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Poisonous pedagogy, also called black pedagogy, from the original German name Schwarze Pädagogik, is a term used by some present-day psychologists and sociologists to describe traditional child-raising methods which they regard as repressive. It is a negatively loaded umbrella concept, comprising behaviors and communication that these theorists consider to be "manipulative" or "violent", such as corporal punishment.[1]

The concept was first introduced by Katharina Rutschky in her 1977 work Schwarze Pädagogik. Quellen zur Naturgeschichte der bürgerlichen Erziehung. The psychologist Alice Miller used the concept to describe child-raising approaches that, she believes, damage a child's emotional development. Miller claims that this alleged emotional damage promotes adult behavior harmful to individuals.

In a nutshell, according to supporters of this theory, "poisonous pedagogy" assumes a child is evil from birth, and the purpose of upbringing is to weed out the evil by force.


Aims and methods

Poisonous pedagogy, in Katharina Rutschky's definition, aims to inculcate a social superego in the child, to construct a basic defense against drives in the child's psyche, to toughen the child for later life, and to instrumentalize the body parts and senses in favor of socially defined functions. Although not explicitly, "poisonous pedagogy" serves, so these theorists allege, as a rationalization of sadism and a defense against the feelings of the parent himself or of the person involved.[2]

For methods, Rutschky claims, "poisonous pedagogy" makes use of initiation rites (for example, internalizing a threat of death), the application of pain (including psychological), the totalitarian supervision of the child (body control, behavior, obedience, prohibition of lying, etc.), taboos against touching, the denial of basic needs, and an extreme desire for order.

Historical background in Germany

In the 18th century common notions of the evil nature of children or of taming bear witness to superstitions and the wish to be able to train human beings like animals.[3]

One German child-raising book in the 18th century said: "These first years have, among other things, the advantage that one can use force and compulsion. With age children forget everything they encountered in their early childhood. Thus if one can take away children's will, they will not remember afterward that they had had a will."[4]

In Germany the parental right to discipline was abolished by a change in the law in 2000. The Federal Minister for Family Affairs from 1994 to 1998 Claudia Nolte had wanted to maintain parents' right to use mild spanking,[5] contrary to the views of Alice Miller in her 1980 book For Your Own Good.

Miller has written: "I understand 'black pedagogy' to be a parenting approach that is directed toward breaking the will of the child, in order to make it an obedient subject, with the aid of open or concealed use of force, manipulation, and repression."[6]

Psychological background

A relevant criterion is if a manipulative approach reveals personal deficits such as a blindness to feelings, cruelty, or a tendency toward violence, or if strong negative emotions such as anger or hate are being discharged, emotions against which the juvenile psyche, with its age-based limitations, cannot defend itself.[3]


Other themes of the controversial sociologist Katharina Rutschky are parenting, feminist criticism, and abuse.

The childhood researcher Alice Miller also came to the conclusion, as a result of her therapeutic work, that she needed to "work on" her own childhood in order to understand her clients better. She takes the view that "poisonous pedagogy" is a behavior that is passed on from generation to generation by being euphemized and sanitized.

Discussion and criticism

While child abuse is a universally pejorative term, it raises the question of a universally accepted definition of the term. Advocates of corporal punishment naturally dispute that it has anything to do with child abuse.

Alice Miller designates with the term poisonous pedagogy all types of behavior that have a manipulative character as their starting point. "Every smack is a humiliation" is one of the theses she has emphasized. Critics regard such declarations as too sweeping and disconnected from reality. For instance, sociology professor Frank Furedi suggests that many advocates of a total ban on physical punishment are actually against all forms of punishing children. He sees the underlying agenda as an anti-parent crusade, and argues that some research on the effects of spanking is far less clear-cut than the claims made on its behalf by what he calls "anti-smacking zealots".[7]

Discussions of the concept of poisonous pedagogy therefore often devolve into discussions of whether or not a smack must be regarded as damaging, as Miller asserts.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Helfield, Isa (2001), "Poisonous Pedagogy",, retrieved 2008-03-25  
  2. ^ Rutschky, Katharina (1997-08-01) (in German). Schwarze Pädagogik. Quellen zur Naturgeschichte der bürgerlichen Erziehung.. Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH. ISBN 3-548-35670-2.  
  3. ^ a b Miller, Alice (1990-01-01). available online. For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence (3rd ed.). Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-52269-3. available online..  
  4. ^ J. Sulzer, Versuch von der Erziehung und Unterweisung der Kinder, 1748.
  5. ^ "Zur Bundestagswahl: Parteien im Vergleich" (in German), analysis of the views of German political parties.
  6. ^ A. Miller, Evas Erwachen.
  7. ^ Frank Furedi, "Punishing Parents",, 7 July 2004.
  8. ^ "Spanking is counterproductive and dangerous", Alice Miller's personal website.


  • Foucault, Michel (1977). Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Pantheon Books.   ISBN 0-679-75255-2
This article incorporates information from the German Wikipedia.


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