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Jan Amos Komensky, aka Johann (John) Amos Comenius

Jan Amos Komensky (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]

Comenius Quotations

Not the children of the rich or of the powerful only, but of all alike, boys and girls, both noble and ignoble, rich and poor, in all cities and towns, villages and hamlets, should be sent to school. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649]

Education is indeed necessary for all. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649]

Those who are stupid need instruction, that they may shake off their natural dullness [inertia]. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649]

An active mind, if not occupied with useful things, will busy itself with what is useless. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649]

The proper education of the young does not consist in stuffing their heads with a mass of words, sentences, and ideas dragged together out of various authors, but in opening up their understanding to the outer world, so that a living stream may flow from their own minds, just as leaves, flowers, and fruit spring from the bud on a tree. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649]

Our faculties grow in such a manner that what goes before paves the way for what comes after. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649]

Much can be learned in play that will afterwards be of use when the circumstances demand it. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649]

[Seneca says] "Life is long, if we know how to use it." It is therefore important that we learn how to make good use of our lives — If a man could learn some single fragments of some branch of knowledge, some pleasing stories or proverbs (without any effort) day by day, what a vast stock of learning he might lay by. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649, abstract]

. Everything should be taught thoroughly, briefly, and pithily [and] things that are naturally connected ought to be taught in combination. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649, p.71]

Knowledge of nature, consists of an internal perception, and needs the same essentials as the external perception . . . [and] the inner perception is the mind or the understanding, the object is [in] our apprehension [of it], while the light [needed] is [enough] attention.' [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649, p.93] —— Cf. Albert Einstein: "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." The beginning of knowledgde should consist, not in the mere learning of the names of things, but in the actual perception of the things themselves! It is when the thing has been grasped by the senses that language should fulfil its function of explaining it still further. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649, p.95]

Children can easily memorise scriptural and secular stories from pictures. Indeed, he who has once seen a rhinoceros (even in a picture) or been present at a certain occurrence, can picture the animal to himself and retain the event in his memory with greater ease than if they had been described to him six hundred times. [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649, p.96]

If the objects themselves cannot be procured, representations of them may be used. Copies or models may be constructed for teaching purposes ... [John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649, p.97]

Estimate the value of the things and their concepts in combination, seeking out the What, the Whence, and the Why, and whether it be necessary or contingent. When practiced enough, seek how to draw conclusions from given premises, and finally dispute. [cf John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic, 1649, p.108]

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. [Meyer 1975:229]

Pestalozzi Quotations

Lead your child by the hand to the great scenes of nature . . . in these hours of liberty it should be nature that teaches rather than you. . . . When nature diverts him, do not take away in the least the pleasure which she offers him. Let him completely realize that it is nature that teaches . . . When he hears a bird warble or an insect hum on a leaf, then cease your talk; the bird and the insect are teaching; your business is then to be silent. [Pestalozzi, Diary entry (1774-02-15)]

I would take school instruction out of the hands of the [teachers], and entrust it to the undivided powers of Nature herself . . . in the hearts of fathers and mothers . . . who desire that their children should grow up . . . [Pestalozzi, How Gertrude Teaches Her Children (1801)]

The ultimate end of education is . . . fitness for life; . . . a preparation for independent action. [Pestalozzi, Letters on Infants' Education (1819)]

There are certain faculties in human nature common to all, which constitute the stock of the fundamental energies of man. . . . We have no right to shut out the child from the development of those faculties also, which we may not for the present conceive to be very essential for his future calling or station in life. [Pestalozzi, Letters on Infants' Education (1819)

Each of our moral, mental, and bodily powers must have its development based upon its own nature, and not based upon artificial and outside influences. [Pestalozzi]

Love must be developed by loving, for it does not arise merely from a knowledge and understanding of what love is and of what ought to be loved; art, also, can . . . be cultivated through doing artistic work and acquiring skill, for unending discussion of art and skill will not develop them. [Pestalozzi, Address to his household, Yverdon, Switzerland, on his seventy-second birthday (1818)]

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. [Zukav 1979:211]


Oldtimers of Education, Comenius, Johan Peztalozzi, Werner Heisenberg, Literature  


Flanagan, Frank M. The Greatest Educators Ever. New York: Continuum, 2006.

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

New, Rebecca S., and Moncrieff Cochran, eds. 2007. Early Childhood Education: An International Encyclopedia. Vols 1-4. London: Praeger.

Comenius (Jan Amos Komensky)

Comenius, John A. 1907. The Great Didactic. London: Adam and Charles Black 1907.

Comenius, Johann A. 1887. The Orbis Pictus. Syracuse, NY: C. W. Bardeen.

Lutzow, the Count, ed., tr. 1905. The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart. London: J. M. Dent and Co.

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


Bowen, H. Courthope. Froebel and Education by Self-Activity. London: Heinemann, 1893.


Compayré Gabriel. Pestalozzi and Elementary Education. London: Harrap, 1908.

de Guimps, Roger. Pestalozzi: His Life and Work. London: Swan Sonnenschein, 1890.

Green, J. A. The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi. London: Clive, 1914.

Huber, Joseph, and Pascale Mompoint-Gaillard, eds. Teacher Education for Change: The Theory behind the Council of Europe Pestalozzi Programme. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2011.


Seldin, Tim, and Paul Epstein. The Montessori Way. Sarasota, FL: The Montessori Foundation Press, 2003.


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

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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