The Great Didactic: Introduction

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.  Now I won’t say that I hold my head in academic shame, but this seems to me to be a nice summer goal to sprinkle a little knowledge into the mix of my fluffy summer novel reading, and I thought I’d bring you along with me.

But where to begin?

At the beginning of course,

but which beginning?

I decided to focus my quest on modern education rather than a broader topic mostly because I had a person in mind, the ubiquitous John Dewey (1859-1952).  John Dewey wrote a slew of books and in the course of my research into figuring out his seminal work I found something curious:  1) There is no mother of modern education. 2) There are apparently two fathers, but alas they were separated by a few hundred years.  John Dewey is hands down the most popular person with the title “father of modern education” as seen in a Google search, but an earlier writer, John Amos Comenius (1592-1670), has his proponents.  So it seems that he, rather than Dewey, is the beginning.

Block Print of Comenius

Wood block print of Comenius from the Great Didactic

John Amos Comenius was, according to Wikipedia, a Czech teacher, educator, writer and also a bishop of the Moravian Brethren.  He was a proponent of universal education and his universe included women which is a bonus for me.  (When I read people like Aristotle I have a difficult time fighting my urge to dismiss all his ideas based solely on his views of women. Yes, yes, product of his time, but you try to read someone who thinks you are, by your very nature, inferior. Anyway…) Comenius’s ideas were set down in his book The Great Didactic or since it was widely publish originally in Latin Didactica Magna.  This book seems to be the beginning of modern education reform, though I’m sure the roots of his ideas can be traced back maybe even as far back as the troublesome Aristotle.

Finding an English translation of the book is easy since there are a large number of versions on Google books with full text. I am reading the one that was translated by M.W. Keatinge and published in 1896 and I skipped over the biographical and historical information to get right to the meat.  Every few days I’ll post a summary of a chapter or a few chapters if they are short and add my views and opinions on what Comenius has to say.  Feel free to join me and add your comments and opinions because:

We venture to promise a Great Didactic that is to say, the whole art of teaching all things to all men, and indeed of teaching them with certainty, so that the result cannot fail to follow; further, of teaching them pleasantly, that is to say without annoyance or aversion on the part of teacher or pupil, but rather with the greatest enjoyment for both; further of teaching them thoroughly, not superficially and showily, but in such a manner as to lead to true knowledge, to gentle morals and to the deepest piety. (“Greetings to the Reader” pg. 157)

Well maybe not so much with the deepest piety.

Look here tomorrow for the first installment: Greetings to the Reader. (Link added 6/30)

Featured Image a picture of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy taken by Jennifer.

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Jennifer teaches science in a public school in Pennsylvania. She lives there with her husband and two dogs.

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