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Gretchen Schwarz and Jill Martin argue that contemporary Christian evangelicals often perceive American public schools as evil, and many have retrenched into their own private schools. These schools generally offer a highly traditional, narrow, even classical curriculum. In contrast, Comenius, one of the Reformation era’s outstanding scholars and educators, developed a wealth of ideas that seem new even today. The ideas of Comenius on pedagogy and curriculum, universal schooling, and the use of the media offer a positive educational alternative to Christian educators, both in public and private schools. Ms. Schwarz is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Baylor University and Ms. Martin is taking a break from the academic world by concentrating on the birth of her next child.

While American public education emerged at a time when it was simply assumed that the culture was Christian, the times have changed. Of course, “Christian” meant Protestant as the nineteenth-century Common School Movement gained ground; Diane Ravitch explains in a history of American schooling that Horace Mann wanted “no sectarianism in the schools… we should all say the same prayers, we should use those religious ideas that are common to all of us—meaning all of us Protestants.”1 It is no surprise that the Catholic school system emerged as an alternative for many Americans. Today, however, some evangelical Christian groups clash openly with public schools over a variety of issues from evolution and Bible as literature courses, to the banning of religious Christmas carols or censorship of young adult literature. Moreover, while parochial schools in the United States have long existed, the recent growth of Christian evangelical schools is notable; many of these schools have been built in reaction to an “unchristian” American society, including public schools. For example, the webpage of Discover Christian Schools, the public communications arm of the Mid-Atlantic Christian School Association, declares that Christian schooling is the best option for Christian parents, adding under “Big Ideas to Consider” that “there are basically two kingdoms, a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness. It seems strange to have those who walk in darkness educate the children of light.”2 Public schools are, by implication, places of darkness. Thus, the relationship of many Christians and K-12 education has become problematic in the United States. However, one “dead white guy,” John Amos Comenius, advocates a variety of diverse, progressive ideas about schooling for Christians – in the twenty-first century, too. John (Jon, Jan) Amos Comenius (Komensky), the Czech educator, was born in Bohemia in 1592 into the religious group known as the Moravian Brethren, Protestants who followed in the traditions of John Hus (a reformer and forerunner of Martin Luther) and who emphasized “extreme simplicity, and their great desideratum to lead a pure life, and one as far as possible in accordance with the commands of Scripture, which they interpreted in their most literal sense.”3 Comenius studied at Herborn and Heidelberg Universities and worked as both a schoolmaster and ordained minister. He spent much of his life being exiled from some places or being invited to other places. Comenius lived in Poland, London, Hungary, Holland, and Sweden during the Thirty Years War and other upheavals, producing a number of educational writings known throughout Europe. What follows is an exploration of what Comenius may have to say – in contrast to a number of Christian schools now – regarding pedagogy and curriculum, universal schooling, and use of the media; in short, we explore his guiding principles as a Christian educator who still speaks to Christians concerned about education.

Comenius’ Pedagogy and Curriculum

Comenius has been described as the father or pioneer of modern education. George Sarton goes one step further, naming Comenius as the “Copernicus of education.”4 This is an apt comparison because just as Copernicus called into question the prevailing geocentric belief that the sun rotated around the earth, so too Comenius questioned the prevailing pedagogical beliefs of his day. Comenius “recentered” the pedagogical universe from one where rote learning, fragmented subject matter, rigid discipline, and elitism dominated to one where holistic, developmental, and experiential learning – that was accessible to all children – became the core.

Hearing that these twenty-first-century pedagogical buzz words of holism, development, experiential learning, and access can be associated with some “dead white guy” who lived over 400 years ago may be a bit surprising. Was not the sev-enteenth century marked by warfare and famine and religious and political conflict and, thus, hardly a climate conducive to optimistic and progressive thinking? But somehow, amidst the turmoil, tragedy, and exiled existence that characterized his life, Comenius devoted himself to studying, improving, and establishing better ways of educating than he had experienced. As Sarton contends, commenting in a time influenced by John Dewey, “…there is hardly one of the educational theories of today of which one cannot find the development or at least the germ in the didactic writings of the great Bohemian teacher.”5

