s limited opportunities for social education were
sharply discussed in this period (Kapp 1879; Jakobson-Pärna 1882;
Hoöömann 1883; Järv 1889; Kampmann 1896; Grenzstein 1896 etc).
However, the social pedagogical approach of the early intelligence
didn’t include remarkable theoretical models or ambitions, the term
social pedagogy was not in usage.
The first theoretical influences in the development of national
social pedagogical idea are possible to find at the beginning of
the 20th century. Due to the fast modernisation, the amount of
national intelligence increased remarkably in that period. The
ideas of the great precursors of the theoretical tradition of social
pedagogy (Comenius, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Diesterweg) spread in
Estonia during this period —although not always observable in the
social pedagogical frame (Peters 1909; Nigol 1910 etc). Also the first
works of the first leading pedagogues of the period of independence
(Niggol, Põld) were published in this period.
Social political and scientific changes in Estonia in the pre-
independence era created a moderate, however remarkable base for
the national social pedagogical tradition. The theoretical develop-
ment in handling pedagogical means in solving social problems is
noticeable. Nevertheless, a systematic approach to the links between
society and education or to the pedagogical means in solving social
problems is not observable. Also there is no occasion of usage of the
term social pedagogy.
The achievement of national independence was followed by a prin-
cipal changes in Estonian education. From the viewpoint of social
pedagogy, the most important of the changes were: rapid increase
of the national intelligence, wide spreading of the ideas of Westeu-
ropean reformpedagogy, dissatisfaction with the existing educational
management, the formation of regular pedagogical press and the
opportunity to handle the social links of the education without
The first translation from German (Herget 1921) about social
pedagogy was published in Estonia just at the beginning of the
independence period. Different approaches to the terms social and
social pedagogy as well as philosophical bases of social pedagogy are
introduced in the book rather largely. Of the theorists of social peda-
gogy, Rein, Bergemann, Willmann, Barth, Dörpfeld, Bäumer and
Natorp are handled. However, this publication was not remarked
in later discussions about Estonian social pedagogy.
Social pedagogy in national pedagogical periodicals
As exspected, regular pedagogical press became the exponent of
acute educational problematic from the very beginning of the
independence. In national pedagogical periodicals, some basic
social pedagogical themes are possible to distinguish, which were
most emphasised in a certain period. Also the main international
authorities are possible to bring out in handling these themes. Short
generalization about the main social pedagogical topics can be seen
in table 1.
Table 1: The main social pedagogical topics in national pedagogical
periodicals during the Estonian Republic in 1918–1940
• Comprehensive school (Ühtluskool, Einheitsschule,) — early
• Arbeitsschule (töökool)—1920s, the first half of 1930s
• Relationships between the individual and social education – the
middle of the 1930s
• Political and national education, relationships between the
individual and society—increasingly through all the period
• Relationships between pedagogy and politics, the autonomy of
pedagogy—1930s, specially the second half (Elango 1930; Koort
1936; Oissar 1938)
• The reception and definition of the term social pedagogy by the
Estonian authors—late 1930s
At the beginning of the independence period, in early 1920s, com-
prehensive school (Ühtluskool, Einheitsschule) was put pressure
in Estonia as a base of democratic national education (Kolts 1919;
Martinson I–II 1919; IV–VII 1920; Lank 1920 etc). The school of
preindependence era in Estonia was socially and nationally discrimi-
nated. In 1920, comprehensive school became guaranteed by law.
However, some political trends hindered the practice of the compre-
hensive school also later. Specially, limited educational opportuni-
ties for children from the country side were argued about. So the
discussion had both social pedagogical and social political frames.
From the international classics, Pestalozzi’s ideas about the educa-
tional advantages of the comprehensive school and public school
were most emphasised in the articles of Estonian pedagogues. Also
the ideas of other authorities of German tradition of social peda-
gogy (Diesterweg, Natorp, Tews, Kerschensteiner) were handled,
however not quite deeply.
