Kindling the Flame – Lutz-Helmut Schön

On our path to a knowledged society, understanding the world around us is ever more important.

When asked what he does for a living, Lutz-Helmut Schön, 70, first tries to show rather than tell. He takes out a kind of manual clock that can supposedly tell the time using weights in a semi-circle formation, hoping to spark our curiosity. Schön discovered early on that his interest in science was more specifically about an interest in explaining science to others. Instead of going down the path of pure theoretical physics, he found himself asking, “How can I teach physics?” This led to a focus on teaching methodology.

It’s no wonder, then, that he has played a major role in the development of the new teacher training degree program in Austria, which now combines the formerly separate programs for teachers of Hauptschule and Gymnasium, respectively, into one. Starting this semester, the teachers for both will now have the same curriculum with an option to do a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree.
“The former program was very demanding. Hopefully, we’ve cleared away most of the ballast, making it more transparent and a little more straightforward.”

Schön, who has taught in schools as well as studying teaching methods, has formed the credo that students need to be given time: “Even more important than the transfer of knowledge is understanding how new knowledge comes into being. Nowadays, things like Google work in such a quick way. One has to question how to evaluate this knowledge. Is it correct? How did it end up here in the first place?”

Schön, who was raised in Germany, went to a Reformschule, an institution that focuses on learning from experience. His children and grandchildren all went to Waldorf School, one the most popular alternative school systems in the German-speaking world, where the emphasis lies on the role of imagination in learning: “Children need time to develop their own individual personalities.”

This certainly influenced his approach to the reform of the teacher training program, in which he believes future teachers also need time to come into their own. “When teachers have time to fully develop themselves, then the students can identify with them better in turn.”

Schön would have liked to have further explained how his manual clock worked. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to go into that in detail.

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Janima Nam
Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.

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