John Amos Comenius

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Related to John Amos Comenius: John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Comenius, John Amos


(Jan Amos Komensky). Born Mar. 28, 1592, in Nivnice, southern Moravia; died Nov. 15, 1670, in Amsterdam. Czech humanist educator and public figure.

The son of a member of the Protestant community, the Bohemian Brotherhood, Comenius received his primary education in a Brotherhood school. Between 1608 and 1610 he attended a Latin school, subsequently continuing his studies at the Herborn Academy and the University of Heidelberg. While at the university he began to write a unique encyclopedia entitled Theater of All Things (1614–27) and a comprehensive dictionary of the Czech language, Treasury of the Czech Language (1612–56). In 1614 Comenius was appointed a teacher at the Brotherhood school in Pԙeorv. From 1618 to 1621 he lived in Fulnek and studied the works of such Renaissance humanists as T. Campanella and J. Vives. In 1627, Comenius began writing a work in Czech on education. Catholic persecution forced him to emigrate to Leszno in Poland. There he taught at a Gymnasium and in 1632 completed his Didactic, written in Czech, which he later revised and translated into Latin as The Great Didactic (1633–38). While at Leszno he also wrote several textbooks, The Gate of Languages Unlocked (1631), Astronomy (1632), and Physics (1633), as well as the first guide to family upbringing, The School of Infancy (1632). Comenius worked intensively on his ideas of pansophy (teaching all things to all men), which aroused great interest among European scholars.

In the 1640’s Comenius published a number of textbooks. In 1650 he was invited to organize schools in Hungary, and there he tried to establish a pansophic school, whose scientific principles, curriculum, and schedule were expounded in his Sketch of a Pansophic School (1651).

Seeking to enliven teaching and arouse in children an interest in knowledge, Comenius employed the method of dramatizing educational material. He wrote several plays based on his Gate of Languages Unlocked, which were published in School as Play (1656). In Hungary, Comenius completed the first illustrated textbook, The World of Sensible Things Pictured (1658), in which drawings were an organic part of the text. After moving to Amsterdam, Comenius continued writing his major work, General Consultation About the Improvement of Human Affairs (begun in 1644), in which he set forth a plan for reforming human society. The first two parts of the work were published in 1662, but the manuscripts of the remaining five parts were only found in the 1930’s. In 1966 the entire work was published in Latin in Prague. Comenius summed up the experiences of his long life in The Only Important Thing (1668).

In his philosophical views, Comenius was close to materialist sensationalism, which he regarded as the philosophy of the common people. Recognizing three sources of knowledge—the senses, reason, and faith—Comenius attached primary importance to the senses. He distinguished three stages in the development of cognition, the empirical, the scientific, and the practical, and held that universal education and the creation of a new school would help educate children in a spirit of humanism. Comenius’ definition of the goal of education clearly reflects the influence of religious ideology, however, for he speaks of preparing man for eternal life.

Proceeding on the assumption that the world is capable of being known, Comenius also regarded as knowable all phenomena related to the teaching process and concluded that it could be directed. According to Comenius, since man is a part of nature he should obey its general laws, and all educational methods should conform to nature. While asserting that upbringing must be in conformity with nature, he also believed that education must rest on a study of the laws of man’s spiritual life and the coordination of all pedagogical influences with it.

Comenius viewed questions of upbringing and instruction as inseparable, interpreting didactics both as a theory of education and instruction and as a theory of upbringing. He urged that all young people be given a universal education and considered it essential that all educational work be linked to the teaching of languages—first the mother tongue and then Latin, at that time the language of science and culture.

In the teaching method, which Comenius interpreted in a broad sense, order and naturalness were the most essential qualities. Hence his insistence that instruction begin as early as possible, and that teaching material be appropriate to the pupil’s age. Comenius was convinced that man’s reason was capable of embracing all things. To attain this goal, however, it was necessary in teaching to maintain a consecutive and gradual forward movement, proceeding from the near to the distant, from the familiar to the unfamiliar, and from the whole to the particular, striving to give the pupil mastery of a system of knowledge rather than fragmentary information. Comenius contended that it was necessary to develop from childhood such positive moral qualities as justice, moderation, and courage, by which he particularly meant persistent endeavor. He ascribed an important role in moral upbringing to the example of adults and to the systematic training of children in useful activity and in the observance of rules of conduct.

Seeking to make education accessible to all children, Comenius developed a classroom system of schooling to replace individual instruction. He elaborated a unified system of education consisting of a “mother school” (upbringing in the family under the mother’s guidance up to six years of age), a “native-language school” for children between the ages of six and 12 (combining instruction in the pupil’s native language, arithmetic, elements of geometry, geography, and nature study with reading of the Holy Scriptures and an introduction to the most important crafts), and, in major cities, a Latin school or Gymnasium for the most able pupils from 12 to 18 years of age (the curriculum of the Gymnasium was to include, in addition to the traditional seven liberal arts, natural science, history, and geography). Comenius also altered the content of the liberal arts themselves, linking them to practical needs and raising them to the level of contemporary science. Finally, every country was to have an academy, a higher school for young people between the ages of 18 and 24. This system, first described in The Czech Didactic, was expanded in Pampaedia, to include “schools of adulthood and old age,” in which life itself was the “teacher.”

Most of Comenius’ pedagogical works comment on the teacher, and in Pampaedia he devotes an entire chapter to the teacher’s role. According to Comenius, the teacher must be skilled in the art of instruction and enjoy his work. He must stimulate independent thought in his pupils and train them to become active persons concerned with the general welfare.

Comenius had an enormous influence on the development of pedagogy and school practices throughout the world. Many of his didactic principles have become part of the modern theory of instruction.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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John Amos Comenius, Bishop of the Moravians: His Life and Educational Works.
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