Thoreau & Beyond


Amos Bronson Alcott

Maxims on Education


Bronson Alcott’s Journals have yielded numerous points of wisdom for posterity to ponder, and perhaps nowhere is this more aptly demonstrated than in 1826-7, when Mr. Alcott penned his “General Maxims” for teachers. Noted as a philosopher, reformer and lecturer, Mr. Alcott’s earliest and most lasting contributions arc to be found in the field of education. Mr. Alcott was among the first to assign a great measure of respect and dignity to this profession, and he attempted many practices which today would be considered quite commonplace, but in his time were deemed deranged and dangerous.

The fifty-eight maxims are gentle cautions and words of counsel to teachers as to their role in and influence upon the young minds under their care. Although some of the maxims scan to be religious in tone, most are simple and to the point, and all convey Mr. Alcott’s love for and devotion to children, and affirm his strong belief in their ability to think for themselves taken in context, and interpreted for the needs of the modem world, these maxims remain honorable ideas and ideals all teachers can still uphold.

General Maxims: By which to regulate the instructor’s practice in instruction

  1. To teach, with a sense of accountableness to the profession
  2. To teach, with reference to eternity
  3. To teach, as an agent of the Great Instructor
  4. To teach, depending on the Divine Blessings for success
  5. To teach, as the former of Character, and the promoter of the collective happiness of Man
  6. To teach, to subserve the great cause of philanthropy and benevolence
  7. To teach, distinct from all sinister, sectarian and oppressive principles
  8. To teach, with charitable feelings toward all rational and animal beings
  9. To teach, distinct from prejudice, from veneration of antiquity and from excess of novelty
  10. To teach, to improve the science of instruction and of mind
  11. To teach, duty appreciating the importance of the profession
  12. To teach, awed by the clamours of ignorance, yet governed by the dictates of wisdom
  13. To teach, nothing from subservience to custom
  14. To teach, with unremitted solicitude and faithfulness
  15. To teach, appreciating the value of the beings to whom instruction is given
  16. To teach, regarding the matter as well as the manner of instruction
  17. To teach, that alone, which is useful
  18. To teach, in imitation of the Saviour
  19. To teach, by exact uniform example
  20. To teach, in the inductive method
  21. To teach, gradually and understandingly, by the shortest steps, from the more easy and known, to the more difficult and unknown
  22. To teach, by the exercise of reason
  23. To teach, illustrating by sensible and tangible objects
  24. To teach, by clear and copious explanation
  25. To teach, by a strict adherence to system 26. To teach, by simple and plain unambiguous language
  26. To teach, by short and perfectly obtained lessons
  27. To teach, by encouragement 29. To teach, but one thing at the same time
  28. To teach, but one thing at the same time
  29. To teach, interestingly
  30. To teach, principly a knowledge of things, not of words — of ideas, not names
  31. To teach, by consulting in the arrangement of lessons, that proportion of variety which is adapted to the genius and habits of the young mind
  32. To teach, by keeping curiosity awake
  33. To teach, nothing that pupils can teach themselves
  34. To teach, as much as possible by analysis
  35. To teach, by exciting a laudable ambition for excellence, guarding against its opposite
  36. To teach, endeavouring to make pupils feel their importance by the hope which mankind placed in their conduct
  37. To teach, endeavouring to preserve the understanding from implicit belief, and to secure the habit of independence of thought and of feeling
  38. To teach, endeavouring to invigorate and bring into exercise all the intellectual, moral and physical powers
  39. To teach, attempting to associate with literature the idea and perception of pleasure
  40. To teach, attempting to induce the laudable ambition of progressive improvement
  41. To teach, by consulting the feelings of scholars 43. To teach, with animation and interest
  42. To teach, by furnishing constant, useful, and as much as possible, pleasing employment
  43. To teach, treating pupils with uniform familiarity, and patience, and with the greatest kindness, tenderness and respect
  44. To teach, by cultivating the collective happiness of the school
  45. To teach, by consulting the collective happiness of the school
  46. To teach, by persuasion, not by coercion
  47. To teach, by comparison and contrast
  48. To teach, by allusion to familiar objects and occurrences
  49. To teach, without indolence and discouragement
  50. To teach, pupils to teach themselves
  51. To teach, by intermingling Questions with instruction
  52. To teach, with relation to the practical business of Life
  53. To teach, endeavouring to fix things in the understanding rather than words in the memory
  54. To teach without bringing pupils in comparison with one another, or touching the spring of personal emulation
  55. To teach, with reference to habit
  56. To teach, with Independence


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