Dock, Christopher (1698?-1771)

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Christopher Dock (1698?-1771)


Educator, writer

Early Years. Christopher Dock was a Mennonite schoolteacher. Little is known of his geographical origin, family, and date of immigration to America. He was probably from the Rhenish Palatinate but left for America in 1718, having spent four years as a teacher in Germany. After his arrival in Philadelphia he went to Skippack in Montgomery County, an area of German settlements about twenty miles from Germantown. There he opened a Mennonite school, where he taught for ten years before taking up farming. In 1735 he bought one hundred acres in Salford Township and three years later went back to teaching, this time at two schools simultaneously: the school in Skippack and another in Salford. He split a six-day teaching week into three days at one school and three at the other, an arrangement that lasted until his death in 1771. He also spent four summers teaching in Germantown in the log meetinghouse where Francis Daniel Pastorius had taught. He excelled in the art of Fractur-Schriften, illuminated manuscripts of scriptural texts beautifully drawn in color. He used them to decorate the walls of his schoolhouse and gave them as rewards to his students.

Teacher. Education in Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century was left up to the local communities to organize. German pietists were strongly committed to education so that everyone would learn to read religious books and therefore preferred to establish their own schools so that parents would have control of their childrens learning. Parents got together to find a place to house the school, then they set the tuition costs and hired the teacher. The school at Skippack was not free; the tuition cost about four to six shillings a week. But some people donated money to help pay the fees of the poorer children. Dock believed that no child should be denied an education because he or she could not afford it. An innovative teacher, Dock emphasized learning for the building of character rather than the accumulation of knowledge. This meant that in addition to the rudiments of reading, writing, and numbers he cared about religion and morals, singing, safety, physical and emotional health, and manners. In other words he sought to educate the whole child. He preferred not to use the harsh and arbitrary punishments that were common in other colonial schools but to control his classes instead by persuasion, discussion, understanding, and love. He made punishments suitable for the misdemeanors and rewarded student progress.

The Schulordnung. One of Docks Germantown students was the son of printer Christopher Sauer. Sauer was so impressed with Docks teaching style that in 1749 he asked Dock to write down his methods in a teaching guide that Sauer would publish. At first Dock declined the request, but when Sauer composed specific questions for Dock, the teacher complied with the understanding that nothing be published during his lifetime. The questions were put together in manuscript form and finished, but not published until 1769, while Dock was still alive. The topics include enrollment, beginning the school day, teaching prayer, grading, discipline, and the teaching of the alphabet, of numbers, of punctuation, and of love and respect. Two hymns were also added in a section called Childrens Songs or Encouragement for the Children. The Schulordnung (School Management) was the first publication in America on schoolkeeping. The book is important not only for its description of Docks schoolteaching methods but also for what it reveals about colonial Mennonite family life.

Other Writings. Dock also wrote several articles for the religious magazine Ein Geistliches Magazien (A Spiritual Magazine) published by Christopher Sauer Jr., who succeeded his father. The most famous of these were A Hundred Necessary Rules of Conduct for Children and A Hundred Christian Rules for Children. The rules of conduct covered appropriate behavior for children at home, school, church, and other public places, while the Christian rules advised children on their relationships to God, to their neighbors, and to themselves. Dock also wrote at least two hymns, possibly six, for the magazine. These were included in the 1803 Mennonite hymnal, Kleine Geistliche Harfe, and later editions.


Gerald C. Studer, Christopher Dock: Colonial Schoolmaster: A Biography and Writings of Christopher Dock (Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1993).