In The Great Didactic Comenius detailed “the causes, the principles, the meth-ods, and the objects of the art of teaching” in nine universal principles of instruction and ten principles of facility in teaching and learning.6 While Comenius published many educational books during his time, The Great Didactic is considered to be the most important and is most quoted. Early in The Great Didactic, Comenius explained the pedagogical goals for his treatise:

We venture to promise a Great Didactic, that is to say, the whole art of teaching all things to all men [sic], and indeed of teaching them with certainty, so that the result cannot fail to follow; further, of teaching them pleasantly, that is to say, without annoyance or aversion on the part of teacher or pupil, but rather with the greatest enjoyment for both; further of teaching them thoroughly, not superficially and showily, but in such a manner as to lead to true knowledge, to gentle morals, and to the deepest piety. Lastly, we wish to prove all this a priori, that is to say, from the unalterable nature of the matter itself, drawing off, as from a living source, the constantly flowing runlets, and bringing them together again into one concentrated stream, that we may lay the foundations of the universal art of founding universal schools…. Let the main objective of this, our Didactic, be as follows: To seek and to find a method of instruction, by which teachers may teach less, but learners may learn more by which schools may be the scene of less noise, aversion, and useless labour [sic], but of more leisure, enjoyment, and solid progress.7

Generally speaking, Comenius believed that education should use natural methods, be grounded in everyday experience, and proceed from the known to the unknown and from the simple to the complex.8 Although order was the “soul of affairs” for Comenius, nature was his true and continuous source of pedagogical insight and was directly connected to his understanding of the principle of order.

Comenius’ first universal principle of instruction is that “nature observes a suitable time.”9 According to Comenius, just as a bird would not attempt to lay eggs and rear its young in the cold of winter, we should not attempt to educate a child until the “springtime of life” equivalent to early boyhood and girlhood.10 At the same time, Comenius acknowledged that merely teaching a child at the right time is not enough. Instead, it is important that “all the subjects that are to be learned should be arranged as to suit the age of the students, that nothing which is beyond their comprehension be given them to learn.”11 Basically, the first principle, if translated into the present-day educational vernacular, would be that education should begin early – when minds are young and fresh – and should, at all times, be developmentally appropriate.

Comenius’ second universal principle of instruction is that “nature prepares the material, before she begins to give it form.”12 Comenius made sense of this principle in several ways. First, he highlighted the importance of lesson preparation and the need for teachers to have all of the necessary supplies and materials on-hand before beginning instruction. However, Comenius also recognized the preparation principle as extending beyond the mere appropriation of supplies or organizing of a lesson. Indeed, Comenius used this principle to criticize the status quo educational thinking that placed instruction in language/words before instruction in science, instead arguing that proper attention to preparation and planning required that these subjects be taught simultaneously. In particular, Comenius viewed science as grounded in things – the touchable, the corporeal, and directly observable – and viewed language and words as grounded in ideas – the abstract, the cerebral, the imperceptible: “Things are essential, words only accidental; things are the body, words but the garment; things are the kernel, words the shells and husks.”13 Thus, generally speaking, Comenius’ third principle of instruction recognizes that the comprehension of abstract knowledge is based in and grows out of concrete, tangible, and experiential learning opportunities.

In his fifth principle, Comenius called for learning experiences that promote understanding of the subject matter rather than mere memorization of facts. In a similar fashion, Comenius argued, in his sixth principle, for a holistic approach to learning rather than an approach preoccupied with disconnected and minute details without an appreciation of the larger gestalt. Finally, in the seventh principle, Comenius contended that all learning should be “carefully graduated” or, using present-day terminology, scaffolded to ensure that learning experiences “prepare the way for and throw light on those that come after.”14 Ideas and information need to be connected in ways meaningful to students.

