Early Elementary Teaching

“One must lead the child to declensions and to conjugations at the same time as he is learning his letters.  Because, from the fact that the same word changes case and gender, that the first syllables remain and that the latter ones change, not hapharzardly, but according to rules, the teacher derives two advantages: the child learns without difficulty how to read and how to register in his memory that which he needs to retain and that which is necessary in order that the instructional edifice be solidly established.  We have said that in your class you must lay the foundation for studies as on a rock; your class must be so to speak a nursery for the finest trees, which you’ll not see rooted in soil nor standing in gardens nor orchards, but at the bar and in the senate (and) the courts of kings, and bearing abundant fruits of wisdom.” John Sturm, “Johann Sturm to Abraham Feis, Teacher of the Tenth Class. (1565),” trans. Lewis W. Spitz and Barbara Sher Tinsley, Johann Sturm on Education (CPH: St Louis, 1995), p. 264.  [Emphasis Added]

In this letter Johann Sturm describes the first level of education in a sixteenth-century school.  This level (tenth class) would be approximately equivalent to modern first grade.  Sturm instructs the teacher to simultaneously train the child with Latin vocabulary and the formation of nouns (declensions) and verbs (conjugations).  In this manner the child builds a solid foundation in his or her memory of the basic elements of Latin.  Sturm also compared the teacher to a gardener who tends to small trees which will grow up to have significant influence in legal work (at the bar), political service, and teaching.

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