Johann Herbert: Father of Moral Education

Johann Herbert (1776-1841) was a German educator during the 19th century. He is most notably for his work in moral education. Not only did he laid the foundation for moral education he also developed an approach to teaching morals as well as other subjects. This post will explore the contributions of Herbert to education

Foundations of Moral Education

Herbert believed that education was about developing good virtuous people. This is not unique as Aristotle also emphasized this. Herbert lays down what he thought were the five major ideas of moral character which are as follows

  1. Inner freedom-Action based on one’s personal convictions which is related to Maslow’s self-actualization
  2. Perfection-The idea of developing consistency between thoughts and actions.
  3. Benevolence-Concern with the welfare of others
  4. Justice-The balance between individual desires and group norms.
  5. Retribution-The idea of reward and punishment for behavior.

These five principles represent the core of Herbert’s view of moral education. However, he did not stop at this as he also identified two forms of interests that should be a part of education. The first was knowledge interest, which was scientific and philosophical knowledge. The second was ethical interest, which is knowledge of how to treat others and social relationships.

Herbert believed that education would contribute to people who had high moral character and the capacity to make appropriate decisions. Problems in the world were due to a lack of education and moral development. With his ideas in place, Herbert needed a method of teaching these concepts.

Herbartian Instructional Model

Herbert, with the help of his followers, developed a 5-step approach to teaching. This method became known as the Herbartian Model. The steps are explained below

  1. Preparation-The teacher gets students ready to learn by reviewing previous information.
  2. Presentation-The new material is shared with the students.
  3. Association-The new material is connected with material the students are already familiar with (an early form of constructivism).
  4. Systemization-The use of examples to illustrate the principles or the development of generalizations of the examples used (inductive and deductive thinking).
  5. Application-Assessment of the learning

It is hard to overestimate the impact of the Herbartian Model. Not only does it combined several theories that had not been developed yet, this model also may serve as one of the first attempts at instructional design (over 100 years before Tyler’s principles of curriculum). Herbert lays out a clear approach to teaching that can be used not only in morals but in many other subjects.

Herbart’s model of instruction was used in teacher training for years and still has influence to this day. It is common for teachers to look at the principles of this model and convert them into questions they need to answer. What should I review from yesterday? How will I teach today’s lesson? How is today’s lesson related to other topics? These are just some of the questions that teachers have been answered for years in part due to the pioneering work of Herbert.


Many if not all trained teachers have been influenced by Johann Herbert. From his views on moral education to his work in instructional design, Herbert was an innovating figure. One of the primary missions of schools in most countries is to developed upstanding, moral citizens. This focus on character is due in part to the work of Johann Herbert.

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