The Great Didactic: A.K.A. The Great Slog

Chapter 7 and 8: The Title Pretty Much Says it all

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.
It is interesting to note that having a title that tells you exactly what the chapter is about to the point that you do not need to read the chapter is a long and glorious tradition.


Chapter 7 – A man can most easily be formed in early youth, and cannot be formed properly except at this age.
“It is the nature of everything that comes into being, that while tender it is easily bent and formed, but that when it has grown hard, it is not easy to alter. …A young plant can be planted, transplanted, pruned, and bent this way or that. When it has become a tree these processes are impossible.” (pg210)

It is not only easier to implant information in the young, but also it is more deeply implanted. Things that are done when something is new lasts a long time and is difficult to change. “…Wool is so tenacious of the colour with which it is first dyed, that is cannot be bleached. The wooden hoop of a wheel, which has been bent into a curve, will break into a thousand pieces rather than return to straightness.” (pg212)

If we care about humanity at all parents and society must make provision for early education.

Chapter 8: The Young must be educated in common, and for this schools are necessary

It makes sense that parents should educate their children, because they are the people who are ultimately responsible for them. It takes a lot of knowledge and time to properly teach children what is essential, and not many people have that luxury therefore it is practical to have people specialize as teachers.
There is also a social benefit for children to be taught in a class rather than individually. We are naturally inclined to be part of a group and look to each other for examples of what to do. Other children act as exemplars and to set up a competitive atmosphere so that all members of the class strive to be the best. Telling a child what to do is not as effective as showing them what to do through examples of the teacher and their peers.

My take on it

Comenius’s arguments are just a series of “god said this” and fanciful analogies. This does not make his points incorrect, but rather it makes them in my opinion completely unsupported. I do not find his Bible passages to be valid evidence and I do not think that his comparing people to wax and trees to be valid models of human behavior. Granted the social sciences were a glimmer in the eye of the naturalists back then, but how hard would it be to use animal models rather than plant models. So the entire book has been pretty light on evidence. That being said at least his arguments are logically and internally consistent. So we’ve that going for us, but really that is it.

Next up: Chapter 9 – All the young of both sexes should be sent to school.

Featured Image “Tired of Studying” by Angela Schmeidel Randall

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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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