Guru Peter Drucker Comments On Guru Jan Amos Komensky (Comenius)

Comenius

July 6, 2011

Allan Stevo

Peter Drucker was a management expert extraordinaire, an author of 39 books who told his readers to focus in life and in business not on “success,” but on concrete contributions they could make to society.  In short, his writing looked at ways that organizations could bring out the best in people and to offer their best to society.

  • One observer, Harriet Rubin in Inc. March 1, 1998, noted “No human being has built a better brand by managing just himself than Peter Drucker has. He has represented quality, integrity, and value longer than Intel, Microsoft, or McDonald’s has. He has done this in ways that reject the standard formula for success. “
  • The Drucker Institute references his 600 page Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (1974) (read it here for free or buy it here), his magnum opus, as a text that “would become the playbook for generations of corporate executives, nonprofit managers and government leaders.”
  • Drucker’s The Effective Executive (1966) (buy it here – sorry, I couldn’t find a free online version), now considered a classic was listed in 2008 on the Kalima Initiative’s list of top 100 most influential books that most needed to be translated into Arabic. On the list alongside The Effective Executive also appeared The Meaning of Relativity by Einstein and The Aeneid by Virgil.

The Drucker Institute lists dozens of articles with full text links that tell much of this fascinating man. Many of the articles are fantastic, but I especially recommend an article from Inc. for my entrepreneurial minded readers out there – Drucker A to Z.

Drucker, who died in 2005, just short of his 96th birthday was and continues to be widely considered a guru. Drucker, Central European in origin, was born 44 miles (71 km) west of Bratislava’s Old Town, in Dobling, just outside of Vienna.  This guru, in his book The New Realities, looked back at another, often forgotten guru – Jan Amos Komensky.

Comenius

Jan Amos Komensky (28 March 1592 – 4 November 1670 ) also known by his Latinized name Comenius, was born in Moravia in the present-day Czech Republic to a family that likely had Slovak roots.  This family history made him among the people that proponents of a common Czechoslovak Republic looked to (and continue to look to) as a fellow Czechoslovak in history.  From T.G. Masaryk to Juraj Tranovsky history is filled with these people who had one foot on Czech soil another on Slovak soil.

Comenius, from humble origins, went on to become one of Europe’s greatest thinkers in his time – on a variety of topics, but especially on education.  His outspoken views on religion won him admirers and enemies throughout Europe – he was both a constant religious refugee and a leader in the Moravian Brethren Church, which grew out of the pre-Reformation religious movement of Czech Jan Hus.

His writing and reputation even reached across the Atlantic to the U.S. where he had developed such a following that Harvard tried recruiting Comenius to be its president, only to lose the distinguished scholar to an offer from the Swedish crown.

The largest University in Slovakia continues to bear the name of Commenius and societies of educators continue to gather to the present day to discuss his 300 year old ideas and their continued relevancy on education today.

Drucker on Comenius

Peter Drucker in his book The New Realities (read it here for free or buy it here) credits Comenius with inventing the first text book and the first primer and credits him as the first to advocate universal literacy.

I’ve excerpted the pieces below because they refer to the influence and intent of some of the ideas of Comenius in the context of his time and go on to talk about the role of schools in the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the end of WWI, and arguably, to this day throughout Central Europe.  Below are the excerpts – an interesting, quick read – in which one guru talks about another.

“In the West a similar formulation was not attempted until the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  The Jesuits then first saw that the printed book made it possible for them to obtain political and social control of society through a monopoly on advanced education.  They designed the first modern school to make themselves masters of the high-born and of the learned.  A little later a Czech, John Amos Comenius – the first person to advocate universal literacy – invented the textbook and the primer.  These, he hoped would enable his compatriots to remain Protestants despite the political domination by the fiercely Catholic Habsburgs.  Literacy, Comenius argued, enables people to read the Bible in their homes.  A substantial minority in Czechoslovakia has indeed remained Protestant to this day.

“In the eighteenth century the entire West accepted that education and schools are major social forces.  Colonial America, strongly influenced by Comenius, designed its school from the beginning to be the maker of citizens.  Thomas Jefferson’s educational design for Virginia – the most comprehensive strategy for education since the Confucians in China – was universal, classless, and yet designed to produce a democratic elite.  When,  in the nineteenth century, immigration swelled to a flood, the American school became the agent of Americanization for the newcomers and the teacher of the American creed.  It was its success in this role that, more than any other factor, made us choose it as the agent of racial integration a century later.

“At about the same time at which American colonists developed their system of universal education, such a system was also designed in Europe – by the eighteenth-century Emperor Jospeh II of Austria.  Jospeh II focused on advanced schooling – the Gymnasium – as central to his social policy.  It taught the same subjects as the schools of the Jesuits or the schools of the American colonists.  But its aims were different. Joseph set out to wrest control of education away from the Catholic Church; to make sure that educated people were secular in their orientation and anti-clerical; and to provide social mobility to able young commoners.  The Austrian Gymnasium is one of the success stories of education as a social agent.  It held together Austria for 150 years despite increasing nationalist conflicts and tensions.  Its graduates, even though taught in all the many languages of the empire, held the same values and shared the same ethos.  They constituted an educated ruling class which worked together across the barriers of language and national origin until the empire collapsed in 1918. (from The New Realities, 230-232)”

Where I grew up, it was stressed that the Jesuits were masters of education.  It was never stressed why or how, only that they were good at it.  Never would the name Comenius be mentioned to me until I came to Slovakia.  Interestingly, Drucker puts Comenius and the Jesuits in the same sentence and on the same level.  A key difference is that one is an organization and the other is an individual.