One of the greatest factors from the German social pedagogy in
Estonian discussion in 1920ies and early 1930ies became the subject
of the Arbeitsschule (Põld 1917; Lank 1920; Aan 1920; Annusson
1920; Käis 1921; Meiusi 1930; Käis 1933 etc). The problem was acute,
because almost throughout the independence period, the Estonian
school was accused of producing many pupils without any voca-
tional skills and perspective for future. The theme was handled
already before the independence period (Põld 1910; 1917; Niggol
1918). Also the translations from German in Estonian pedagogical
periodicals (Herget 1920; Lüttge 1920; Stuhlfarth 1923) strengthened
the discussion. The critics of herbartianism and one-sided intel-
lectualism went through these articles and figured as a base of the
Estonian reform-pedagogy’s ambitions towards the Arbeitsschule. In
discussion about the Arbeitsschule, the most popular classics from
German-speaking Europe were Pestalozzi and Kerschensteiner.
Some more modern trends of German and American Arbeitsschule
were distinguished (Gaudig, Seidel), however not quite deeply
(Herget 1920; Meiusi 1930; Käis 1933; Koort 1936).
In the middle of 1930s, some critics of the exaggeration of the
Arbeitsschule appeared in Estonia (Kurvits 1935; Koort 1934; 1936;
1938/1996). Koort (1934, 193; 1938/1996, 404) holds Kerschensteiner’s
ideas of the Arbeitsschule being out of time, because in modern
society, vocational education does not fit automatically with overall
social education. By Koort, in modern society many people have to
realize themselves outside of their vocation anyway (1934, 193). The
discussion of the 1930s echoes in Estonia also today, as the over-
pressure of the academic orientation in secondary school is largely
opposed. However, the term of social pedagogy did not appear in
the discussion of 1930s.
The problem of the balance between individual and social educa-
tion can be seen as purely theoretical social pedagogical discussion
in Estonian pedagogy. It appeared in the middle of the 1930s, after
publishing J. Käis’s book “Self-activity and individual working
method” (“Isetegevus ja individuaalne tööviis” – 1935). Käis was the
leader of the reform-pedagogical movement in Estonia during the
first period of independence. His position was bases on wide selec-
tion of German, English and American education theorists (Ker-
schensteiner, Rein, Spranger, Locke, Dewey, Parkhurst etc). Käis
holds the individual approach the most important principle from
the viewpoint of formation a complete personality. This brought
along the accusations in overpressure of individualism and under-
estimation of social education and collective thinking (Kull 1935;
1936). The controversy based largely on different interpretations
of European educational philosophy in 19th century. Käis holds
individualism being the mainstream of the first half of 19th century.
Käis’s opponents, on the contrary, saw individualism ruling also in
the beginning of 20th century—still mainly under the influence of
Rousseau, Nietzche and Key. So individualism was handled as an
ideology to fight against also in Estonian education (Kull 1935, 190).
In connection of this discussion, probably the first original interpre-
tation of the term social pedagogy appears in Estonian discussion.
Käis (1935/1992, 17) calls social pedagogy a pedagogy, which forms
individuality and personality of human being in order to develop
the social life. Käis holds Natorp and Dewey as being the World’s
most important representatives of social pedagogy. Later, Käis uses
the term of social pedagogy also in connection of the idea of Leb-
ensgemeinschaft in Natorp’s and Petersen’s school education theory
(1944/1986 I, 155).
In late 1920s and specially, in 1930s, the links between pedagogy
and politics became sharply handled in Estonian discussion. This
was in straight connection with anti-democratic tendencies in
Europe at the era. By many authors (Aumann 1928; Elango 1930;
Koort 1936 etc), political education as guarantee of democracy was
emphasised. Also the limitation of individual rights by the state was
discussed. Some pedagogues opposed it (Käis 1938), others stood for
the right of the state to propose its demands to the citizen — if the
state doesn’t do this, an individual would be put under the influ-
ence of other, negative and uncontrollable factors (Kurvits 1936;
Meiusi 1938). Back to Tönnies’s distinction of traditional commu-
nity (Gemeinschaft) and modern society (Gesellschaft) goes Tarvel
(1937), criticising the atomisation of modern society and lack of its
natural assimilation power. Tarvel warns from overstrained national-
ism, which was very acute in Europe at the end of 1930s. He stands
for statehood organised educational practice in order to maintain
traditional cultural values and social democracy — this work Tarvel
calls social pedagogy (1937, 45).
