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Friedrich August Ludwig von der Marwitz: Excerpt from the Essay "On the Causes of Crime Getting out of Hand" (1836)

Written by the Prussian noble landlord Friedrich August von der Marwitz (1777-1838), this essay relates to contemporary discussions about the expansion of public education for the lower classes, a subject to which much attention was given after the freeing of Prussia's serfs. The author, an almost caricature-like epitome of a Prussian reactionary, clearly opposes this expansion. He argues that anything beyond teaching children the basics in the form of reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion would just corrupt the common people and thus foster crime.

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One may object that if children enjoy a careful schooling up through their confirmation, they can slip into delinquency en masse immediately afterwards.

In our province, our villages have no lack of schools. When one undertook thirty years ago to regenerate (as it was termed) the people, schools were hardly ignored. Instead, they were restructured with great zeal and the lessons were expanded many times over, a process that has continued up through the present. One was of the opinion, and generally still is, that the best person is the one who knows the most; virtue, the fear of God, and an honorable character appeared to be considered the inseparable companions of the knowledgeable man.

Instead of religious instruction being seen as the only absolutely necessary course of study – proficient reading of the Bible and the hymnal, and writing for those who paid extra, whereby three hours a day all through the winter was sufficient – now we teach German language, arithmetic up through fractions and ratios, geography, natural history, botany, and general history, with a variety of comprehension exercises. In every country school one can now hear lectures not only on prepositions and verbs, but also about prosody and syntax; capital and interest are calculated; children learn about lines of longitude and latitude, the torrid zone, the causes of long and short days, solar and lunar eclipses, etc.; they know that a whale is a mammal and they recognize poisonous plants, Alexander the Great, and Genghis Kahn. They all write well, especially the girls, who will never again pick up a pen after they leave school.

It is natural that religion's simple truths and the recognition of duty would recede into the background next to these profound studies. How quickly does a child, burdened with all the above-mentioned things, learn the few answers that are necessary for a religion or morals exam! These, too, were given the lowest priority up until a few years ago and were designed to make school teachers independent of preachers, which succeeded in part.

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