Diesterweg, Friedrich Adolf Wilhelm

Diesterweg, Friedrich Adolf Wilhelm


Born Oct. 29, 1790, in Siegen, Westphalia; died July 7, 1866, in Berlin. German pedagogue and democrat.

From 1812 to 1820, Diesterweg taught physics and mathematics at secondary schools in Worms, Frankfurt am Main, and Elberfeld. Thereafter he served as director of pedagogical schools in Mörs (1820-32) and in Berlin (1832-47). Diesterweg sought to organize German teachers: between 1831 and 1841 he established four teachers’ associations in Berlin, and in 1848 he was elected chairman of the General Teachers’ Union of Germany. He published the pedagogical journal Rheinische Blätter für Erziehung und Unterricht (1827-66) and the yearbook Padagogisches Jahrbuch (1851-66). In his publications Diesterweg opposed class and national restrictions in education, religious instruction, church supervision over schools, and the education of young people in the spirit of religious intolerance. After the suppression of the Revolution of 1848, he was forced into retirement by the Prussian government for “dangerous freethinking,” but he continued his literary and social and political activity. In the press and in the Chamber of Deputies, to which he was elected by the teachers of Berlin, Diesterweg fought against the reactionary education laws promulgated by the Prussian government in 1854.

Diesterweg was the author of textbooks and manuals on mathematics, the German language, natural science, geography, and astronomy. His best known work was the Manual for the Education of German Teachers (2 vols., 1835).

A disciple of Pestalozzi, Diesterweg creatively developed his pedagogical doctrines and popularized them among German teachers. Diesterweg considered conformity to the natural inclinations of the pupil, conformity to the cultural environment, and self-development to be the basic principles of education. By conformity to natural inclination Diesterweg meant the stimulation of the child’s innate inclinations in accordance with the striving for development contained in them. He did not understand the social essence of education and the fact that it depended on the policies of the ruling class. But the principle of conformity to the cultural environment that he proposed meant that education had to reckon not only with a child’s nature but also with the level of culture of a given period and country, that is, with changing sociohistorical conditions. Diesterweg held self-development to be the crucial factor in determining the individual’s personality and behavior, and he regarded the encouragement of self-development in children as the indispensable condition for all education.

Diesterweg worked out the didactics of developmental instruction, formulating its basic requirements in the form of 33 laws and rules. He stressed the use of visual aids in instruction, the treatment of related school subjects in a unified manner, systematic teaching, the reinforcement of knowledge, and the educative nature of teaching.

Diesterweg’s pedagogical ideas and textbooks exerted a positive influence on the development of public education in Germany. His ideas and textbooks became widespread outside his native land; the progressive Russian pedagogues of the 1860’s P. G. Redkin, N. F. Bunakov, N. A. Korf, and I. I. Paul’son placed a high value on his teachings.

In the German Democratic Republic, a medal bearing Diesterweg’s name is awarded to deserving teachers.


Sälitche Werke, vols. 1–10. Berlin, 1956–69. (Publication still in progress.)
Schriften und Reden, vols. 1–2. Berlin-Leipzig, 1950.
In Russian translation:
Rukovodstvo dlia nemetskikh uchitelei. Moscow, 1913.
Izbrannye pedagogicheskie sochineniia. Moscow, 1956.


Piskunov, A. I. “Didakticheskie vzgliady Adol’fa Distervega.” Sovetskaia pedagogika, 1956, no. 1.
Sokolova, M. A. “Bor’ba A. Distervega za edinuiu shkolu i za osvobozhdenie shkoly ot nadzora tserkvi.” Ibid., 1960, no. 10.
Siebert, H. Adolf Diesterweg: Seine Bedeutung für die Entwicklung der Erziehung und Bildung in Deutschland. Berlin, 1953.