Some authors (Koort 1936; Oissar 1938 etc) argue about the
balance between absolute autonomy of the pedagogy and its
dependence from the social and political demands. The theoretical
background of the articles consists mainly of the great theorists of
18th and early 19th century (Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Fröbel, Schleier-
Besides by Tarvel, the term of social pedagogy was not used in
these discussions. However, the discussion functioned as a self-
reflection in estimating the limits of pedagogy in changing the
Wider considerations about the term social pedagogy began in
Estonia at the very end of the first independence period, in late
1930s and in 1940. E. Oissar, the main interpreter of the contem-
porary pedagogical trends in Germany, gives a large overview of
Herman Nohl’s social pedagogical conception (8/1939, 317 – 322;
9/1939, 372 – 378). Oissar defines Nohl’s social pedagogy as collec-
tion of educational means, which are intended to replace natural
educators, if necessary. Oissar holds Nohl’s social pedagogy being
alternative to former social pedagogical conceptions, as grasping
many new fields of everyday life (1939 II, 373). Oissar also inter-
prets Nohl’s conception of pedagogical relationship (Pädagogische
Beziehung) (1939 II, 372).
There were some more interpretations of the term social peda-
gogy in pedagogical periodicals of the era (Reial 1935; Tavast 1937,
477). These will be mentioned in Addition 2 later in this paper.
The main theorists in the field of social pedagogy before the
World War II
Besides the discussion in pedagogical periodicals, there were some
authors in Estonia whose work created a specific, more or less sys-
tematic social pedagogical whole.
Carl Heinrich Niggol (1851– 1927) is a powerful precursor of the
ideas of reform-pedagogy and Arbeitsschule in Estonia, also a social
pedagogical critic of intellectualism and overstrained academic bias
in Estonian school (Andresen 1995, 172; Eisen 1995, 15). He stands
for family ties as the base of overall education (1918, 144; 1921, 60
etc), as well as for the Kindergarten education (1918, 36 etc). Gener-
ally, Niggol builds on Pestalozzi, as well as on Fröbel’s conception
of Kindergarten. There is no usage of the term social pedagogy in
Peeter Põld (1878– 1930), one of the greatest names in Estonian
pedagogy, has been handled as Natorp’s adherent (Kallits 1931, 30),
however without directly social pedagogical context. Following
Kerschensteiner, Põld defines the principle of sociality among edu-
cational principles (1932/1993, 66). Põld is the first user of the term
Arbeitsschule in Estonia (Koort 1930), refering to Kerschensteiner’s
and Dewey’s conceptions (Põld 1910; 1913). Põld pays much atten-
tion to intelligence and to the weakening of intelligence’s family
ties (Kallits 1931, 48). He also put pressure on the mother’s role as
educator and opposes the modern motherhood- hostile women-
ideal. Koort (1930/1996, 298) holds Põld’s position as independent
pedagogical relationship relaying on Pestalozzi’s love relationship
between mother and child (Denkende Liebe). However, besides
many social pedagogical themes in his work there’ s no literal evi-
dence of usage the term social pedagogy by Põld.
Johannes Käis (1885–1950), the leader of the reform-pedagogical
movement in Estonia during the first independence period, was
concerned with school and was mostly involved with didactical
problems. However, first in Estonia he defines the principle of
sociality among didactical principles (Eisen 1995, 34). Käis essen-
tially extended the theoretical basis of Estonian social pedagogical
discussion, specially with wide overview of the relationships between
individual and social education (Pestalozzi, Kerschensteiner, Nohl,
Parkhurst), as well as of the Arbeitsschule and Lebensgemeinschaft-
schule (Comenius, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Kerschensteiner, Petersen,
Natorp). Thanks to Käis, the names of many theorists popular in
European and American discussion became familiar in Estonian
pedagogy. Usage of the term social pedagogy by Käis was handled
above in this article.
Alfred Koort (1901– 1956) was deeply philosophical and discreet
criticiser of reform pedagogy in Estonia in 1930s. As an original
social pedagogical standpoint in Estonian context can be seen his
critical attitude towards the Arbeitsschule and specially, towards
Kerschensteiner’s efforts to unify the individual’s inner vocation
with his official occupation (Koort 1934, 193; 1936, 251). Koort is
also a user of the term social pedagogy in context of out-school
adult education—social pedagogy he holds the task of educational
institutions to inset an individual to traditional social systems (1934,
196). Koort’s emphasis to the voluntary out-school organisations in
social education (Koort 1938/1996, 419) is also original in contem-
porary Estonian social pedagogy. While Käis may be held mainly a
school’s social pedagogue in Estonian tradition, then Koort repre-
sents the out-school direction.
