“Quickly! Pleasantly! Thoroughly!…” called out Comenius to the frustrated teachers of his day. “Schools should not be places of torture, slaughter-houses of the mind!”

Is it possible to teach pleasantly, yet quickly and thoroughly at the same time? Most schools of that day could not have conceived of such an idea. Though not many in the 17th century heard this call for educational reform, today we consider Comenius the first modern educator. We are still trying to implement the basic principles that he set forth in his Great Didactic. For he laid he foundations for teaching according to Scripture and according to God’s “second book,” nature. The young child as God made him actively examine the world around him, using all his senses, eager to learn all he can. Too often in school he has been confined to memorization and meaningless words that dull his interest and initiative.

While educators through the century have tended to go either to the extreme of overemphasizing the disciplines of knowledge or the experience of the learner, Comenius kept these two essentials of teaching in balance. The schools of Comenius’s day furnished pupils with classical Latin verbiage, but did not train them to observe or to think. He lacked the advantage of psychological studies, but he drew analogies of growth from nature. (Scripture often compares spiritual growth with natural growth.) “Development comes from within,” Comenius observed from watching the processes of nature. “Nature compels nothing to advance that is not driven forward by its own mature strength.” He proceeded to work with the processes of nature rather than against them. Teachers and books may help or hinder growth, but the learner must do his own growing. “Outward ceremonies ...

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