Hermann Duncker

To the Teachers

First Published: Undated manuscript from the period 1949 to 1960, first published in German in Gedanken Hermann Dunckers zu Studium und Lehre, Verlag TribŁne, Berlin, 1964, pp. 58-62.
Source: Hermann Duncker: Introduction to Marxism. Selected Speeches and Writings, VEB Edition Leipzig, Leipzig, 1963, 2. enl. ed., pp. 51-55.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive 2021
Transcribed: Geoff
HTML Markup: Zdravko Saveski

I. General Problems of Teaching

1. An unlimited right to ask questions. Open points are never of secondary importance to the student.

2. A serious duty to ask questions in order to eliminate any vagueness. Each foreign word must be well understood.

3. Every combination of thought must appear meaningful and leave no room for doubt.

4. The ability to make a problem plain to others is best proof of one's own clearness on the matter. Inward clearness is most important to the teacher. (Teaching is the best way of putting inward clear ness to the proof.) We learn by teaching! We teach from accumulated wisdom!

5. Devotion to one's work; exact, attentive, diligent fulfilment of tasks.

6. Collective working and mutual help (comradeship).

7. Truthfulness in relation to others as well as to oneself.

8. The aim: understanding and practical implementation of Marxism-Leninism.

On the whole, more psychological understanding of the student is needed. ... It is useless for the teacher, together with a few intellectual pace-makers, to outrun the bulk of the students. The result of this kind of instruction will turn out to be completely inadequate, which is certainly not the students' fault.

The teacher must aim at the closest possible contact with the students, similar to university seminar instruction, i.e. he has to stimulate the activity of each participant by asking supplementary questions. He also has to invite questions from the students again and again. As a result of this perseverance even those persons will take an active part in the lessons who are clumsy in such mental work and often suffer from inferiority complexes with respect to this kind of activity. What is needed here is loving care and guidance by the teacher.

For all these reasons, the number of participants should not exceed thirty, and prolonged pauses should be put in for concentrated private studies. The teacher always has to make sure that he is being understood by all students including those in the last row. He has to help the students along by means of personal consultations. Just as the doctor is there for the sick and not for the healthy, the teacher is mainly concerned with those who are initially weak and slower of apprehension, which, by the way, does not mean that they are not gifted or unfit for organization. Quickness and self-confidence often seem to indicate abilities which later on prove to be non-existent. Mass instruction is meant for the common man especially, there lies its most important and most difficult aspect. Both the teacher and the curriculum have to be adapted to it from the beginning.

II. On Adult Education

There are many principles to be borne in mind when giving lessons to adults, i.e. people who are older and more experienced, especially as teachers are young in most cases.

1. It is not suitable to presume on the teacher's authority. That would be contrary to the purpose of instruction.

We rather have to proceed from the authority of theoretical knowledge, recognizing at the same time the authority of practical experience.

Unity of theory and practice. Practice without theory is blind, theory without practice remains empty (not concrete).

2. Realize that older people are slower in the uptake of new things, because acquired experience is hard to displace.

In many cases combinations of thought will first have to be supplanted. (Theory does not meet with a vacuum.) On the other hand, it will often be useful to confront theory with experience. Thus, instruction of adults is often more troublesome, especially with regard to theoretical foundations.

3. You have to be prepared for many questions and even provoke them!

Here the principle of the "beaten tracks" may be paralysing, but it may also very often be useful, provided the "beaten track" is theoretically correct and flexible enough.

4. In any case, the expert in theory should never be contemptuous of experience straight away. All theory is derived from experience.

Only in cases where theoretical interpretation is incorrect or false combinations are instinctively taken up, should the teacher methodically correct them.

5. It is important that the conceptual content of a word should be identical with teacher and students. This cannot always be taken for granted.

a) Many words are ambiguous, e.g. materialism, idealism, ideology.

b) Certain words are often taken in a too restricted sense, e.g. compromise, abstract.

c) Different words are often synonymous.

d) Warning against corruption of language and illogical use of words! (Wording is not discovery.)

6. In teaching, heart and mind must go together.

"The fact, however, that the communist principle will be that of the future is indicated by the course of development of all civilized nations, is indicated by the rapid decay of all hitherto existing social institutions, is indicated by common sense and, above all, the human heart." (F. Engels, "Principles of Communism.")

III. On Teaching

There is no hard and fast rule for teaching. That way is the best which best helps the student along and stimulates his activity. But there are several basic principles for any scientific instruction.

1. Far-reaching, ever increasing knowledge of the material.

2. Finding and selecting the main essentials which the student can and should grasp. Don't overload the car, or it will break down. The essentials will drown in a sea of details. Science = finding of the essentials.

3. Illustrate the essential points of theory by practice.

4. Achieve topicality by referring to that which is near at hand and well-known.

5. Presentation must be impressive. One has to be deeply stirred by the importance of the essentials of life and progress and so mobilize people!

Truth must not only seize the mind but penetrate to the heart. The activity of the student proves the efficiency of the teacher.

6. Always follow the truth (truthfulness of science).

7. There is a need for emotion!

Opposition of contrasts will often make facts clearer. Don't be afraid of drawing in black and white!

Black and white but no untruthfulness and no exaggeration. That which is basically reactionary can never be painted black enough; what is basically progressive can never shine bright enough! What is basically reactionary is basically destructive. That must be put in an expressive way, overemphasized in order to underline its momentousness. Indifference can rouse no emotion.

8. In dealing with opponents start from what you have in common with them.