Aleksander Elango (1902) published — first in Estonia — the
original book dedicated to the theory and the term of social peda-
gogy (“Social Education” — “Ühiskondlik kasvatus” 1940). Elango
analyses comparably the term and theory of social pedagogy, han-
dling Natorp, Nohl, Dewey, Kerschensteiner and Petersen. Like
Kerschensteiner and Dewey, Elango holds social pedagogy, first of
all, as education in society. However, analysing their strengths and
weaknesses, Elango has no certain bias to any of these theorists.
In 1930s, Elango considers the relationship between politics and
pedagogy in fighting social problems (1930; 1934; 1938 II etc) and
also argues about family counselling and home education move-
ment as the pedagogical activities in fighting social problems (1932
I –II; 1934; 1938 I etc). Similarly to the modern theories about the
circle of deprivation, Elango argues that social problems accumulate
over several generations (1938 I, 4– 5). In his earlier works (1928 II,
74; 1934, 76), Elango has called social pedagogues also Pestalozzi
and Scleiermacher, however without deepening yet to the term
Concisely, the main theories of German tradition of social peda-
gogy were accessible in Estonian national educational periodicals
at the end of the 1930s. The systematic tradition of handling the
problems of social education and solving social problems with edu-
cational means was just shaping. At the end of the independence
period, usage of the term social pedagogy was spreading. However,
the forming tradition was interrupted by the World War II and by
the Soviet occupation.
About the term “social pedagogy” in Estonian tradition
Short generalisation about the use of the term social pedagogy
in Estonia during the first independence period can be seen in
Table 2: Usage of the term social pedagogy during the Estonian
Republic in 1918–1940
• Põld has called himself a social pedagogue (Kallits 1931, 39–40),
but there’s no literal evidence of using the term by him.
• Kallits (1931, 39– 40) notices the multiple meaning of the term
social pedagogy, but doesn’t define it himself.
• Koort (1934, 196) uses the term social pedagogy in the context
of work in the field of national education.
• Käis (1935/1992, 17) defines social pedagogy as pedagogy, which
forms individuality and personality of human being in order to
develop the social life.
• Reial (1935, 9) uses the term social pedagogy as one aspect of
education, opposing it to the term individual pedagogy. He
notices, that these to aspects have to complement each other in
• Tarvel (1937, 405) uses the term social pedagogy in a sense of
educating all the members of the society to be viable in a demo-
• Tavast (1937, 477) calls social pedagogy circle of problems,
which is connected with educating people to society and with
influencing them by society. By Tavast, practical social peda-
gogical activity has to be taken care mainly by school classes.
• Oissar (1939 II, 373) uses the term social pedagogy receptively,
while introducing Nohl’s social pedagogical theory and prac-
• For Elango (1940 I, 3– 4), the term social pedagogy exists as a
synonym to the term social education (ühiskondlik kasvatus).
Like Kerschensteiner and Dewey, Elango holds social pedagogy,
first of all, as education in society.
It appears from the analysis that, if not to consider the Herget’s
translation (1921), the term social pedagogy was not in use in
Estonia during 1920s. Also the use of comparable terms like social
education was unusual and irregular. The exploitation of the term
social pedagogy spread in Estonia during 1930s, specially during
the second half of the decade. Some attempts to define the term
are noticeable in that period. However, the term was used eclecti-
cally and in different contexts by different authors. These defini-
tions differ from each other by many characteristics: particularity,
relationships between pedagogy and society, theoretical roots and
institutional base of social pedagogical practice. Some of these
definitions handle society first of all, as educational instrument
(Tavast, Elango), some of the definitions hold society to be the
goal of education (Tarvel, Tavast). Some of the definitions (Käis,
Elango, Oissar) build on concrete authorities of the theory of social
pedagogy. Others don’t deal with defining any models. Some of
the definitions are connected with certain educational institutions
(Käis, Tavast, Oissar). Others define social pedagogy, first of all,
as general principle of pedagogy (Reial). Also the definitions exist,
where general pedagogical principle is connected with certain insti-
tutional base (Käis; Koort).
