The Great Didactic: Greetings to the Reader

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. (If you missed yesterday’s introduction you might want to start there.)

Greetings to the Reader

Well that is nice.  I’ve never had a book explicitly say hello.


Teaching is hard.  There are many people out there trying to make schools better.  Some have met with success and some not so much.

Education of the young is important to both the individual and society as a whole.

Perfecting the art of teaching is not the work of one person or even a single generation, but is the work of many people over many generations building on previous knowledge.  This therefore, means that this didactic by the nature of its topic must be considered incomplete, but at least it moves us a little closer to the goal of becoming a master of teaching.

Why did the author want to write this book?

Teaching in the past was so bad and schools so “full of toil and weariness, of weakness and deceits, that only” the very gifted were able to slog through that hot mess and get a good education.

In the early part of the 17th century there were a group of German teachers who started to think outside the box.  They tried to develop a faster and easier way to teach language with varying levels of success.  These people wrote about what they did and it was through these writings as well as those of a Frenchman named Janus Caecilius Frey, that Comenius gained inspiration.  He wrote to all of them to try and learn from them but only one replied, John Valentine Andreae .  Andreae became something of a mentor and encouraged Comenius to research teaching and write his book.

The greeting closes with a great big thanks to god for giving the author that strength, intelligence and inspiration for the endeavor.

My take on it

My goodness there is a lot of hyperbole, or rather I’m sure Comenius did not see it as hyperbole, but the style of writing is very dramatic.  That might be something missing from our current writing.  We endeavor to make things academic and non-biased, never would we write something and say that “the salvation of the human race is at stake.”

But the writing style aside, there is a truism in education that states that there is nothing new in education.  This was brought home to me when the author talked about how only the intelligent and gifted could learn in the schools of the day.  The terrible states of schools is also currently a common theme, but I take heart in knowing that we are not quite so horrible as in the past.  While there is “toil and weariness” in today’s schools there is an underlying philosophy that all children can learn and there is a concerted effort to help them.  As Comenius said knowledge grows and is built up person by person and generation by generation.

Now it is your turn.  Do you agree with my summary?  Did I gloss over something you see as important?  What are your thoughts on what Comenius or I had to say?

Note on god: It is obvious from his writings that Comenius was a very gody person.  I am not.  My brief description of almost a full page of writing praising and thanking god is not meant as an insult to theists, but rather the writing gives little insight into education or the art of teaching which is my main focus.  When it occurs in the text I will not be summarizing it much further than to say “god stuff”

Next up Chapter 1-4: I need to have a little chat with Comenius and his god obsession. (Link added 6/30/14)

Featured image a wood block print from the Great Didactic.

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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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