Charlotte Mason and Comenius #1–Introduction

I’m going to attempt an actual, planned series of blog posts, scheduled to be posted at regular intervals. If you’re wondering whether or not I’ll be able to follow through with that, well…so am I. But I’ve been thinking about this and planning it since the spring of this year, so we’ll hope for the best.

What is my series going to be about? I’m really not good at cute and clever names, so I have no cute and clever name for it. I’m going to be writing about Charlotte Mason and John Amos Comenius, so “Charlotte Mason and Comenius” it is. That’s the topic and the title. At least no one will be confused.

I read all or most of Comenius’ Great Didactic some years ago, from the web archive. I gleaned a great deal from that reading, but earlier this year, I was able to acquire a physical copy of the book. It was a pleasure to read it again, this time with pencil and sticky-notes to keep track of the interesting parts. Comenius was one of the great educators of Europe, in fact, in the 1600’s. I don’t want to waste space telling you the stuff that Wikipedia can tell you, so if you are interested in those things, please read about him there.

I am going to tell you something about him that Wikipedia doesn’t pay more than cursory attention to. It’s one of the reasons I think Charlotte Mason found him an inspiration, one of the reasons that she was, perhaps, more ready to hear his ideas about education than some others. Comenius was a very, very Christian educator, and his Christianity colored all of his ideas and approaches to education. Charlotte Mason probably found him a “kindred educator” because they shared a common faith, which formed a solid foundation for their thinking about educational philosophy.

In a very real sense, they both set out deliberately to achieve the same goal.

Charlotte Mason:

My attempt in the following volume is to suggest to parents and teachers a method of education resting upon a basis of natural law…(Home Education, Preface to the Fourth Edition)

Comenius:

Let us then commence to seek out, in God’s name, the principles on which, as on an immovable rock, the method of teaching and of learning can be grounded. If we wish to find a remedy for the defects of nature, it is in nature herself that we must look for it, since it is certain art can do nothing unless it imitate nature. (The Great Didactic, p. 250)

(If you read the Wikipedia article, Comenius’ lessons from nature are considered “crude analogies” by the author. I disagree with him, as would Charlotte Mason, who freely made use of similar analogies to articulate her principles.)

Okay, so both them were looking for universal, natural principles, because acting in accordance with such principles (or natural laws, if they can be well-defined and articulated) makes great things possible. It is not by breaking the laws of physics that airplanes weighing many tons are able to fly through the air, faster and higher than any bird, but rather by acting in strictest accordance with those laws and principles. In education, if we can discern principles and laws which are absolutely true, our educational efforts have the potential to produce amazing results.

But neither Comenius or Charlotte Mason thought such natural laws existed in a vacuum. Both brought a serious Christian perspective to the problem as well.

Charlotte Mason:

If we believe that knowledge is the principle thing, that knowledge is tri-partite, and that the fundamental knowledge is the knowledge of God, we shall bring up our children as students of Divinity and shall pursue our own life-long studies in the same school. (Philosophy of Education, p.338)

Comenius:

Reason itself dictates that such a perfect creature [man] is destined to a higher end than all other creatures, that of being united with God, the culmination of all perfection, glory, and happiness, and of enjoying with Him absolute glory and happiness forever. (The Great Didactic, p. 179)

Sharing, as they do, this common belief that natural law can be discerned regarding education, and viewing the world with a decidedly Christian worldview, it has been fascinating to me to note the many, many points upon which they agreed. Some of them are large and lofty ideals, and some of them are minute practical details. Does it mean that Charlotte Mason was copying Comenius and got all her ideas from him? Not necessarily. We do know she was familiar with his work and his principles, however, and just by way of appreciating how sound universal principles make themselves known to thoughtful educators in every age, it is interesting to compare their ideas. Hence, the blog series (in case it is also interesting to others).

I’ll be aiming to post one new post in this series each Monday for the next 6 or 8 weeks. If you have any questions about it, or want to discuss anything further, feel free to comment. I’m going to keep this series chatty and informal, rather than making it a formal article. I know very few people are going to choose to read The Great Didactic, and that’s fine. It will still be nice to know a few things about this fascinating educator with whom Charlotte Mason shared a desire that was rare in the history of education–a desire to provide “a liberal education for all.”

(Comments are moderated because I get a ridiculous amount of spam, but I’ll check them at least once a day, Central European time, and get them up as quickly as possible.)

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