Monday, July 27, 2009

Necessity of Schools--Comenius 1630s

Johann Amos Comenius
The Great Didactic
Chapter VIII

Having shown that those plants of Paradise, Christian children, cannot grow up like a forest, but need tending, we must now see on whom this care should fall. It is indeed the most natural duty of parents to see that the lives for which they are responsible shall be rational, virtuous, and pious. God Himself bears witness that this was Abraham's custom, when He says : " For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment" (Gen. xviii. 19). He demands it from parents in general, with this command : " And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up " (Deut. vi. 7). By the Apostle also He says: "And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord" (Ephes. vi. 4).

2. But, since human occupations as well as human beings have multiplied, it is rare to find men who have either sufficient knowledge or sufficient leisure to instruct their children. The wise habit has therefore arisen of giving over children, for their common education, to select persons, conspicuous for their knowledge of affairs and their soberness of morals. To such instructors of the young the name of preceptor, master, schoolmaster, or professor has been applied, while the places destined for this common instruction have been named schools, elementary schools, lecture-rooms, colleges, public schools, and universities.

3. On the authority of Josephus we learn that the patriarch Shem opened the first school, just after the flood. Later, this was called the Hebrew school. Who does not know that in Chaldsea, especially in Babylon, there were many schools, in which the arts, including astronomy, were cultivated ? since, later on (in the time of Nebuchadnezzar), Daniel and his companions were instructed in the wisdom of the Chaldseans (Dan. i. 20), as was also the case with Moses in Egypt (Acts vii. 22). By the command of God, schools were set up in all the towns of the children of Israel; they were called synagogues, and in them the Levites used to teach the law. These lasted till the coming of Christ, and became renowned through His teaching and that of His Apostles. The custom of erecting schools was borrowed by the Romans from the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Jews, and from the Romans it spread throughout their whole empire, especially when the religion of Christ became universal through the care of pious princes and bishops. History relates that Charlemagne, whenever he subjected any heathen race, forthwith ordained for it bishops and learned men, and erected churches and schools; and after him the other Christian emperors, kings, nobles, and magistrates have increased the number of schools so much that they are innumerable.

4. It is to the interest of the whole Christian republic that this Godly custom be not only retained but increased as well, and that in every well-ordered habitation of man (whether a city, a town, or a village), a school or place of education for the young be erected. This is demanded :—

5. (i) By the admirable method of transacting business which is in common use. For, as the head of a household makes use of various craftsmen when he has no leisure time to prepare what is necessary for his household economy, why should he make any difference in the case of education? When he needs flour, he goes to the miller; when flesh, to the butcher; when drink, to the inn-keeper; when clothing, to the tailor; when shoes, to the cobbler; when a house, a ploughshare, or a key, to the builder, the smith, or the locksmith. Again, we have churches for religious instruction, and law courts and assembly rooms in which to discuss the causes of litigants and make weighty announcements to the assembled people ; why not schools also for the young ? Farmers do not feed their own pigs and cows, but keep hired herdsmen who feed them all at one time, while their masters, free from distraction, transact their own business. For this is a marvellous saving of labour, when one man, undisturbed by other claims on his attention, confines himself to one thing; in this way one man can be of use to many, and many to one man.

6. (ii) By necessity, because it is very seldom that parents have sufficient ability or sufficient leisure to teach their children. The consequence is that there has arisen a class of men who do this one thing alone, as a profession, and that by this means the advantage of the whole community is attained.

7. (iii) And although there might be parents with leisure to educate their own children, it is nevertheless better that the young should be taught together and in large classes, since better results and more pleasure are to be obtained when one pupil serves as an example and a stimulus for another. For to do what we see others do, to go where others go, to follow those who are ahead of us, and to keep in front of those who are behind us, is the course of action to which we are all most naturally inclined.

Young children, especially, are always more easily led and ruled by example than by precept. If you give them a precept, it makes but little impression; if you point out that others are doing something, they imitate without being told to do so.

8. (iv) Again, nature is always showing us by examples that whatever is to be produced in abundance must be produced in some one place. Thus, for instance, wood is produced in quantities in forests, grass in fields, fish in lakes, and metals in the bowels of the earth.

Specialisation, too, is carried to such an extent, that the forest which produces pines, cedars, or oaks, produces them in abundance, although other kinds of trees may be unable to grow there; and, in the same way, land that produces gold does not produce other metals in like quantity...

9. (v) And, finally, we see the same tendency in the arts, if a rational procedure be used. When a tree cultivator, in his walks through woods and thickets, finds a sapling suitable for transplanting, he does not plant it in the same place where he finds it, but digs it out and places it in an orchard, where he cares for it in company with a hundred others...And therefore, as fish-ponds are dug for fish and orchards are laid out for fruit-trees, so also should schools be erected for the young.

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