Examining several of Comenius’ principles of facility in teaching and in learning provides additional insight into Comenius’ pedagogical philosophies. Comenius’ second principle of facility in teaching and learning states that “nature prepares its material so that it actually strives to attain the form.”15 Comenius explained this principle by citing the need to foster a desire to learn and a love of knowledge in all students so that they would strive to attain an education. In turn, this desire to learn and taste for knowledge would develop naturally if schools were attractive and welcoming places rather than dark and dungeon-like, if school experiences were based in enjoyment rather than drudgery, and if teach-ers rewarded students rather than punished them. In short, Comenius wanted schools to be “happy workshops of humanity.”16

The fourth principle of facility in teaching and learning (“nature advances from what is easy to what is more difficult”) and the eighth principle (“nature assists its operations in every possible manner”), spell out further how these happy workshops of humanity can be established.17 More specifically, in the fourth principle, Comenius detailed how instruction should first occur in the students’ native language – not Latin, as was the norm for his day – and that knowledge was best acquired through the senses. In particular, Comenius contended: “All knowledge begins by sensuous perception; then through the medium of the imagination”18 These ideas were then expanded upon in the eighth principle where Comenius detailed how instruction should be built on the senses:

The sense of hearing should always be conjoined with that of sight, and the tongue should be trained in combination with the hand. The subjects that are taught should not merely be taught orally, and thus appeal to the ear alone, but should be pictorially illustrated, and thus develop the imagination by help of the eye. Again, the pupils should learn to speak with their mouths and at the same time to express what they say with their hands, that no study may be proceeded with before what has already been learned is thoroughly impressed on with the eyes, the ears, the understanding, and the memory.19

Today, we might talk about different learning styles, multiple intelligences, and multiple literacies. Moreover, a 1983 film about Comenius, filmed in his native Czechoslovakia, shows him taking students on field trips.20 Doing and seeing were as important as listening to the teacher.

In addition to learning through the senses, according to the eighth principle of facility in teaching and learning, learning could be made enjoyable by doing away with the harsh teaching and discipline practices that dominated schools. Thus, Comenius believed that “no blows should be given for lack of readiness to learn” and that it was essential that the teacher take an active role in ensuring readiness.21

Comenius developed his educational ideas within a Christian context, and his aims always included the moral and spiritual as well as the intellectual and practical. Thus, it may prove useful to explore what Comenius might have to say to Christian school educators today, as well as public school educators. Of course, it is impossible to generalize about Christian private schools in the United States, which include not only the large Catholic school system but also Lutheran, Quaker, and many other Christian groups as well as homeschoolers. However, it seems especially pertinent to apply Comenius to the growing number of schools which might be associated with the “religious right.” After all, Comenius was a dedicated Protestant of a pious bent.

Although Christian schools vary greatly, there is an observable trend toward “core subjects”/back to basics or “classical education” in Christian schooling currently. For example, the Association of Christian Schools International ( highlights a core curriculum although it is an integrated one with an emphasis on “classical normative literature.” In fact, the headmaster of First Baptist Academy in Dallas who has written the curriculum pages is affiliated with Paideia, Inc. – no doubt influenced by that work of Mortimer Adler and the Great Books curriculum. The headmaster celebrates an integrated humanities curriculum which “resembles the curriculum that we used in educating children and young people in our Western world for the past several hundred years… It is a proven way of educating students.”22 Indirectly, one could sense here a fear of or contempt for contemporary culture such as that expressed in Ellen Chary’s (1994) “Raising Christian Children in a Pagan Culture.”23

Likewise, the Association of Classical and Christian schools ( in Position Paper # 2 (online) traces its curriculum to a 1947 essay by Dorothy L. Sayers (the British mystery writer) in which Sayers aligns the Trivium with children’s developmental stages. The Trivium (from the medieval university) includes grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Also emphasized by ACCS is the necessity “to teach children their Western heritage through reading the great works of the West.” Specifically, this group argues that the classical content helps students appreciate the arguments that have formed current thought so they “can adequately provide the Christian antithesis to the humanistic arguments of our heritage that are still being advocated by our godless culture today.”24 Education is seen largely as an inoculation.

