I have a list of things I want to learn. (Probably a good indicator that I chose the right profession since ours is a league of learners.) And then I have a list of classes. Fortunately for me, a lot of what I want to learn overlaps with the classes I’m taking. But not all of it. So if you’ll indulge a journey with me, I’m planning a metaphorical voyage through history via the lives and thoughts of great educational thinkers.
My mentor has shared with me some of Comenius’ ideas and most of them resonated with me, so we’re starting in Morovia (now the Czech Republic) with John Amos Comenius, born Jan Amos Komensky.
Comenius was born in 1592 and took part in the social, education, overall reforms of the Enlightenment. He championed equal opportunities for children regardless of socioeconomic status and education for women—both not commonly supported ideals of the time. Comenius’ fervor for educational reform and opportunity was born from his involvement with religion. (I think a lot of us at BYU can relate.) He worked closely with a Protestant group as a minister. He attributed the disagreements he observed between people to a shortage of truth on both sides. His ensuing solution for all disharmony between people, be it from religious, cultural, scientific, or philosophical differences, was his idea of universal pansophism—when everyone would know everything and therefore agree because they all had all the true information. If people disagree because they lack the big picture, give everyone the big picture and tada!—no more disagreements.
To reach this goal, Comenius proposed a “college of light” which would “govern an ideal world and disseminate knowledge so that an understanding of God’s creations and glory would not become the exclusive possession of the privileged. Such an institution would therefore unite all human beings in the world both culturally and religiously.” To him, the pairing of higher education and spiritual progression was natural and intuitive. Sound familiar? (See D&C 88:118 and 93:36.)
For the most part, I find Comenius’ ideas hard to argue with. The experience model of education is based on his “experience precedes understanding” postulate. He believed people can acquire knowledge through their senses and things can be learned by observing real life and how the world works. His model of experience based education drives the curriculum I use with my kids in our music class. If you want kids to learn eighth notes, you teach them songs with eighth notes before you explain what an eighth note is. This model seems startlingly intuitive, but there must have been a time when it wasn’t a given or Comenius wouldn’t be famous.
Not all of his ideas are so resonantly true to me, though. His take on teaching as a technical skill that if performed correctly could ensure results doesn’t jive with my take on people as complex factors. Certainly there are methods more consistently successful than others and I agree that teaching is a skill, but I don’t think any equation with another person or set of people as a factor can be absolute. People are wild cards. You can teach a lesson perfectly and your first graders might still not get it because they chose not to be receptive to you. I think the teacher and the learner have to meet each other halfway. And if the learner won’t come halfway, I don’t think the teacher can guarantee results.
Of all Comenius’ ideas on education, what I find most refreshing is his holistic learning philosophy that all truth is part of a bigger picture and that by ever learning to see more of that picture, we will grow in unity with each other and with God. When those not of my faith reach the same conclusions I have, I feel the universality of truth. I like that feeling. If indeed “all truth can be circumscribed in one great whole” then Mr. Comenius was certainly onto something. I think it can. And I think he was.
(If you want to learn more about Comenius, these are some sites I found helpful: