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Friday, October 12, 2012

The Broken Link To Harvard

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The bas relief above appears on a school building in the Czech Republic. The man on the left is not Jesus. It is John Comenius, the Luther of education, draped in an educator's robe. 

Comenius was a pioneer in educational practices that were radical for his day, but are taken for granted today. For example, he wrote the first text incorporating illustrations. This text, called The World in Pictures, was printed in the United States until 1887. [Not many texts are printed for over 200 years.]

Comenius's The World in Pictures continued to be published for over 200 years. [Photo used under the Creative Commons license <//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:Creative_Commons> Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported //creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed]

Comenius advocated educational practices that paved the way for today's theories of mastery learning. For example, taking students from simple concepts to more complex, building in an incremental way. He designed a graded system for schools. He also incorporated drama in education to make learning enjoyable.

Comenius was the first educational leader to champion universal schooling for male and female, rich and poor, gifted and mentally challenged. Note the young girl on the far right holding a book under her arm:

Education for all (male, female, rich, poor, gifted, challenged) was a radical change brought about by Comenius. This was another byproduct of the Reformation. Every woman can thank Martin Luther for paving a way for this, which is another reason I would put Luther first on the list of most important figures of the past millennium.

Why did Comenius champion education for all?  For the same reasons Luther created a translation of the Bible for all. So all people could read and understand Truth for themselves. Truth that would set them free. "Free" to do their own thing? No. Free to practice self-government under God, which was another revolutionary idea the Reformation spawned.

Across the bottom of that relief is written in Czech: "You will once again rule over your own things, Czech people!" By what authority? Observe The Book in Comenius's right arm:

He's not holding a dictionary. Note the faint cross on the cover. Comenius saw the Bible as essential for bringing the rule of God to the affairs of men. He saw The Book as necessary for engaging rightly with all things, academic and otherwise, both public and private. Thus the Bible was central in his approach to education.

For Comenius, there was no sacred-secular split. No division of life into “things of God” and “things of men,” with a gap between. Creation, humanity and the Creator were all parts of one integrated whole. This perspective is the broken link to Harvard, to Noah Webster, and to many American schools through the 18th Century.

In America, the last, tiny, lingering embers of the Pansophic movement were extinguished in 1962, when the Supreme Court outlawed even a little reading of The Book as part of the regular school day. At that time, daily Bible reading was as common in many public schools as the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Thus the ostensible need to nationally outlaw the galling practice.

By that time, however, the Bible had been reduced to an ornamental mantle piece. For Comenius, The Book illuminated every subject.