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How Comenius Can Help Homeschoolers
As Christian homeschoolers, it is important to find materials to teach and instill values we hold most dear. Homeschooling has become exploding reality in the last few years because parents want more for little Johnny and Josephine than most traditional schools offer. However, I have reservations about some of the reading material I see recommended in Christian circles. Additionally, I hope to address why John Amos Comenius’s The Labyrinth of the World is a practical resource for homeschoolers, especially Christians.
An old saying goes something like this: insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting different results. Western Civilization, which has included many religious people within it has used much of the same content, adding more material as it became available. For example, Tolstoy was not available 300 years ago, nor was Mark Twain or Jane Austen. With all that cropped up in secular writing over the centuries, have we, as followers of Christ, been bettered by it? In light of where Western Civilization is currently, the question is, is this the same place we want to go as followers of Christ? Is Christianity just the same as Western Civilization and “the Judaeo-Christian ethic”? These are huge questions.
Homeschoolers who want to follow Christ—given that Western Civilization is differentiated from what following Christ ever meant, need some other materials. I am surprised that several places offering “classical Christian education” recommend some writers. Yet, authors like Whittaker Chambers, D. H. Lawrence, and Edgar Allen Poe were listed for “Christian education.” Good grief! Shall darkened minds enlighten the children of the light?
Even if a family or educator were to read these authors with a warning, I still can’t see it. Proverbs 6:27 posits, “Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned?” John Lennon’s work changed popular music, but his moral compass and ideals were reprehensible. Even if he or others with similar proclivities and demeanor had something interesting to say, we can and should find someone more reputable to help us expand our minds.
Oh, Be Careful Little Eyes What You Read
Literature ought to spark imagination, help us see beyond mere circumstances, and then ask the questions of the ages. Questions like, why are we here, why does my life matter, and where are we going. There are more questions like where God is when evil reigns or how we can be redeemed in our living? Darkened minds are not going to give us enlightened answers. Additionally, what in the former mentioned writers perspectives’ bleeds into the message of their stories? (This is a rhetorical question) Therefore, let us reconsider some of our reading and dust off some material that would better serve our perspectives as followers of Christ.
John Amos Comenius was a 17th Century Czech educator, theologian, bishop, and writing phenom. He authored more than 140 volumes. He is to Czech literature what John Milton is to English literature. If you’ve not heard of him, everything you know about education is based upon his ideals of education. He is the namesake for UNESCO’s top educator of the year award: The Comenius Award. While I am not keen on all things United Nations, they’ve had to honor this man because his ideals were transcendent, even though he was a radical follower of Christ.
Comenius’s first book was an allegory, which is one of the most challenging forms of writing to pull off effectively. In this volume, he asks the ultimate question, how can I live a good life and be substantive. Who doesn’t want to be substantive in their lives? He sends his Pilgrim (the protagonist) amidst the world to discover involvements that were supposed to reward his soul. Upon seeing everything in the world, he also sees that there is nothing he can do that would not contribute to the world’s vanity, violence, and destruction. Later, in this story Pilgrim meets Christ, who transforms him, teaches him, and then sends him back into the world to be light, truth, and a reality it can’t be for itself because God inspires these things. What a message!
Comenius’s writing style and delivery are atypical of religious people. He reminds me of Mark Twain a bit, or Jonathan Swift. His vocabulary and use of idiomatic phrases are rich. Comenius’s use of a sardonic tone doesn’t board on condescension. Comenius is prophetic in his discernment of people, culture, and the essence of realities we accept as pedestrian. He brings a story to the table that helps us question the reality where we can see a healthier relationship with the world around us as followers of Christ. Not as accepting or compromising. Instead, we see ourselves as what God purposed for us: as aliens and strangers, but most of all ambassadors.
For homeschoolers, and for the follower of Christ, Comenius’s book is a find. We all know how good Pilgrim’s Progress is, and Comenius’s Labyrinth of the World inspired it. As an independent homeschool resource, it can augment other great things we are doing with our young people. It’s a great family reading book. I read it to my 11 and 13-year-olds, and they remember it still at 30 and 32. Young Adult reading for the Christian family is vital. However, there are not as many solid books in this age group. There are lots of younger children’s resources and adult religious books. There only seem to be secular standards and Amish, period novels to engage this age group.
As followers of Christ, I feel it is increasingly important to embrace Comenius’s mindset of two-kingdoms in the homeschooling arena. We co-exist with the kingdoms of men, and we represent the kingdom of God. Comenius’s story and life are important because they depict this understanding. He lost his country to religious and political factions fighting one another. He lost his entire family to the plague, yet he soldiered on keeping his fellowship together in exile. He became the father of modern education gave the world what they could not provide themselves through all of his struggles, which God brought about through Comenius.
In the current edition of Labyrinth of the World -and- The Paradise of the Heart, a family, homeschooler, or whoever receives a much easier to read narrative that is not dumbed down. They get a challenging book that inspires, assures, and encourages, which is healthier spiritually than many other books. In addition, they get a biographical section where the history and the life of Comenius are opened up to give an understanding of where education came from, which was not John Dewey. You can be assured of your trust in the scriptures being supported rather than subverted.
Comenius’s style can help your children be what Julie Bogart of Brave Writer refers to as Critical Thinkers. If this is not what we are doing in homeschooling, I don’t know what the objective ought to be. The Labyrinth of the World is an easy peasy homeschool reading resource. Easy, because it is available and has stood the test of time. Comenius was the original homeschooler when institutions did not provide what we’ve come to know and expect of education.
Homeschool education is not about keeping infiltrative and indoctrinating materials out. It’s about teaching us what we feel is most important. Secondly, for the follower of Christ, it is about teaching our children to be critical thinkers, able to discern and differentiate nuance and entrapping thinking. This means we need to use sources that are more in line with our trust in the message of the scriptures and application of the New Testament.
Labyrinth of the World is a fantastic independent homeschool resource to augment your efforts to increase critical thinking, vocabulary, learning writing style, sarcasm, and wit in a non-condemning way that will evoke a spiritual awakening with your young. Comenius gives us lessons in practical Christian living in a literary form that is entertaining and evocative. There are few stories one could get for young adult homeschool reading that would offer what this title does. Young adult readers need more good material instead of the same old, same old, which has brought society at large—and the religious community with it—to a cultural crossroads where Christians are increasingly being forced into the periphery because we do not have good examples otherwise. Has this piece inspired you as far as a Christian homeschool resource? Please sign up for notifications when posts drop.