2.4—Read The Great Didactic

ASSIGNMENT:

  1. Read chapter 6 of Jan Amos Comenius’ The Great Didactic.
  2. Write an essay or discuss with your instructor why education is necessary for all men, young and old, ignorant and clever.
SELECTION: The Great Didactic, Chapter 6: “If a man is to be produced, it is necessary that he be formed by education.”

1. The seeds of knowledge, of virtue, and of piety are, as we have seen, naturally implanted in us; but the actual knowledge, virtue, and piety are not so given. These must be acquired by prayer, by education, and by action. He gave no bad definition who said that man was a “teachable animal.” And indeed it is only by a proper education that he can become a man.

2. For, if we consider knowledge, we see that it is the peculiar attribute of God to know all things by a single and simple intuition, without beginning, without progress, and without end. For man and for angels this is impossible, because they do not possess infinity and eternity, that is to say, divinity. It is enough for them to have received sufficient keenness of intellect to comprehend the works of God, and to gather a wealth of knowledge from them. As regards angels, it is certain that they also learn by perception (1 Peter 1:12; Ephesians. 3:10; 1 Kings 22:20; Job 1:6), and that their knowledge, like our own, is derived from experience.

3. Let none believe, therefore, that any can really be a man, unless he have learned to act like one, that is, have been trained in those elements which constitute a man. This is evident from the example of all things created, which, although destined for man, do not suit his uses until fitted for them by his hands. For example, stones have been given to us as material with which to build houses, towers, walls, pillars, etc.; but they are of no use until they are cut and laid in their place by us. Pearls and precious stones destined to adorn man must be cut, ground, and polished. The metals, which are of vital use in daily life, have to be dug out, melted, refined, and variously cast and hammered. Till this is done they are of less use to us than common earth.

From plants we derive food, drink, and medicines; but first the herbs and grains have to be sown, hoed, gathered, winnowed, and ground; trees have to be planted, pruned, and manured, while their fruits must be plucked off and dried; and if any of these things are required for medicine, or for building purposes, much more preparation is needed. Animals, whose essential characteristics are life and motion, seem to be self- sufficing, but if you wish to use them for the purposes for which they are suitable, some training is necessary. For example, the horse is naturally suited for use in war, the ox for drawing, the ass for carrying burdens, the dog for guarding and hunting, the falcon and hawk for fowling; but they are all of little use until we accustom them to their work by training. 

4. Man, as far as his body is concerned, is born to labour; and yet we see that nothing but the bare aptitude is born in him. He needs instruction before he can sit, stand, walk, or use his hands. Why, therefore, should it be claimed for our mind that, of itself, it can exist in its full development, and without any previous preparation; since it is the law of all things created that they take their origin from nothing and develope themselves gradually, in respect both of their material and of the process of development? For it is well known, and we showed in our last chapter, that the angels, whose perfection comes very near to that of the Almighty, are not omniscient, but make gradual advances in their knowledge of the marvellous wisdom of God.

5. It is evident, too, that even before the Fall, a school in which he might make gradual progress was opened for man in Paradise. For, although the first created, as soon as they came into being, lacked neither the power of walking erect, nor speech, nor reason, it is manifest, from the conversation of Eve with the serpent, that the knowledge of things which is derived from experience was entirely wanting. For Eve, had she had more experience, would have known that the serpent is unable to speak, and that there must therefore be some deceit.

Much more, therefore, in this state of corruption must it be necessary to learn by experience, since the understanding which we bring with us is an empty form, like a bare tablet, and since we are unskilled to do, speak, or know anything; for all these faculties do but exist potentially and need development. And indeed this is much more difficult now than it can have been in the state of perfection, since not only are things obscure, but tongues also are confused (so that instead of one, many must now be learned, if a man for the sake of learning wish to hold communion with divers people, living and dead). The vernacular tongues also have become more complex, and no knowledge of them is born with us.

