Gustav Wyneken

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Gustav Wyneken.

Gustav Wyneken (March 19, 1875, Stade, Province of Hanover – December 8, 1964, Göttingen, Lower Saxony) was a German educational reformer, free thinker and charismatic leader. His ideas and practice on education and youth became highly influential but were also controversial.

Early life[edit]

He was born to a Christian family, and studied Theology and Philology in Berlin. In 1900 he married Luise Margaretha Dammermann, from whom he was divorced in 1910. From 1900 to 1906 he worked as a teacher in boarding schools, where he was a colleague of Hermann Lietz.

Jugendkultur and Pädagogischer Eros[edit]

Wyneken coined two influential terms.

The first term was "pedagogic eros", the name given to erotic attraction and/or love between a teacher and a pupil. Pedagogic eros (or Pädagogischer Eros in German) was embodied as a set of concepts popularised by Wyneken's Wickersdorf Free School Community in Germany, and based around the Ancient Greek Platonic 'Ladder of Beauty' model of same-sex pedagogic relationships, but blended with high Germanic philosophical ideas. Although focused on same-sex relationships, his ideas could also be applied to heterosexuality. He led the wider Free School (or Freie Schulgemeinde in German) movement, a movement that founded boarding schools across Germany.

The second term was "Jugendkultur"; this implied that wherever possible adults should refrain from overtly 'leading' youth groups, and older youths should instead lead younger youths. This was part of his deep influence on the German Youth Movement; notably the Jugendkulturbewegung, the Wandervogel and the Adolf Brand's Gemeinschaft der Eigenen. He downplayed the then-popular notions of the need for a restored Volkish German culture and was not known to be anti-semitic. His Free Schools accepted a large portion of Jewish pupils. In a sense, by coining and encouraging 'Jugendkultur' he was the founder of what would later become widely known as 'youth culture'.

Wyneken also influenced Jewish youth movements in Poland and Vienna (such as Hashomer Hatzair), and had some influence on the early Kibbutz education in Israel. He also known to have influenced the circle around Stefan George; Bruno Bettelheim; and Pier Paolo Pasolini's school in Casarsa, as well as Pasolini's later teaching.

Wyneken had himself been influenced by the thinking of Martin Buber and Hermann Lietz, and also the Hebrew educational tradition, in which a good education is founded on a teacher's love for his students.

In the maelstrom of ideas and ideologies that was pre-war Germany, inevitably his strong ideas caused much controversy.

Wyneken and Walter Benjamin[edit]

The young Walter Benjamin's political aesthetics were greatly influenced by a stay (1905-1907) at a Wyneken boarding school (Haubinda in Thüringen) where he became close to Wyneken. He was also influenced by the Wyneken-edited radical youth journal Der Anfang ('The Beginning'). Here Benjamin found...

"... an elitist, aristocratic and fiercely intellectualist wing of the German youth movement ... Wyneken's ideal (was) of an elite and highly ethical Männerbund devoted to the ideals of Kant, Hegel, Goethe and Nietzsche." (Rabinbach, 1985)

However, when Gustav Wyneken gave a broadly pro-war speech in Munich in November 1914, the pacifist Benjamin reluctantly broke with his mentor. Wyneken did, however, also urge that... "We must dare to keep a certain distance from the Fatherland and from the unthinking patriotism in which we have been educated."

Wickersdorf scandal[edit]

In 1920 Wyneken was forced to resign as leader of the Free School Community amidst allegations of homosexual relations with two students. Many parents and the leadership of the school defended Wyneken. Subsequently, he was indicted of committing vice with minors and convicted in 1921.[1]

Wyneken after 1934[edit]

It is uncertain what Wyneken did in the thirty years between 1934 and his death in 1964, although it seems he stayed in Germany and tried to be involved with education. His prosecution for immorality (he had allegedly embraced two pupils while naked) under Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code in 1921 means that it is unlikely that he was involved with the Nazi Party.

Wider cultural influence[edit]

Wyneken's ideas on pedagogical eros, related through gay emigres to the USA, influenced the fiction and educationalist writings of Paul Goodman. He also influenced Homer Lane who settled in England in 1912 to run the 'Little Commonwealth' school in Dorset, and who became the mentor of A.S. Neill.