Besides this, different authors have used similar terms to social
pedagogy during the independence period 1918 – 1940. In English
these terms can be translated as social education (ühiskondlik kas-
vatus—Aumann 1928; Tork 1931; Elango 1934; Reial 1935; Kadastik
1938; sotsiaalne kasvatus—Käis 1931; Kurvits 1932; Kull 1935; Koort
1936). However, the relationship of these terms to social pedagogy
has not been defined by anyone but Elango — he uses the term
social education (ühiskondlik kasvatus) as synonym to the term
It appears that the links between educational and social processes
have been observed throughout the development of Estonian
pedagogical thought. The development of the theoretical debate
concerning social pedagogical issues can be observed in direct and
immediate interaction with the development of the pedagogical
sciences in general.
The main example, which the Estonian social pedagogy emulated
in the pre-war period, was the German one. Some other influences
can be observed to a lesser extent, specially the American influ-
ences by John Dewey. In so far as the Estonian national discussion
of social pedagogy proceeded considering the international trends
in Europe, these influences are presumable, because the German
culture played an important role in formation of Estonian national
culture and intelligence.
In general, the social pedagogical debate in Estonia was based
on the same social political and scientific-theoretical concepts that
shaped similar debate in Germany: industrialisation, urbanisation,
and criticism of the previous trends of herbatianism and intellectu-
alism—a criticism that focused largely on the movement of reform
pedagogy. Scientific-theoretical paradigm of social sciences, which
is also mentioned as factor of social pedagogical debate in Germany
at the end of 19th century (Wendt 1983, 245; Winkler 1988, 43 etc),
had relatively lesser direct influence on the social pedagogical debate
in Estonia. Also youth movement, which figured as a base of the
social pedagogical concept of liberal arts (Geistes-wissenschaften),
had no remarkable influence on the social pedagogical discussion
in Estonia, partly because of the lack of sharp generation conflicts
Still, the German authors directly dealing with the social
pedagogical theory constituted only a minor part of the German
influence in Estonian pedagogy. Among the most quoted German
theorists in Estonian pre-World War II educational and social
pedagogical theory were those who never used the term social peda-
gogy—Fröbel, specially Pestalozzi and, from non-German theorists,
Rousseau. Of the contemporary theorists, the most influential in
the Estonian national social pedagogical discussion, was Kerschen-
steiner, specially his idea of the Arbeitsschule. The presence of those
who actively used the term and developed the theory of social peda-
gogy was much less perceptible, although their influence gradually
gathered more weight during the independence period.
The most widespread from the theorists of German social peda-
gogy was Natorp, who was handled moderately all through the
independence period. His main positions were handled receptively
and also interpreted. Natorp’s activity has been directly connected
with the theory of social pedagogy in Estonian discussions, however
without deepening into its nuances. From the pre-World War I
period, also Rein’s and Willmann’s positions were handled margin-
ally, mainly from the viewpoint of educational policy. The term of
social pedagogy was not connected with their activity in Estonian
interpretations. Herman Nohl’s reception spread at the end of the
period—however not so wide as reception of some other theorists’
of liberal arts, first of all, Spranger. Handling Nohl’s positions was
much more representative than interpretative — evidently because
of the shorter time distance between his ideas and their spreading
The most remarkable difference between the German and Esto-
nian social pedagogical discussion was strong practical bias in the
Estonian discussion, specially during the first half of independence
period. It was evidently because of the urgent need to solve quickly
large amount of practical problems. Partly because of that, more
popular in the Estonian discussion were the authors, who didn’t
use the term of social pedagogy, but concentrated to the concrete
institutions and methods of social education (Kerschensteiner,
A theoretical tradition, which would bear a comparison with the
German one, never formed in Estonia before World War II. Dif-
ferent authors filled the concept of social pedagogy with different
content and the theoretical basis was never fully formulated. The
term social pedagogy was not one in general use during that period.
No single definition of social pedagogy was widely accepted and
no Estonian social pedagogical theory could be linked to a single
German author with full certainty. Nevertheless, different well-
founded theoretical schools emerged and links were established
between social processes and education.
It is evident that in the present stage of development of Estonian
social pedagogical theory it is not necessary to narrow down the
concept by giving it a single definition borrowed from German or
any other tradition. A more open discussion is necessary, irrespective
of which particular definition is given to the word social and what is
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