6. Examples show that those who in their infancy have been seized by wild animals, and have been brought up among them, have not risen above the level of brutes in intellect, and would not have been able to make more use of their tongues, their hands, and their feet than beasts can, had they not once more come into the society of men. I will give several instances. About the year 1540, in a village called Hassia, situated in the middle of a forest, a boy three years of age was lost, through the carelessness of his parents. Some years afterwards the country people saw a strange animal running about with the wolves, of a different shape, four-footed, but with a man’s face. Rumour of this spread through the district, and the governor asked the peasants to try to catch it alive and bring it to him. This they did, and finally the creature was conveyed to the Landgrave at Cassel.

When it was taken into the castle it tore itself away, fled, and hid beneath a bench, where it glared fiercely at its pursuers and howled horribly. The prince had him educated and kept him continually in men’s society, and under this influence his savage habits grew gentler by degrees; he began to raise himself up on his hind-legs and walk like a biped, and at last to speak intelligently and behave like a man. Then he related to the best of his ability how he had been seized and nurtured by the wolves and had been accustomed to go hunting with them. The story is found in M. Dresser’s work on Ancient and Modern Education, and Camerarius, in his Hours, mentions the same case, and another one of a similar nature (bk. i. ch. 75).

Gulartius also (in Marvels of our Age) says that the following occurred in France in 1563. Some nobles went hunting, and, after they had killed twelve wolves, at last caught in their nets something like a naked boy, about seven years old, with a yellow skin and curly hair. His nails were hooked like an eagle’s, he was unable to speak, and could only utter wild shrieks. When he was brought into the castle he struggled so fiercely that fetters could scarce be placed on him; but after a few days of starvation he grew gentler, and within seven months had commenced to speak. He was taken round to various towns and exhibited, and his masters made much money out of him. At length a certain poor woman acknowledged him as her son. So true is Plato’s remark (Laws, i. 6): “Man is the gentlest and most divine being, if he have been made so by true education; but if he have been subjected to none or to a false one he is the most intractable thing in the world.”

7. Education is indeed necessary for all, and this is evident if we consider the different degrees of ability. No one doubts that those who are stupid need instruction, that they may shake off their natural dulness. But in reality those who are clever need it far more, since an active mind, if not occupied with useful things, will busy itself with what is useless, curious, and pernicious; and, just as the more fertile a field is, the richer the crop of thorns and of thistles that it can produce, so an excellent intelligence becomes filled with fanciful notions, if it be not sown with the seeds of wisdom and of virtue; and, just as a mill-stone grinds itself away with noise and grating, and often cracks and breaks, if wheat, the raw material of flour, be not supplied to it, so an active mind, if void of serious things, entangles itself utterly with vain, curious, and noxious thoughts, and becomes the cause of its own destruction.

8. What are the rich without wisdom but pigs stuffed with bran? What are the poor who have no understanding of affairs but asses laden with burdens? What is a hand- some though ignorant man but a parrot adorned with feathers, or, as has been said, a golden sheath in which there is a leaden dagger?

9. For those who are in any position of authority, for kings, princes, magistrates, pastors of churches, and doctors, it is as necessary to be imbued with wisdom as it is for a guide to have eyes, an interpreter to have speech, a trumpet to be filled with sound, or a sword to have an edge. Similarly, those in subordinate positions should be educated that they may know how to obey their superiors wisely and prudently, not under compulsion, with the obedience of an ass, but of their own free will and from love of order. For a rational creature should be led, not by shouts, imprisonment, and blows, but by reason. Any other method is an insult to God, in whose image all men are made, and fills human affairs with violence and unrest.

10. We see then that all who are born to man’s estate have need of instruction, since it is necessary that, being men, they should not be wild beasts, savage brutes, or inert logs. It follows also that one man excels another in exact proportion as he has received more instruction. We may conclude this chapter with the words of the “Wise Man.” “He who deems wisdom and discipline of no avail is wretched; his hopes (of attaining his desire) are vain, his labour is fruitless, and his work idle” (Wisdom 3:11).

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