By knowledge Comenius meant knowledge of nature and of man’s relation to nature.
Continuing Comenius Modernizes Education,
our selection from John Amos Comenius – Bishop of the Moravians, His Life and Educational Works by Simon Somerville Laurie published in 1892. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Comenius Modernizes Education.
The educational spirit of the Reformers, the conviction that all — even the humblest — must be taught to know God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, was inherited by Comenius in its completeness. In this way, and in this way only, could the ills of Europe be remedied and the progress of humanity assured. While, therefore, he sums up the educational aim under the three-fold heads of Knowledge, Virtue, and Piety or Godliness, he in truth has mainly in view the last two. Knowledge is of value only in so far as it forms the only sound basis, in the eyes of a Protestant theologian, of virtue and godliness. We have to train for a hereafter.
In virtue and godliness Comenius did not propose to teach anything save what the Reformed religion taught. His characteristic merits in this department of instruction were:
- Morality and godliness were to be taught from the first. Parents and teachers were to begin to train at the beginning of the child’s conscious life.
- Parents and teachers were to give milk to babes, and reserve the stronger meat for the adolescent and adult mind. They were to be content to proceed gradually, step by step.
- The method of procedure was not only to be adapted to the growing mind, but the mode of enforcement was to be mild, and the manner of it kind and patient.
Had Comenius done nothing more than put forth and press home these truths he would have deserved our gratitude as an educationalist.
But he did more than this. He related virtue and godliness to knowledge. By knowledge Comenius meant knowledge of nature and of man’s relation to nature. It is this important characteristic of Comenius’ educational system that reveals the direct influence of Bacon and his school. To the great Verulam he pays reverence for what he owed him, but he owed him even more than he knew.
In this field of knowledge, the leading characteristic of the educational system of Comenius is his realism. We have pointed out, in contradiction of the assumptions of the modern sensationalist school, that the humanists were in truth realists, and it may be safely said that there can be no question among competent judges as to the realism which ought to characterize all rational and sound instruction. The question rather is as to the field in which the real is to be sought — in the mind of man, or in external nature. As the former may be called humanistic-realism, so the latter may be called sense- or naturalistic-realism. Of the latter, Comenius is the true founder, although his indebtedness to Ratich was great. Mere acquisition of the ordered facts of nature, and man’s relation to them, was with him the great aim — if not the sole aim — of all purely intellectual instruction. And here there necessarily entered the governing idea, encyclopædism or pansophism. Let all the sciences, he said, be taught in their elements in all schools, and more fully at each successive stage of the pupil’s progress. It is by knowledge that we are what we are, and the necessary conclusion from this must be, let all things be taught to all.
It is at this point that many will part company with Comenius. The mind stored with facts, even if these be ordered facts, will not necessarily be much raised in the scale of humanity as an intelligence. The natural powers may be simply overweighted by the process, and the natural channels of spontaneous reason choked. In education, while our main business is to promote the growth of moral purpose and of a strong sense of duty, we have to support these by the discipline of intelligence, and by training to power and work rather than by information. On the other hand, only those who are ignorant of the history and the recognized results of education will wholly abjure realism in the Comenian sense; but it has to be assigned its own place, and nothing more than this, in the education of a human being. The sum of the matter seems to be this, that while a due place in all education is to be assigned to sense-realistic studies, especially in the earlier years of family and school life, the humanistic agencies must always remain the most potent in the making of a man.
Comenius and his followers again confound knowledge with wisdom. He affirms that “all authors are to be banished from school except those that give a knowledge of useful things.” Wisdom is certainly not to be opposed to knowledge, but it depends more on a man’s power of discrimination, combination, and imagination than on the extent of his mental store of facts. Were it not so, our whole secondary education, and all the purely disciplinal part of our university instruction would be very far astray. If the ancient tongues are to be learned simply with a view to the sum of knowledge they contain, it would be absurd to waste the time of our youth over them. It would be better to impose on our universities the duty of furnishing guaranteed translations for the use of the public. We shall not, however, involve ourselves in controversy here, as our object is merely to point out, generally, the strong and weak points of our author.
Next in importance to pansophy or encyclopaedism, and closely connected with it, is the principle that a knowledge of words and of things should go hand in hand. Words are to be learned through things. Properly interpreted, and under due limitations, this principle will, we presume, be now generally accepted. We say, under due limitations, because it is manifest that the converse preposition, that “things are learned through words,” is easily capable of proof, and is indeed, in our opinion, the stronghold of humanistic teaching in its earlier or school stages.
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