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John Amos Comenius

Jan Amos Komenski, aka John Amos Comenius

Jan Amos Comenius (1592-1670) was a Czech teacher, educator, and writer. He lived and worked in many different countries in Europe as a sorrowful and homeless refugee. From his strivings to organise "all" human knowledge some consider him the father of modern education.

His aim was to bring it, in outline, as vast field of knowledge within the grasp of every child. The summary of this attempt is given in the Didactica Magna, completed about 1631. In formulating the general theory of education, Comenius is the forerunner of such as Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and Froebel.

In 1657 was published his Orbis Sensualium Pictus [The Visible World in Pictures], probably the most renowned and most widely circulated of school textbooks. It was the first successful application of illustrations to the work of teaching. The book is divided into chapters illustrated by woodcuts, which are described in the accompanying text. The book has 150 chapters and covers (a) inanimate nature, (b) botanics, (c) zoology, (d) religion, and (e) humans and their activities.

His texts were based on the same basic ideas: (1) learning foreign languages through the vernacular; (2) acquiring ideas through objects rather than words; (3) starting with objects most familiar to the child to introduce him to both the new language and the more remote world of objects: (4) giving the child a comprehensive knowledge of his environment, physical and social, and also instruction in religious, moral, and classical subjects; (5) making this way of knowledge and learning a pleasure rather than a task; and (6) making instruction general enough.

Comenius was also asked to be the President of Harvard University, but moved to Sweden instead, even though he was invited by both France and Holland as well. He was officially invited to Sweden to draw up a scheme for managing the schools there, reorganizing the Swedish schools.

In his Didactica Magna (Great Didactic), he outlined a graded system of schools that correspond to the existing American system of kindergarten, elementary school, secondary school, college, and university.

Not all his successful writings and methods were widely imitated. "For some reason that even scholars have been unable to make out . . . that success breeds the flattery of imitation did not apply (etc.)". There were lots of people around that "would have been overjoyed to assist at his funeral", but for other reasons than pedagogical ones. [Grt 114, 117, 119, 123]

Johann Pestalozzi

Johann Pestalozzi

The educator Johann Pestalozzi (1746-1827) strove for social sanitation, since people were debased through corruption and in social perplexities. Then he turned an author. [Grt 217, 219, 222]

Pestalozzi is described as "an educator with reform gurgling in his veins", one that "turned a cold shoulder to the schoolmaster's hankering to clutter the child's memory with useless knowledge." And "like Rousseau, he had great misgivings about the premature use of books". [Grt 225]

Pestalozzi never came near the means to ascertain how valid and poignant his dominant theories or greatest findings well could be, but "as his fame increased, his methods too began to be adopted on an ever-increasing scale - except in his native land." His liberal outlooks, which his new methods reflected, seemed foreboding and dreadfully challenging there. [Grt 227-8]

In the United States his methods gave rise to a school of "booming success", "almost unbelievable interest, not only among professionals but among the laity as well." His educative system was thought to be the most up-to-date at that time. [Grt 229]

Heisenberg's Candid Warning

Werner Heisenberg
Werner Karl Heisenberg ca. 1927

Many in the role of experts may be role-posers, and not too good at all the issues involved in their work, really. Werner Heisenberg has revealed how immense that problem is in top-notch physics. He should know, for he knew the field intimately, and was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for foundational contributions to quantum mechanics. He is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory. He also made contributions to nuclear physics, quantum field theory, and particle physics. Heisenberg wrote about the quantum revolution in physics:

When new groups of phenomena compel changes in the pattern of thought . . . even the most eminent of physicists find immense difficulties. For the demand for change in the thought patterns may engender the feeling that the ground is to be pulled from under one's feet . . . I believe that the difficulties at this point can hardly be overestimated. Once one has experienced the desperation with which clever and conciliatory men of science react to the demand for a change in the thought pattern, one can only be amazed that such revolutions in science have actually been possible at all. [Thd 211]

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Old-timers of Western education, LITERATURE  

Grt: Meyer, Adolphe. Grandmasters of Educational Thought. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.

Thd: Zukav, Gary. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. London: Rider, 1979.

Wikipedia, s.v. "John Amos Comenius".

McMahon, Matthew. "Some brief Notes on Jan Amos Comenius". A Puritan's Mind. 1998-2010. [◦Link]

Comenius, John A. The Great Didactic [Didactica Magna]. New York: Russell and Russell, 1967. Online at Roehampton University, London. [◦Link]

Comenius, John A. Orbis sensualium pictus [The Visible World in Pictures]12th ed. London: S. Leacroft, 1777. Online at Google Books. [◦ Link]

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