The Adaptation and Cultural Translation of the Pedagogical Theory of Formal Stages in U.S. Discourse around 1900


  • Marcel Scholz


Cultural transfer; Herbartianism; formal stage theory; transculturation; transformation; globalization; U.S. educational thinking


This paper uses a selected case study to show how the theoretical topos of formal stage theory of Herbartian provenance, which originated in the German-speaking world, underwent an adaptation and semantic shift in U.S. discourse around 1900. The findings presented here relate to the interpretation of the human cognitive process and the subsequent understanding of the formal stages by the U.S. educators Charles and Frank McMurry, which was shaped by the scientific-theoretical location within the natural science paradigm. In doing so, the McMurry brothers emphasized the parallel between the steps of the scientific approach and the formal steps of instruction, thus making instruction a (natural) science-based instruction. On the one hand, this interpretation can be explained by the possibility of communicative connectivity in discourse and thus the generation of communicative resonance. On the other hand, it was apparently a functional strategy to justify the scientific nature of pedagogy and thus provided a convincing argument for its position, while at the same time drawing on an internal logic of U.S. educational thought.

First, the thematic framework is set, and the relevant persons are introduced. Subsequently, the theoretical location or perspective on which the present article is based will be explicated. Then, based on a text-hermeneutic analysis, the respective understandings of the formal stage theory are elaborated to subsequently carry out a comparison of the understandings in a comparative-constructive procedure. Based on this, the justification contexts for the adaptations and adaptations are extrapolated against the background of the theoretical perspective.