Looking to some “golden” past for traditional curriculum and teaching is not what Comenius did. Comenius, early orphaned, had a poor elementary education himself. As Maurice Keatinge, who translated Comenius into English, including a biographical introduction, notes, “the defects in his early education were, however, the seeds from which sprang the whole of his didactic efforts.”25Comenius offered a different view of education, not one that merely prepares children to defend themselves and their faith but one that embraces learning in a changing world within a Christ-centered framework. Will Monroe discusses how Comenius himself swerved away from the classical humanist ideal of education in the sixteenth century. Says Monroe, “Without regard for the diversity of avocations, classical culture was held to be the safest and best training for the manifold duties of life”26 Unfortunately, this curriculum was deadly dull and the same for everyone, devoted to Latin grammar and memorization, and already facing criti-cism by such figures as Erasmus. Comenius, instead, offered learning in students’ native language, practical content, and hands-on activities. The ideas of Comenius on schooling include such terms as “nature,” “natural curiosity,” “harmony,” and “delight”; such concepts promote the sheer joy of learning about the world, natural and manmade. Terrible events happened in the time of Comenius, but he still embraced curriculum and pedagogy that honored both nature and culture.

Moreover, the idea of what is developmentally appropriate – based in experience, and motivating to students – might encourage Christian educators to question the current preoccupation with standardized testing and test preparation, which begins even in kindergarten. Many, if not most, Christian evangelical schools seem to boast about their standardized test scores, despite the criticism this practice has received.27 That standardized tests are inaccurate, culturally biased, and driving the curriculum in negative ways is a notion Christian educators, too, should confront, as have many public school educators.28 See “High-stakes Testing Narrows the Curriculum,” for instance.Conservative scholar Diane Ravitch presents a powerful argument against the testing-driven mandates of No Child Left Behind in the 2010 The Death and Life of the Great American School System (from Basic Books in New York). Opposing the test mania does not mean having no or low standards. However, the spirit, if not the exact words, of Comenius might encourage all educators to rethink assessment.

The educational vision that grew out of Comenius’ pedagogical philosophies was one defined not only by order but also by holism, development, imagination, experience, nature, and enjoyment. This vision was a sharp break from the prevailing image of what schooling should look like and feel like and be like in Comenius’ day. However, it was perhaps Comenius’ vision of who should be allowed to participate in these educational experiences that most sharply deviated from the norm. Indeed, it was Comenius’ belief that schooling should be accessible to all children that is perhaps his most revolutionary and lasting pedagogical contribution.

Access: School for All

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 cities and towns, villages and hamlets, should be sent to school.29

Comenius devoted two entire chapters in The Great Didactic to the idea that schooling should be universally available to all children regardless of gender, intellectual ability, social, religious, or cultural background. For Comenius, all human beings should be educated because they were human beings. Viewing schools as the “workshops of humanity,” Comenius called for schools to “imitate the sun in the heavens, which lights, warms and vivifies the whole earth, so that whatever is able to live, to flourish, and to blossom, may do so.”30 By opening up schooling opportunities to all – by shining the light of education on all human beings – Comenius believed that everyone could possess the necessary knowledge, virtue, and piety such that no one “will lack material for thinking, choosing, following, and doing good things” and that “no man [or woman], in his [or her] journey through life, may encounter anything so unknown to him [or her] that he [or she] cannot pass sound judgment upon it and turn it to its proper use without serious error.”31 Daniel Murphy maintains that the schooling for all philosophy grew out of Comenius’ values of “love, truth, and freedom.”32 During a time period when only young males from wealthy and elite family backgrounds were sent to school, Comenius’ loving and tolerant beliefs about expanding educational opportunities rather than limiting them were quite radical. Comenius, recognizing the humanness of the female sex, justified his ideas about educating girls by highlighting that, just like boys, girls are God’s children and should be educated. Comenius even acknowledged that girls and/or women are “endowed with equal sharpness of mind and capacity for knowledge (often with more than the opposite sex)” another profoundly radical idea for Comenius’ time.33 However, it is important to note that even Comenius’ radical forward-thinking had its limitations. Because although Comenius argued for universal education for boys and girls, he was careful to note that

We are not advising that women be educated in such a way that their tendency to curiosity shall be developed, but so that their sincerity and contentedness may be increased, and this chiefly in those things which it becomes a woman to know and do; that is to say, all that enables her to look after her household and to promote the welfare of her husband and her family.34

Despite the “yes, but” caveat in the fine print of Comenius’ school-for-all philosophy, Comenius’ long-ago contributions to the discourse on educational access should be duly noted.

