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Francke: Educational Pioneer

Levy Seeley

The following paragraphs come from Seeley's book on the history of education.


Pietism is the name of a movement in Germany which sought to revive spiritual life in the Lutheran Church. In that church, religion had become purely a matter of intellect, instead of heart. Cold formality and adherence to the letter, rather than the spirit, had taken possession of the Protestant Church. Like the Jansenists in France, who had a similar purpose with reference to the Catholic Church, and later the Methodists in England, who sought to awaken religious zeal in the Church of England, the Pietists of Germany endeavored to vitalize religious life, and to lead men away from creeds promulgated by human agency, to the pure word of God. The Pietists differed from the orthodox Lutherans not in doctrine, but in insisting on the necessity of a change of heart and a pious life, instead of mere adherence to formal doctrine.

The Pietists founded the university of Halle, and this remained the center of the movement until it had run its course. Pietism had its inception during the latter part of the seventeenth century, and it extended through the first half of the eighteenth century. Its originator was Philipp Jakob Spener, a man of remarkable zeal and godly life. Though it met with bitter opposition on the part of the orthodox Lutherans, it certainly did great good, not only to its adherents, but to the Church at large, by awakening deeper spiritual life. Its influence was also great in reviving Biblical study in Germany, in improving the character of teachers, and in giving a spiritual direction to the studies of the schools. It has left an enduring monument in the great Institutions that it founded at Halle. The greatest of the Pietists was August Hermann Francke, who is celebrated, not only as a theologian, but as a philanthropist and teacher.

August Hermann Francke (1663-1727)

Francke's Education

Francke's early education was conducted by private teachers, though his parents, who were intelligent and God-fearing people, exerted a strong influence upon him. At thirteen he entered the highest class of the Gymnasium at Gotha, where he remained for one year. Here he was introduced to the reform teachings of Ratke and Comenius. Two years later he entered the university of Erfurt as a student of theology. He studied also at Kiel and Leipsic. While he gave particular attention to Hebrew and Greek, he also learned French, English, and Italian. He seemed to be gifted with a talent for learning languages, for during a short residence in Holland in later life he learned the Dutch language so well that he was able to preach in it. Under the instruction of a Jewish rabbi, he read the Hebrew Bible through seven times in one year. After spending some time as teacher in a private school, he returned to Leipsig as Privat Docent in the university.

Becomes a Pietist

Having become acquainted with Spener and his teachings, Francke became an earnest Pietist. His success in lecturing and his zeal in religious work drew around him a large number of students. This awakened the envy of the old professors of the university, and they began a persecution which caused his dismissal. He then went to Erfurt and preached with remarkable success, drawing great crowds by his earnestness and eloquence. Persecution again followed him, and he was banished from the city.

Helps Establish New University in Halle

About this time the new university of Halle called Francke to the chair of Greek and oriental languages, and afterward to that of theology. He began his work in 1692, and remained in that position for nearly thirty-six years, until his death. As this position did not furnish enough to live upon, he became pastor of the church in the neighboring village of Glaucha. In his pastoral work he came in contact with poverty, drunkenness, and every form of immorality. Moved with pity, he collected small sums of money, which he distributed among the poor after catechizing the children.

Founds Multi-faceted Ministry

At Easter, 1695, he found seven guldens ($2.80) in the collection boxes, which he declared to be "A splendid capital with which something of importance can be founded; I will begin a school for the poor with it." This was the beginning of the great orphan asylum at Halle,— an enterprise the magnitude of which we shall describe later. Without visible income, with no means at command, but with a sublime faith in God and humanity, and an overwhelming sense of the ignorance and misery of the children about him, Francke began at once the great work; nor was his faith misplaced, as the result shows. He gathered together a few children and placed a student over them as a teacher. Soon the better class of citizens took an interest, and desired him to provide a school for their children. Two rooms were rented, one for those who could not pay and the other for those who could. This was the foundation of the free school and the citizens' school still connected with the Institutions. In the fall of 1695, Francke founded the orphan asylum. Money flowed in from all parts of the country as people began to understand the great work. Francke was thus able to branch out in many directions. He established a Pedagogium to prepare teachers for his and other schools; free meals were furnished to students who devoted a part of their time to teaching in the institutions; separate schools for boys and girls, a Gymnasium, a Real-school, a bookbindery and printing establishment, and many other institutions were founded.

The Institutions at Halle.

In a few years Francke had in successful operation a marvelous system, a work founded upon love of humanity and dependent upon philanthropy for its support. The results attracted attention from all Europe, and students came from many lands. "At the death of Francke in the year 1727, the following report of the Institutions was sent to King Frederick William I.: (1) In the Pedagogism, 82 scholars, 70 teachers and other persons; (2) in the Latin school, 3 inspectors, 32 teachers, 400 pupils, and 10 servants; (3) in the common school, 4 inspectors, 98 male teachers, 8 female teachers, 1725 boys and girls; (4) orphans, 100 boys, 34 girls, 10 overseers; (5) at the free table, 225 students, 360 poor children ; (6) employed in the drug store, bookstore, etc., and other persons in the establishment, 82."1 This makes a total of over 3200 persons instructed, sheltered, employed, or otherwise connected with these great Institutions. The foundations were so firmly laid that the progress has been steady from that time to this. At present there are no less than twenty-five different enterprises connected with the Institutions, among which may be mentioned a free school for boys, and one for girls; a common school for boys, and one for girls; a royal Pedagogium; a Latin school; a higher girls' school; a Real-gymnasium; a preparatory school for the high school; a Real-school; an orphan asylum for boys, and one for girls; a boarding house for students; a Bible house, which has distributed about 6,500,000 Bibles and religious works; a teachers' seminary (normal school) for each sex; a bookstore, a printing house, and a drug store. About 3000 children receive instruction in the various schools, and about 118,000 have been recipients of the benefits since the Institutions were founded two hundred years ago. The cost is about one million marks a year, which is covered by endowments, by tuition fees, by profits from the productive departments (bookstores, printing establishment, etc.), and by moneys received from the State. Francke's idea of depending upon voluntary gifts has been abandoned.

All this work is the result of the energy of a man who began with a capital of less than three dollars, and a vast amount of faith to found " something of importance.

The Training of Teachers.

While Francke's greatest work for mankind was the Institutions mentioned above, we must notice one field of his activity that is of especial importance to us, — that of the training of teachers. We have seen that, on account of the scarcity of funds, he was obliged to rely upon students to do the work of instructing the children committed to his care. The young theologians made use of this opportunity as a stepping stone to their future calling, the ministry, and Francke, perceiving this, sought to secure the most pious and gifted among his theological students for this work. He also established a pedagogical class {Pedagogium). After two years' membership therein, the student was allowed to teach provided he pledged himself to devote three years to teaching in the schools. This class met once a week for criticism and discussion under the leadership of the inspector of the school, and the various inspectors met Francke every evening for further instruction. The results soon attracted widespread notice, and created a great demand for Francke's teachers. Although this was very crude pedagogical training, it may be regarded as the inception of the normal school, which has now come to be an essential part of every educational system.

The Real-school.

A third service is credited by many to Francke, namely, the founding of the Real-school of Germany. The best authorities give that credit to Professor Erhard Weigel of Jena. Whether or not the idea originated with Francke, he was ready to accept the necessity of such a change, and founded schools for higher learning in which Greek and Latin were not required, and in which more attention was given to modern languages and science.

Levi Seeley, History of education