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Our guest on 28.12.2008

Bernhard Bueb, Educator


Bernhard Bueb has become famous in Germany as the head of the Salem Castle Boarding School. He’s also the author of several bestsellers dealing with education and raising kids. One of his thesis on the necessity for a new ‘culture of leadership’ to lead Germany out of its crisis in education has led to much controversy and debate.

Bernhard Bueb was born on 24 October 1938 in what is today Tanzania. His German father was the owner of a coffee plantation. After World War Two, the family immigrated to Germany. He received his high school diploma from the Jesuit College in St. Blasien. After performing his military service, Bueb studied philosophy and Catholic theology in Munich and Saarbrücken. In 1968, he received his doctorate for his work "Nietzsche’s Criticism of Practical Reason."

He did several stints as an assistant professor at the University of Göttingen and as a teacher at the Odenwald School near Darmstadt in Hessen. He was head of Salem Castle School from 1974-2005.

During his tenure at ‘Salem’, he made changes to the student aid system and the composition of the student body. He also introduced the international baccalaureate and increased the number of on-campus pupils from 450 to 650 by adding an additional school building.

But Bueb had his detractors in Salem. Some of Salem’s teachers criticized Bueb’s urine- and alcohol- tests which were based on suspicion aroused by individual pupils’ behavior. They decried the practice as a "degrading breach of the right to personal freedom". Nevertheless, the German weekly "Die Zeit" carried an article in which former pupils of the school assessed the discipline measures they were subjected to as "positive in hindsight". Ever since the publication of his controversial theories, Bueb has been portrayed in the German media as "Germany’s strictest teacher."

Today Bueb lives with his wife and two kids in Überlingen on Lake Constance. Bueb sat on the executive board of the German National Academic Foundation from 1980 to1999. In 2005, he was awarded the distinguished Federal Cross of Merit in Germany.

Bueb’s Pedagogic Views and Primary Assertions:

Bernhard Bueb: "We’ve been suffering for decades from the results of a society where authority is routinely questioned, where discipline has become an unsightly word and the concept of sacrifice foreign."

In his book titled "In praise of discipline" Bueb comes out strongly in favor of an upbringing that balances "letting things take their course and directing the lives of children", between "discipline and love", and between "control and trust". As Bueb puts it: "The right to good leadership is a human right". The book is a call to adults to take more responsibility for their children and to show more courage in raising them. Bueb also calls for the restoration of terms such as ‘authority’ and ‘discipline’ to their rightful place in the jargon of the educational establishment. He credits order, self-control, and obedience as virtues that can ease the journey to inner freedom.

Bueb also calls for mandatory full-day schools in order to give kids a chance to get away from their "doting mothers" who do everything for them, and to provide them the opportunity to learn how to fit in socially with other children. Parents these days, he says, are raising their kids to be extremely selfish.

Bueb’s basic pedagogic approach has been heavily denounced by some as the "outmoded methods of an old teacher". Many in education are particularly disturbed by the resurrection of words once associated with National Socialism (Nazism) such as discipline, leadership or punishment. They accuse Bueb of seeking to undermine liberal society in favor of a dogmatic and authoritarian model.

And Bueb has hardly shied away from controversy in his second book, called "Duty to Lead". Published in September 2008, its calls for a radical change of thought in the debate on education. This time, the teachers themselves are placed at center stage of the discussion, where Bueb blames their lack of leadership for the sad state of affairs in education. Thus he demands more support for teachers, but at the same time he wants them put under more control. He’d like to see the civil status of teachers withdrawn to facilitate the firing of bad teachers, but still wants more autonomy for school directors. Schools, he says, should be financed publicly, but run privately. He accuses education institutions of clinging too tightly to a rigid set of plans, while teachers just "stumble around with no sense of direction". Nobody takes their work seriously, nor does anyone check the quality of their work or try to motivate them. Bueb argues that they need an intensified regimen of continuing education training.

His school restructuring plan does not simply stop with the introduction of all-day schools. He would like to see the German system’s three-tiered secondary school system streamlined by combining the two categories of schools with a vocational orientation — known as Hauptschule and Realschule — into one school, which would house upper level classes for more academically proven and motivated pupils. These kids could then earn a college preparatory diploma, the so called Abitur. That diploma is necessary to go on to post-secondary academia and it’s not always available to pupils of the lower 2 schools under the current system.

Author Susanne Mayer of "Die Zeit" believes that the simplicity of Bueb’s theories, as contrasted to the otherwise complex bundle of education issues in general, is the reason why his books sells well, and why the appeal of that message has turned the discussion into a media event.

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