Saul Robinsohn (1916 - 1972)


Short Biography & Significant Contribution

Saul Robinsohn was born in 1916 in Germany, though it is not clear if he was born in Berlin or Cologne. He was the son of Abraham and Lotte Robinsohn. Abraham died when his mother was pregnant with Saul's younger brother who was subsequently named after his father. The younger Abraham Robinsohn went on to become a world-renowned mathematician. When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the Robinsohns moved to Palestine to settle in accordance with Lotte's lifelong ambition. By the mid-1930s, Saul and Abraham were both students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Saul studied history, philosophy, politics and sociology there and went on to graduate work in England and the United States after some time spent teaching high school in Haifa and Jerusalem. During the 1950s, Robinsohn was a faculty member at the Hebrew University and was an active advisor on curriculum to the Ministry of Education in the new state of Israel. He maintained an active interest and commitment to Israel and its educational system throughout his entire life.

From 1959-1964, Robinsohn returned to the land of his birth to lead the UNESCO Institute for Education in Hamburg which had been established in 1952 to help reconstruct schools in West Germany after education had been shaped by years of Nazi pedagogy. Its mission quickly grew to providing educational assistance to all developing nations though. In 1964, Robinsohn moved to Berlin to become the director of the pedagogy department at the Max Planck Society's Institute for Educational Research where he focused on curriculum and comparative education. In 1967, he joined the faculty of the Free University in Berlin as Professor of Comparative Education, where he worked on a research project relating to curriculum reform and teacher training. He unexpectedly died at his home in Berlin in 1972 at the age of 55 while holding the office of President of the Comparative Education Society in Europe that he helped to found.

Robinsohn was instrumental in developing post-war comparative education research efforts in Europe. Much of his work was not available in English until his widow, Hilde, edited an anthology of his work in English. He is remembered most for his establishment of a theoretical basis for a form of curriculum research which factored in the sociopolitical contexts of differently structured societies. His work has been criticized for being dated and influenced by the political struggle between the democratic West and communist East that had Germany as its epicenter. However, he was firmly committed to working with all of Communist Eastern Europe as an internationalist who eschewed politics that conflicted with the pursuit of knowledge and research. Robinsohn left a successful career in Israel and spent the last thirteen years of his life back in Germany trying to understand how the German education system contributed to the rise of Nazism and also how to change Germany's education system to make it relevant and compatible with the post-war world. Robinsohn disagreed with peers in comparative education who tended to place both Nazi pedagogy and Communist pedagogy under the heading of Totalitarian Education and thereby equalizing them. He believed that Communist pedagogy at least had rational theory and competent leadership while Nazi pedagogy was based largely on mythical ideas and disdained theory when it conflicted with myth.

Robinsohn focused much of his career on finding a way to advance German pedagogy. He became the director of the Max Planck Society's Institute for Educational Research pedagogy department in 1964 with the primary charge to tackle West Germany's lagging educational advancement in secondary education and teacher training. He blamed much of this inertia on West Germany's constitutional delegation of educational control to the eleven states within the country, with the central government only responsible for partially funding states' efforts. While there was common pedagogic history and dialogue among state educational apparatuses, there was no central authority or mechanism to promote changes and reforms as needed. This decentralization actually impeded real innovation and reform in West German education. He also had determined that German culture resisted educational innovation due to a strong inclination towards social conformity and traditional German pedagogic ideology. There was also a real lack of social science research on the costs of poor educational output, resistance to more aggressive prioritization of education among some historic classes in German society, and no real impetus for change without political pressure. Robinsohn was committed to the idea that his work and that of his colleagues at the Max Planck Society could prepare politicians with hard data from an independent source to inform their decision-making, and he believed strongly that both interdisciplinary and comparative research was a key to mining the most relevant information.

Educational Background

Hebrew University

Professional Background

Faculty, Hebrew University (1950s)

Director, UNESCO Institute for Education, Hamburg (1959-1964)

Director, Pedagogy Department, Institute for Educational Research of the Max Planck Society, Berlin, (1964 - 1972)

Professor of Comparative Education, Free University of Berlin (1967-1972)

Affiliations (associations, organizations, institutions)

Comparative Education Society in Europe (President, 1971-1972)

Selected Publications

Holmes, B., & Robinsohn, S. B. (1963). Relevant Data in Comparative Education. International Review of Education, 9 (2), 134-157.

Robinsohn, S. B. (1969). A Conceptual Structure of Curriculum Development. Comparative Education, 5 (3), 221-234.

Robinsohn, S. B. (1992). Comparative Education: A Basic Approach. (H. Robinsohn, Ed.) Jerusalem: Magnes Press.

Robinsohn, S. B. (1972). Educational Policy and the Public. Comparative Education Review, 16 (3), 448-461.

Robinsohn, S. B. (1966). On National-Socialist Education. Comparative Education, 2 (3), 225-232.

Robinsohn, S. B. (1963). Problems of Education in Israel. Comparative Education Review, 7 (2), 125-141.

Robinsohn, S. B. (1965). The Newly Founded Institute for Educational Research within the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Comparative Education, 2 (1), 31-35.

Robinsohn, S. B., & Kuhlman, J. C. (1967). Two Decades of Non-Reform in West German Education. Comparative Education Review, 11 (3), 311-330.


Created: 8/25/2008

Updated: 9/8/2008

Contributed By: Scott Aaron, Loyola University Chicago