Contrast this pansophism of Comenius to contemporary Christian evan-gelical schools. Particular denominational groups like the Southern Baptists have created their own schools in growing numbers since the 1980s and 1990s. These schools vary, but often these schools are created as negative reaction to public schools. Education Week reported in 2004 that Ed Gamble, the executive director of the Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, declared that “You can’t have a Bible in public schools. If you are a teacher, you can’t talk to people about your faith and you can’t pray in school.”35 Public school education is seen as a source of immorality and hostility to Christianity. It becomes necessary to gather together only like-minded people. Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E.), another non-denominational organization that has since 1970 sold curriculum packages, training, and student conventions, offers, according to its website, a core curriculum which “includes basic academic disciplines that focus on essential educational needs: math, English, Literature and Creative writing, social studies, science, Word Building (spelling), and Bible Reading.” The 1999 document, “The Great Commandment,” available online (, explains that A.C.E. is all about the “training of a new generation of Godly, righteous young people.”36 The same document declares that our children, our future, “are being overrun by drugs and alcohol, caught in the hopeless cycle of addictions, lost to depression and suicide, and even ruthlessly killed by other children in our nation’s centers of education!”37 Accordingly, Christians should protect their children from the secular humanists who “allow the children to see things they should never see and hear things they should never hear.”38 Scholar David Berliner has criticized the A.C.E. curriculum specifically for being “limited, biased, and sometimes untrue.”39

It seems clear that diversity is not a common value in such schools as those promoted by Accelerated Christian Education, nor is social justice a concern. While website pictures may show boys and girls of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, Dr. Norman C. Marks declares in “The State of State Education” on the Keystone Christian Education Association website that one problem with public schools is that “far from the community schools of past decades where families knew each other, today’s system brings students from diverse and unknown families into a united school environment.” Also objectionable to A.C.E. is “indoctrination into the new world order” in which “students are well taught in pluralism, world peace, and a United Nations agenda.”40 The Discover Christian Schools website also complains about the teaching of English in public schools where “literature must be representative of all cultures, which are seen as having equal value, and has no inherent meaning”41 The pluralism of contemporary American society is seen as a bad thing. One could infer that not only should all Christians think alike, but also it would be nice if they were alike in other ways. Difference is a threat, not an opportunity, for some Christian evangelicals.

Comenius thought everyone should be educated together, and he argues in The Great Didactic that “not only the children of the rich or of the powerful only, but all alike, boys and girls, both noble and ignoble, rich and poor, in cities and towns, villages and hamlets, should be sent to school.”42 Of course, all of Europe was at least nominally Christian at that point. Nevertheless, despite his recognition of evil in the world (which he certainly experienced himself), Comenius saw education as expansive rather than defensive. As Jaroslav Peprnik says, “He was an educator whose local view matured to a global vision.”43 Mary Small explains that pansophism, the educational ideal of Comenius, “is meant to provide for all people to be made knowledgeable about the world, able to judge events for themselves, and able otherwise to generate and sustain the conditions of progress.”44 The aim of education was not just to aid economic competition, obtain high test scores, or to “protect” the faith; Comenius believed that educated citizens should make wise decisions, work with others, and do good things. James Pope comments:

If Comenius had done nothing more to raise problems that are urgent for us today … his teachings would merit our careful study, including such problems as, for example, the relationship of school and society, the need for an international language, and the role of education in preventing war.45

Comenius and the Media

As one who appreciated the technology of his time and who believed in the importance of the senses in education, Comenius had an early grasp of the active role of the media in schooling. C. H. Dobinson observes, “Comenius believed that a new age for the propagation of the light had been opened up by the invention of printing.”46 The new textbooks made possible by mass printing were a major theme for Comenius. Murphy quotes Comenius as saying that textbooks would be especially effective if written in dialogue, and “he urges teachers to incorporate the principle of play as fully as possible into the whole process.”47 Furthermore, in The Great Didactic Comenius says, “It is evident, therefore, that the success of my scheme depends entirely upon a suitable supply of encyclopedic class-books, and these can be provided only by the collaboration of several original-minded, energetic, and learned men.”48 An energetic and learned man, Comenius thus went on to produce the first illustrated children’s textbook, The Orbis Pictis, a great success for a century according to Bardeen who published it in English in 1887.