Wyneken's ideas and influence allowed pedagogic eros to be treated in cultural productions such as the first ever feature-film on same-sex love, Mädchen in Uniform (Germany, 1931), based on the novel The Child Manuela by Christa Winsloe. Among many other cultural manifestations from this era in Germany are: Robert Walser's novel Jakob von Gunten (1908; English trans. 1995); and Erich Ernst's novel Symphony of Eros (1925). Colette's novel Claudine at School (1957 in English) reflects some of the influence of German ideas on teaching traditions in French boarding schools.

The theme has continued to be explored in literature and film; most recently in novels by David Cook (Happy Endings, 1989); Stephen Fry; and Alan Hollinghurst; in poetry and song lyrics by Pauline Stainer ("The Flute Lesson"), Momus ("The Guitar Lesson"), Rufus Wainwright ("The Art Teacher"), and Sting ("Don't Stand So Close to Me").

For a fuller discussion & bibliography of the appearance of the theme in books and films; see: Jo Keroes's book Tales Out of School: Gender, Longing and the Teacher in Fiction and Film (Southern Illinois University Press, 1999); and for a discussion of U.S. classroom issues see: Regina Barreca and Deborah Morse's The Erotics of Instruction (1998).

List of works[edit]

  • (1916) Wider den Altsprachlichen Schulunterricht
  • (1918) Schule und Jugendkultur
  • (1920) Der Kampf für die Jugend. Gesammelte Aufsätze
  • (1921) Der europäische Geist. Gesammelte Aufsätze über Religion und Kunst
  • (1921) Eros
  • (1947) Weltanschauung (2nd edition)
  • (1948) Musikalische Weltanschauung
  • (1963) Abschied vom Christentum — Religion, Christentum, Bibel, Anfänge und anderes


  1. ^ Sandfort, Theo; Brongersma, Edward; van Naerssen, A. X. (1991). Male intergenerational intimacy: historical, socio-psychological, and legal perspectives. 1991:2. Psychology Press. pp. 55–56. ISBN 978-1-56024-000-6. Retrieved 2010-08-29. 

Further reading[edit]

Note: Much of the extensive German literature on pädagogischer eros and the German youth movements of 1900-1934 remains untranslated into English.

  • John Alexander Williams. Ecstasies of the Young: Sexuality, the Youth Movement, and Moral Panic in Germany on the Eve of the First World War. Central European History, No.34, No.2 (2001).
  • Thijs Maasen. De Pedagogische Eros in Het Geding: Gustav Wyneken En De Pedagogische Vriendschap in De Freie Schulgemeinde Wickersdorf Tussen 1906-1931. (University of Utrecht, 1988). (The first full length study of the German pedagogic eros movement. An English-translation summary of the book is in: Paidika, Vol.1, No.12.)
  • Thijs Maasen. Pädagogischere Eros: Gustav Wyneken und die Freie Schulgemeinde Wickersdorf. (1995)
  • Thijs Maasen. Man-Boy Friendships on Trial: On the Shift in the Discourse on Boy Love in the Early Twentieth Century. Journal of Homosexuality, Vol.20, No.1/2 1990. (Much discussion of the 'Pädagogischer Eros' movement and its influences).
  • Richard Dougherty. Eros, Youth Culture and Geist: The Ideology of Gustav Wyneken and its Influence Upon the German Youth Movement (1978).
  • Margarete Kohlenbach. Walter Benjamin, Gustav Wyneken and the Jugendkulturbewegung. IN: Counter-Cultures in Germany and Central Europe: From Sturm Und Drang to Baader-Meinhof (2003).
  • P. Utley. Schism, Romanticism and Organization: Anfang, January–August 1914. Journal of Contemporary History (1999).
  • Anson Rabinbach. Between Enlightenment and Apocalypse: Benjamin, Bloch and Modern German Jewish Messianism IN: New German Critique, No.34 (1985).
  • John Lauritsen and David Thorstad. The Early Homosexual Rights Movement, 1864-1935. (Second Edition revised)
  • James D. Steakley. The Early Homosexual Emancipation Movement in Germany. (1975).
  • Sheila Cavanagh. Upsetting Desires in the Classroom: School Sex Scandals and the Pedagogy of the Femme Fatale IN: Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society Vol.9, No.3, (1994).
  • McWilliam. Beyond the Missionary Position: Teacher Desire and Radical Pedagogy IN: Todd (Ed.) Learning Desire: Perspectives on Pedagogy, Culture, and the Unsaid. Routledge (1994).