Dr. Kurt Hahn
On the Life & Philosophy of an Inspirational Educator

James Neill
Last updated:
26 Jan 2008

Hahn's Educational Principles

Hahn's Major Educational Projects

Kurt Hahn (1886 - 1974)

"I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities:
an enterprising curiosity,
an undefeatable spirit, 
tenacity in pursuit,
readiness for sensible self denial,
and above all, compassion."
- Kurt Hahn
(Quotes by Kurt Hahn)

Speeches by Kurt Hahn [PDF]

Biographies of Kurt Hahn

Recommended Kurt Hahn Online Resources

Kurt Hahn Articles & Conferences

Related Links On This Site

Introduction to Kurt Hahn

  • Kurt Hahn (1886-1974)Kurt Matthias Robert Martin Hahn
    (5 June, 1886 - 14 December, 1974)
  • Eccentric, charismatic educator, who born into a cultured Jewish industrialist family in Germany in 1886.
  • Inspirational founder and significant contributor to many well-recognized, innovative experiential, social development, and outdoor education schools and programs.

"no one else in our day
has created more original educational ideas
and, at the same time,
possessed the gift of getting them into practice"
(London Times, December, 1974).

  • Believed in education which called forth and developed the deepest qualities of character and compassion.  Due to the ills of modern life, Hahn believed in the need for real, hands-on, practical challenges for the development of character.
  • Educated at Wilhelm Gymnasium, Berlin, University of Göttingen and Christchurch, Oxford (where he studied philosophy and classics).
  • While he was in high school, Hahn spent a summer vacation (1902) in the Dolomites with friends from Abbotsholme, an English public School. During this trip, in discussions about the English Public school system, a fascination with educational ideas was sparked.  This led to a later obsession about education that was strongly influenced by studies of
    • Plato,
    • Baden Powell,
    • Cecil Reddie,
    • Dr Arnold of Rugby,
    • Herman Lietz and others.
  • Two years later (1904), at the age of 18/19, Hahn suffered severe sunstroke which required a long period of recovery during which he studied and formulated in greater depth the educational system which he promoted throughout his life.  The sunstroke also left a degree of permanent disability that nurtured Hahn's courageous aphorism "your disability is your opportunity"
  • Hahn believed that each child is born with innate spiritual powers and ability to make correct judgments about moral issues. However, in the progression through adolescence, the child loses these spiritual powers and the ability to make moral judgments because of, what Hahn calls, the diseased society (see the 6 declines) and the impulses of adolescence.
  • To ameliorate the social declines/diseases, Hahn prescribed 4 antidotes. One of these was the pursuit of physical fitness and physical challenge through physical education. Hahn believed in helping students to strengthen their natural physical aptitudes and overcome natural physical weaknesses.
  • As a result of the destruction of the first world war, Hahn became determined to promote peace through education.
  • At the end of the first world war, Hahn was personal assistant to Prince Max von Baden, a scholarly and humane man.  In 1920 they co-founded Salem Schloss Schule, a boarding school.
  • Hahn publically protested the rise of Hitler and the Nazi regimen.  Due his opposition he was arrested (1933) and then exiled, subsequently living most of his life in the UK.
  • Encouraged by his friends in Britain, Hahn founded a new school, Gordonstoun, in an abandoned castle, Scotland (1934) based on his evolving educational principles.
  • Hahn considered there to be nothing new in his schools.  He claimed that his educational philosophy was simply a pastiche from a variety of other sources.  Hahn's argument was that he preferred material that was already proven to work rather than to experiment.  The secret of success, however, lay in the unique selection and combination of the principles that Hahn decided to "borrow", combined with Hahn's charistmatic energy and persuasive ability to put his ideas into action.
  • One phrase Hahn used to sum up the philosphy of his educational prgrams was that "there is more in you than think" (plus est en vous) (Pindar?).