The Orbis Pictis consists of woodcut type pictures of two kinds, ones that illustrate the alphabet (the goose gagleth for “G”) and ones that illustrate just about everything else from singing birds to a house and a map of Europe. The text is in the vernacular and in Latin, so it is also a bilingual book. In the Author’s Preface, Comenius gives three reasons why he offers a picture book:

To entice witty children to it, that they may not conceit a torment to be in school, But dainty fare. For it is apparent, that children (even from their infancy almost) are delighted with Pictures…

This same little book will serve to stir up Attention, which is to be fastened upon things, and even to be sharpened more and more…

[T]hat children being won hereunto, and drawn over with this way of heeding, may be furnished with the knowledge of the prime things that are in the world, by sport and merry pastime.49

Surely, few have offered a better argument for the use of TV, the Internet, or video games in the classroom today. Comenius embraced both what the culture had to offer in terms of media and what children liked. Sook Jung Lee notes that Comenius “recommended that the walls of the school should be hung with good visual illustrations” as well.50 One could argue that Comenius foreshadowed the notion of multiple literacies (media, information, visual, and so on), the idea that readers have to interpret all kinds of texts, texts that today include images, print, video, and audio. In fact, Small states in her abstract that pansophism, the philosophy of Comenius, “forms the foundation for audiovisual aids, educational radio and television, and the use of computerized instruction.”51 According to Bjorg Gundem, through the The Orbis Pictis “Comenius wanted to develop the cognitive powers of children, the powers of reason and communication, and also handicraft skills.”52

Certainly, Comenius embraced arts education which is losing support in the test-dominated public schools today as well as being ignored by many Christians who thoroughly detest popular culture. Murphy states that “Comenius recognized the importance of an education in the visual arts. In the Informatorium he urges “children be encouraged to try painting and calligraphy . . . as early as the third and fourth year.”53 He advocated music education as well. Moreover, students were to produce and not just observe the arts. Using available media made for an education that appealed to the senses and engaged students in immediate and interesting ways. Given the commitment of Comenius to a well rounded, real-world, active education, it is not a surprise that he used the media of the day, and would probably advocate media literacy education in today’s schools. Appropriately, perhaps, an independent nonprofit organization, the Comenius Foundation, states that it is a corporation “dedicated to using film and television to promote faith, learning, and love. We seek to restore a moral balance to television programming through advocacy, education, and the creation of fine television productions and movies.”54 Moreover, the value of the arts and crafts is reflected in the many detailed pictures in TheOrbis Pictus, such as images of people preparing a feast and a farmer plowing. The world may be fallen, but it remains God’s glorious creation in the pages of Comenius. Going to school is not just about fighting evil, although there is that, but about growing in the Christian life. The goal for students in the words of Comenius in The Great Didactic is to “learn to see, to praise, and to recognize God everywhere, and, in the way, to go through this life of care with enjoyment, and to look for the life to come with increased desire and hope.”55 In contrast, although some Christian schools do mention the arts and technology, media literacy and the importance of creating multimedia projects are not mentioned.

It seems that the educational ideas of Comenius could say much to those today, in public or Christian private education, who are engaged in the “culture wars.” Comenius was also involved in cultural and religious wars, but his wars were shooting affairs, and he had to live in exile until his death in Amsterdam in 1670. He was a refugee most of his life, fighting for the religious and national liberty of the Moravian Brethren. Yet, he saw education as a way to engage children and open up the world to all. Perhaps, Robert Ulich in Three Thousand Years of Educational Wisdom sums up Comenius best:

He was continuously faced with the abyss of human cruelty, fanaticism, and the imperialistic struggle for power, yet he believed in the final victory of the “Way of Light,” in the educa-bility of men, and in their capacity to build up a league of nations and use an international language. He never wavered in his pietist faith . . . yet, he was never “orthodox.”56

