The Great Didactic: All the young of both sexes should be sent to school
Chapter 9 – All the young of both sexes should be sent to school
I was going to clean up my language when I published this post. I wrote the original a week ago and then set it aside. During that time my anger subsided and I really was going to cut out the cursing, but then as I was preparing this post I reread the quotes and I got angry again. So needless to say there is some not safe for work language. <Update… If you are a person who does not read the comments please do so for this post, especially the one by dxman (updated 7/30/2014)>
Recently I was thinking about the foundation of our education system and its philosophical underpinnings. As I was doing this it dawned on me that I have only ever really read about this philosophy and I never read the original texts. One of my summer goals is to sprinkle a little knowledge into the mix of my fluffy summer novel reading, so I am reading The Great Didactic by John Amos Comenius and I thought I’d bring you along with me. Sorry about that.
Early in this series I recognized that this book, which was written in the 17th century, was going to have some issues, the over reliance on the Bible as a source of evidence being the most prominent. The fact that, while I disliked the god crap, Comenius’s arguments had been sound and logically consistent was what kept me going with this series. Well really it was logical arguments and the title of this chapter. This was clearly something different for the time. In western civilization outside of convents there was really little chance of a girl getting a formal education, but in this book it said right there in a title that we should. I read this chapter with a sense of anticipation, and at the start I was not disappointed, but all my hopes came crashing down when I read the second half of page 220. The rage I felt as I read those two paragraphs is the reason why this is my last post on this series.
I feel that I cannot be suitably unbiased in this chapter so I will summarize it through a series of quotes which should highlight Comenius’s key points and the reason for my rage. Warning: while I did reduce some of the god language I needed to keep some of it in order for certain sentences to make sense. If you see “…” within a quote take it as a given that the original text says something roughly along the lines of “god is great, yay god”, or “Man is made in god’s image yay man”.
On why all men should be educated
“…All who have been born to man’s estate have been born with the same end in view, namely that they may be men, that is to say, rational creatures…. All, therefore, must be brought on to a point at which being properly imbued with wisdom, virtue, and piety, they may usefully employ the present life and worthily prepared for what is to come. God himself has frequently asserted that with Him there is no respect of persons, so that while we admit some to the culture of the intellect, we exclude others, we commit an injury not only against those who share the same nature as ourselves, but against God Himself…” (pg 218)
“Now we do not know to what uses divine providence has destined this or that man; but this is certain, that out of the poorest, the most abject, and the most obscure, He has produced instruments for His glory. Let us, therefore, imitate the sun in the heavens, which lights, warms, and vivifies the whole earth, so that whatever is able to live, to flourish, and to blossom, may do so.” (pg 218-219)
On the need for special education
“Nor is it any obstacle that some seem to be naturally dull and stupid, for this renders more imperative the universal culture of such intellects. The slower and the weaker the disposition of any man, the more he needs assistance, that he may throw off his brutish dullness and stupidity as much as possible. Nor can any man be found whose intellect is so weak that it cannot be improved by culture” (pg 219)
“There have, besides, been many instances in which those who are naturally stupid have gained such a grasp of the sciences as to excel those who were more gifted.” (pg 219)
On the Education of Women Pt 1
“Nor can any sufficient reason be given why the weaker sex (to give a word of advice on this point in particular) should be altogether excluded from the pursuit of knowledge (whether in Latin or in their mother-tongue). They are endowed with equal sharpness of mind and capacity for knowledge (often with more than the opposite sex), and they are able to attain the highest positions, since they have often been called by God Himself to rule over nations, to give sound advice to kings and princes, to the study of medicine and of other things which benefit the human race, even to the office of prophesying and inveighing against priests and bishops. Why, therefore, should we admit them to the alphabet, and afterwards drive them away from books? Do we fear their folly? The more we occupy their thoughts, so much less will the folly arise from emptiness of mind find a place.” (pg 219-220)
Now you should be sitting there saying to yourself, why is Jennifer angry? I mean besides the florid, archaic and to a modern ear insulting language there is nothing to be angry about. So far what Comenius has said was that all people rich or poor, male or female should be educated, not only that, but people with intellectual disabilities should also be educated to the best of their abilities. Radical thoughts for the time, and very modern sentiments, but you see Comenius did not stop there.
Why I am pissed off.
“… For we are not advising that women be educated in such a way that their tendency to curiosity be developed, but so that their sincerity and contentedness may be increased, and this chiefly in those things which it becomes a woman to know and to do; that is to say, all that enables her to look after he household and to promote the welfare of her husband and her family.” (pg 220)
Fuck you Comenius,
I have read through your god shit for 10 chapters. I disagreed with your premise, but throughout the entire endeavor I saw that while you lacked scientific knowledge you were logically consistent. I respected you for it, but now on the same god damn page you contradict yourself.
Sir, last time I checked “the sun shines on me”. If you want to be like the sun as you claim I should be given full access to education because I have an “equal sharpness of mind and capacity for knowledge” as any person. You say that a woman may be called to be a leader, or to be an advisor or other positions that require knowledge and wisdom and that we cannot know the path that any child will take, and yet you don’t want “my tendency for curiosity” to be developed?
Again fuck you.
Here is another little bit of contradiction in paragraph 6 on page 220 right before curiosity-gate, you say that women should read books that promote virtue and piety, but no mention of knowledge. Earlier you said that the only way to get to heaven is through knowledge, virtue and piety. So what no girls allowed in heaven?
What I had thought would be a little jaunt down the history of educational philosophy and reform has turn into a stomach turning god fest, in which it has been advised that
my natural curiosity should be curtailed and I should only learn womanly things. Well, at least in this Comenius has partly succeeded. I started out curious and now as I look over the titles of the later chapters of the Great Didactic I have no desire to read his thoughts on anything. I am done with the “Great Didactic”.
I think I’ll go and spend my time learning about more “womanly things”. Maybe I’ll follow in the footsteps of “proper women” like Florence Nightingale who was a nurse during the Crimean War, but saved more lives with her mathematics then she ever did with her nursing.