Written by Michal Rychlovsky
John Amos Comenius, often called the “teacher of nations”, was one of Czechia’s most prominent philosophical thinkers, whose influence extends far past the borders of Bohemia and even Europe. He set the foundation for many aspects of modern-day education. Such as learning from simple to complex concepts, equal learning opportunity for anyone, and school by play.
Comenius was born on the 28th of March 1592, most likely in Nivnice, the Moravian-Silesian Region of the Bohemian kingdom. He lived most of his early life with his aunt, due to the fact his parents and siblings died of the plague. Despite the hardships of his early life, he still managed to receive a quality education at the Latin Gymnasium of Prerov in 1608. Albeit at the late age of 16. He then went on to study at the high school of Herborn and the University of Heidelberg2. In 1614, he returned to Prerov as a teacher for 2 years, and shortly after he joined the Unity of Brethren in Fulnek3. This period of peace was not for long though. In 1618, the Czech estates started their revolt against the catholic Habsburg rule. However, they were defeated on White Mountain in 16204. Comenius, after hiding in the town of Brandys nad Orlici6 had to leave Bohemia in 1628 under the threat of death.
At the beginning of his exile, he lived in Leszno in Poland, where he became the rector of the local gymnasium. It was also here, where Comenius wrote the most books. His notable works from this time include The Gate of Languages Unlocked, which not only saw praise in Europe but was also used to teach language in the Middle East5. The other important book from this period is The Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart. A philosophical satire, criticizing the hypocrisy and chaos of European society after the Thirty Years war and also presents the escape of one’s heart as the soothing connection with God and Jesus6.
However, his books alone did not secure him the “teacher of nations” title. He traveled all over Europe to educate a nation’s population and also help the authorities to reform the education system. His visit to Hungary proved to be most fruitful. There he invented the “school by play” teaching method. It is a notion, that students learn the best by “living” through and acting out the taught subject using a school play. Here he also wrote Orbis Pictus (Visible World in pictures), a children’s textbook, which would become the predecessor of any visual learning7.
He would later return to Leszno in 1651 to his family and colleagues. More importantly, he wanted to support the anti-Habsburg coalition (comprised of England, Sweden, and Transylvania) in abolishing the hold that Catholics had on Central Europe. This fight for faith instead turned into a catastrophe for Comenius. Resulting in the burning of Leszno, and his books8.
He would find asylum in Amsterdam, where would live out the rest of his days. Even here Comenius is tirelessly at work. Till his death on the 15th of November, 1670, he worked on his unfinished, pansophic book A General Consultation on the Correction of Human Affairs9, hoping to pave the way for humanity to remedy its ills and imperfections.