Back to the Future

Comenius has gone in and out of fashion over the centuries although he was, according to Monroe, “famous in his own day; enjoying the friendship of great scholars and the confidence of royal personages; the founder of numerous school systems; the author of more than a hundred books and treatises.”57 Monroe (and others) also claim that Comenius has had an influence on school reformers such as Johann Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel.58 One can find current references to Comenius on the Waldorf Homeschoolers site59 and the name of the Comenius Program Network, a network of European teachers who work on various school improvement projects.60 Critics exist, of course, but even Piaget was an admirer.61 Peprnik notes that for the 400th anniversary of his birth, the Bodleian Library in Oxford offered an exhibition, “Comenius, European Reformer and Czech Patriot,” and a colloquium was held in Amsterdam.62 Comenius is also claimed as a champion by language teachers, early childhood educators, and adult and community educators. Monroe notes the “unanimous agreement on the sweetness and beauty of his character.”63 Perhaps Christians concerned about education must look backward to the distant past in order to take a step forward in the near future. Christians of all stripes may appreciate Comenius’ contributions to education, especially his desire to make educational experiences developmental, holistic, experiential, natural, and enjoyable and his commitment to opening up these educational ex-periences to everyone. The approach of Comenius to schooling offers a contrast and alternative to the ideas promulgated by many Christian – and public – school educators. As Lee summarizes of Comenius, “He attempted to harmonize Biblical beliefs and revelation with his educational thought for the purpose of fostering a new age of general enlightenment.”64

Cite this article
Jill Martin and Gretchen Schwarz, “Comenius: Dead White Guy for Twenty-first Century Education”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 40:2 , 43-56


  1. Sarah Mondale and Sarah B. Patton, eds., School: The Story of American Education (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), 33.
  2. See Discover Christian Schools at
  3. M. W. Keatinge, Great Didactic of Comenius (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1896, 1910), 2. This work has been reproduced by Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, MT, 2003.
  4. George Sarton, “Third Preface to Volume XXX: Comenius Redivivus,” Isis 30 (1939): 430.
  5. Ibid., 430.
  6. The Nine Principles of Instruction are: 1. Nature observes a suitable time. 2. Nature prepares the material, before she begins to give it form. 3. Nature chooses a fit subject to act upon, or first submits one to a suitable treatment in order to make it fit. 4. Nature is not confused in its operations, but in its forward progress advances distinctly from one point to another. 5. In all the operations of nature development is from within. 6. Nature, in its formative process, begins with the universal and ends with the particular. 7. Nature makes no leaps, but proceeds step by step. 8. If nature commence anything, it does not leave off until the operation is completed. 9. Nature artfully avoids obstacles and things likely to cause hurt (Keatinge, Great Didac-tic of Comenius, 112-126). The Ten Principles of Facility in Teaching Learning argue that education will be easy 1. If it begin early, before the mind is corrupted. 2. If the mind be duly prepared to receive it. 3. If it proceed from the general to the particular. 4. And from what is easy to what is more difficult. 5. If the pupil be not overburdened by too many subjects. 6. And if progress be slow in every case. 7. If the intellect be forced to nothing to which its natural bent does not include it, in ac-cordance with its age and with the right method. 8. If everything be taught through the medium of the senses. 9. And if the use of everything be continually kept in view. 10. If everything be taught according to one and the same method (Keatinge, 127).
  7. Jon A. Comenius, The Great Didactic of Jon Amos Comenius. ed. and trans. M. W. Keatinge (London: A & C Black, 1923), 5 & 8. Originally published in 1649.
  8. Dagmar Capkova, “Comenius: An Alternative,” The Paedagogica Historica 28.2 (1992): 187-197.
  9. The Great Didactic, 112.
  10. Ibid., 114.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid., 115.
  14. Ibid., 124.
  15. Ibid., 129.
  16. Eric Hawkins, Jan Komensky: The Teacher of Nations (Southampton, England, 1993), 4. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED389189.
  17. The Great Didactic, 133 & 138.
  18. Ibid., 135.
  19. Ibid., 139.
  20. Jan Amos Comenius. Worcester, PA: Vision Video, 1983.
  21. The Great Didactic, 139.
  22. See the Association of Christian Schools International website at accessed Sept. 30, 2009.
  23. Ellen T. Chary, “Raising Christian Children in a Pagan Culture,” The Christian Century11.5 (1994): 166.