In Chicago, it is understood that quality education can be found at Catholic and particularly Jesuit high schools.  In Slovakia, in contrast, the people best known for quality education through the years are the Lutherans.  The distinction is so noticeable based on the names that I most hear mentioned in Slovak history.  For a predominantly Roman Catholic country, there’s such a blatantly disproportionate number of Lutheran intellectuals that were formative in Slovak history.  It was initially a shock to me why this might be that Jesuits were known in one place as the leading educators and Lutherans in another place.

Surely there are many arguments put forth by historians explaining this.  Based on Drucker’s observations below, it seems that the Lutheran emphasis on quality education in Slovakia could be based on the teaching of Comenius and follows a tradition that he encouraged for educating large portions of society.  He may have simply been better at having his ideas incorporated by Lutheran educators in Slovakia than the Jesuits were at having their ideas incorporated by Roman Catholic educators in Slovakia. An interesting educational idea that both shared, according to Drucker, was the insistence that a new technology be brought into the classroom – printed books.

“The printed book, fiercely resisted by the schoolmasters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, did not triumph until the Jesuits and Comenius created schools based on it in the early seventeenth century.  But from the beginning the printed book forced the schools to change drastically how they were teaching.  Before then the only way to learn was either by laboriously copying manuscripts or by listening to lectures and recitations.  Suddenly, people could learn by reading.  We are in the early stages of a similar technological revolution, and perhaps an even bigger one.  The computer is infinitely more ‘user-friendly’ than the printed book, especially for children.  It has unlimited patience. No matter how many mistakes the user makes, the computer will be ready for another try.  It is at the command of the learner the way no teacher in a classroom can be.  Teachers in a busy classroom rarely have time for any one child.  The computer by contrast is always there, whether the child is fast, slow, or average; whether it finds this subject difficult and that one easy; whether it wants to learn new things or to go back over something learned earlier.  And, unlike the printed book, it admits of infinite variation. The computer is playful. (from The New Realities, 240-241)”

It’s fascinating to imagine the idea of teachers unions (or their equivalents) in the 16th century banding together and insisting that books would ruin everything in education.  Based on the statements made above, educators, as a profession seemed not to be a great agent of change, but a counter-force against change in that time.  Maybe that continues to be true today.  I’m not entirely sure.  Computers entering classrooms is a very real and tangible idea to me.  The idea of books not being welcome seems so out of my experience as to appear ridiculous.

It’s been fascinating to read more about Comenius as of late and to learn why exactly I hear the name praised so regularly among Slovaks. In reality, his name is often just mentioned and sometimes praised in a lemming-like way, with the speaker having little substantive knowledge to support the statements, but that doesn’t mean that Comenius is undeserving of praise.

The idea that he was one of the drivers in pushing books into education, such a meaningful foundation of education today, tells me that there are probably many more interesting facts that rest in the biography of this 16th and 17th century innovator. Such impressive personalities, in my experience, do not only excel in one area of expertise, but in all areas into which they venture.

I’m hungry to learn more about Comenius.  Does anyone out there have any stories to share about this man?  If so, please leave a note in the comments section.

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com.  He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing.  You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com.  If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email.  You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

The painting of Comenius used in the header came from this link.  This is an interesting controversy on whether or not the painting is actually of Comenius, outlined here.

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Comments

  • Helene Cincebeaux

    Jul 6th, 2011

    Komenius lived for a time in the tiny village of Sumice, Moravia where his father was the miller. It was the same time as my Zemek ancestors who were likely Brethren then. Curious to know about the possibilitý of his Slovak roots = might it not have been Moravske Slovacko, the eastern corner of the Czech Republic.

  • I looked-up Komensky on Answers.com, and they only said that he purported a general education rather than concentrating on only one field of endeavor.

    I also like books. Although mine are gathering dust, I don’t want to part with them because they gave me joy, or made a huge impression on me in an earlier part in my life. Computers for me are nice for communicating with a larger group of people, but I still treasure the look of, the feel of and literary organization found in a book.

    Furthermore, I worry that computer technology may be making part of the brain lazy. The mechanical part where a person learns by means of using his hands to manipulate and create things.

    I should look-up Peter Drucker because I like Allan’s summary of his teachings as being how organizations can bring out the best in an individual. Here in America this way of thinking is popular. If public schools don’t make your kid a genius, then maybe a private one will. Or if the Rotary Club is inhibiting to him, then maybe the Sokol or another organization might bring out his creativity. It’s partially true that surrounding yourself with the ‘right’ kind of people can lift you to greater heights in self-development.

  • Cynthia,
    Thank you. Sitting on a computer too much drives me crazy. I need to be outside moving my body every once in a while. I need to be up and busy every once in a while. You make an interesting point that perhaps computers make a part of the brain lazy. I think they also tend to make my body lazy.
    Thank you for the in depth comment.
    Allan

  • […] 2010 from Slovakia and the Czech Republic in honor of Jan Amos Komensky’s 418th Birthday.  Jan Amos Komensky, the “educator of the nations,” was written about on 52 Weeks in Slovakia earlier this […]

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