March 28, 2013 - Teachers' Day in the Czech Republic & Slovakia

Holidays celebrating teachers are common the world over, and today is one of them!

Back when I was young, there was a nation called Czechoslovakia. (As you can imagine, it struck horror into students' hearts when asked to spell it for a test.) In 1993, this nation peacefully split up into two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (making memorizing the spellings easier, thank you!). 

Both nations continue to celebrate Teachers' Day on the same date, for the day honors the 1592 birthday of an extraordinary teacher: Jan Amos Komensky.

(He is also known by a Latin name, Comenius.)

Poor Komensky didn't have the easiest life. Living in Moravia, one of the Czech lands, he was orphaned at an early age, and his guardians stole the bit of inheritance his parents left him. The schools he went to were harsh—he later referred to them as the slaughter-houses of the young. Even after he earned a college education and became a teacher, he was in for rough times when his wife and children died during an epidemic and his land became embroiled in the Thirty Years War. Spaniards burned Komensky's village, including his library and his writings, and Komensky was forced into exile for the rest of his life!

Komensky believed that self-discipline should be the good-stuff motivation for learning, rather than using the bad-stuff “motivation” of physically punishing those who make mistakes or forget facts. He urged universal education, including the radical ideas of educating girls as well as boys and poor children as well as rich. He introduced the idea of using books written in children's native languages, rather than in Latin, and the idea of including pictures in books for children. He urged the development of logical thinking rather than just asking kids to memorize, memorize, memorize.

How awesome is it that the Czech Republic
features a teacher on some of its money!
And Komensky traveled all over Europe talking about his progressive ideas about education. He was offered the opportunity to travel to the American colonies to head up a new university called Harvard, but he turned down the job and stayed in Europe.

Unfortunately, during another battle, his writings were once more burned!

But some of Komensky's writings survived, and they formed the basis of elementary education in many parts of Europe. One of his most famous works, Orbis Pictus, was the first illustrated encyclopedia for children. (The longer title translates to Nomenclature and Pictures of all the Chief Things that are in the World and of Men's Employments Therein.)

Celebrate Komensky!

I'm thinking a chocolate caramel Comenius cake and a nice interlude of poring over the pictures in The Ultimate Visual Dictionary. I'll raise my glass (of milk—that chocolate caramel cake is RICH!) to the man who worked for no paddlings, education for girls, and higher-level thinking skills!

Also on this date:

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