  24. See for example the Association of Classical and Christian Schools website at
  25. M. W. Keatinge, Great Didactic of Comenius (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1896, 1910), 3. This work has been reproduced by Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, MT, 2003.
  26. Will S. Monroe, Comenius and the Beginnings of Educational Reform (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1900), 2.
  27. See the Charlotte Christian School website at,10.
  28. Jane L. David, “High-stakes Testing Narrows the Curriculum,” Educational Leadership 68.6 (2011): 78-80.
  29. The Great Didactic, 66.
  30. Ibid., 71, 67.
  31. Ibid., 69, 70.
  32. Daniel Murphy, Comenius: A Critical Reassessment of his Life and Work (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1995), 274.
  33. The Great Didactic, 68.
  34. Ibid., 68.
  35. “Evangelical Schools See Growth,” Education Week 24.15 (Dec. 8, 2004): 1.
  36. See Accelerated Christian Education website at http://www.aceministries p. 22 of docu-ment. Accessed May 1, 2011.
  37. Ibid., 22-23.
  38. Ibid., 14.

  39. David Berliner, “Educational Psychology Meets the Christian Right: Differing Views of Children, Schooling, Teaching and Learning,” Teachers College Record 98 (1997): 381.
  40. See the Keystone Christian Education Association website at

  41. See the Discover Christian Schools website at
  42. The Great Didactic, 66.
  43. Jaroslav Peprnik, “Jon Amos Comenius,” in Fifty Major Thinkers on Education, ed. Joy A. Palmer (London: Routledge, 2005), 42.
  44. Mary Luins Small, The Pansophism of John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) as the Foundation of Educational Technology and the Source of Constructive Standards for the Evaluation of Computerized Instruction and Tests (Brussels, Belgium: paper presented at the International Conference on Technology and Education, March 20-22, 1990), 2.
  45. James Pope, “Comenius Speaks to Modern Man,” School and Society 98 (1970): 445.
  46. C. H. Dobinson, ed., Comenius and Contemporary Education (Hamburg, West Germany: UNESCO, 1970), 63.
  47. Murphy, 179.
  48. The Great Didactic, 296.
  49. John A. Comenius, The Orbis Pictus (Syracuse, NY: C. W. Bardeen, 1887, Original work published 1658), xv-xvi.
  50. Sook Jung Lee, “The Relationship of John Amos Comenius’ Theology to his Education Ideas” (Pd.D. diss. Rutgers State University of New Jersey, 1987), 194.
  51. Mary Luins Small, The Pansophism of John Amos Comenius (1592-1670) as the Foundation of Educational Technology and the Source of Constructive Standards for the Evaluation of Computerized Instruction and Tests.
  52. Bjorg Gundem, “‘Vivat Comenius’: A Commemorative Essay on Johan Amos Comenius, 1592-1670,” Journal of Curriculum and Supervision 8.1 (1992): 51.
  53. Murphy, 128.
  54. See the Comenius Foundation: Accessed July 24, 2009.
  55. The Great Didactic, 69.
  56. Robert Ulich, ed., Three Thousand Years of Educational Wisdom: Selections from Great Documents (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947/1954), 339.
  57. Monroe, 165.
  58. Ibid., 153-162.
  59. See the Waldorf Homeschoolers website:
  60. See the Comenius Program website:
  61. Jean Piaget, “Introduction: The Significance of John Amos Comenius at the Present Time,” in John Amos Comenius on Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 1967), 1-31.
  62. Jaroslav Peprnik, “Jon Amos Comenius,” in Fifty Major Thinkers on Education, ed. Joy A. Palmer (London: Routledge, 2005), 44.
  63. Monroe, 81.
  64. Lee, 276.

Jill Martin

Ms. Martin is taking a break from the academic world by concentrating on the birth of her next child.

Gretchen Schwarz

Baylor University
Dr. Schwarz is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Baylor University.