America's 1st Book on Teaching Method

Dan Graves, MSL

America's 1st Book on Teaching Method

When Christopher Dock did not come home from school one night, people went looking for him. There he was, dead--on his knees in prayer. That fit his character. Every evening he prayed through the roll of his students, asking the Lord to forgive any wrong or neglect he had done any one of them and to help him do better the following day. This kindly schoolmaster, who split his time between two Mennonite schools in Pennsylvania, would be completely forgotten today if it wasn't for the fact that he wrote the first published textbook on educational method in Britain's American colonies.

His book was called Schul Ordnung, or School Management. Christopher Sauer I, a printer in Germantown, Pennsylvania, admired the good results that Christopher Dock produced with students by use of encouragement, kindness, and motivation. Christopher still believed in punishment, but his methods were milder than most. For example, he might put a yoke on a student who cursed; or require him or her to sit alone. Other teachers of the day relied more heavily on fear and whippings. Saur urged Christopher Dock to write a book explaining his methods. Dock prepared it around 1750, but then, for twenty years, refused to allow Saur to publish it. He did not want it released during his lifetime, afraid that it would look like he was trying to build a "monument" to himself.

But he allowed the publisher to put out some short articles by him. Among them were "A Hundred Necessary Rules of Conduct for Children" and "A Hundred Christian Rules for Children." Finally Christopher Saur II, who had taken his father's place, went ahead and printed the book. It was published on this day, August 3, 1770.

Schul Ordnung was a first in America. However, several European educators had already issued similar works.

One of the modern things Dock did was to have the students in his two schools exchange their writings for comparison. He rewarded his pupils with chalk drawings on their hands and urged parents to further reward their children for good school work by giving them praise, pennies--and fried eggs. He recognized that "Different children need different treatment," because, as he said, "...the wickedness of youth exhibits itself in so many ways."

The Mennonites have named a high school in Lansdale, Pennsylvania after humble Christopher Dock.

Bibliography:

  1. "Christopher Dock." The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907 - 21). VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II. (www.bartleby.com)
  2. "Dock, Christopher." Dictionary of American Biography. (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928-1958).
  3. "History." Christopher Dock High School. http://www.christopherdock.org/history/history.html.
  4. "Schulordnung," Christopher Dock, Germantown, 1770. http://services.juniata.edu/library/special/spec40.htm

Last updated July, 2007

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