Christopher Dock, the "pious schoolmaster of the Skippack," was born in Germany (place unknown), and came to America about 1714. By 1718 Dock was teaching a subscription elementary school among the Mennonites of the Skippack settlement north of Germantown, Pennsylvania. His teaching career, probably begun in Germany, now continued for ten years at Skippack, until he gave up teaching for farming in 1728. In 1735 he bought one hundred acres near Salfordville, and probably lived there the rest of his life. Soon after giving up the Skippack school, Dock says he felt the "smiting hand of God" calling him back to the teaching profession. He taught four summers in the (Mennonite) school at Germantown. Finally in 1738, after an interval of ten years of farming, Dock resumed full-time teaching at Skippack and Salford, and continued teaching until his death in 1771.
Christopher Dock's life and work is best known by reading his essay, School-Management (Schulordnung), written in 1750, but not published until twenty years later. One of his pupils, Christopher Saur Jr. of Germantown, published the first two editions in 1770. This work reveals the gentle and loving character of Dock as a teacher and his successful methods of instruction. Printed in the German language, it found its way into many Pennsylvania-German homes and must have had a profound influence on those who taught the German schools of his day. Teaching was a divine calling; pupils were given individualized instruction; character and godliness were the chief objectives in Dock's school.
Christopher Dock was one of the selected contributors to Christopher Saur's Geistliches Magazien (1764-1773). Among the articles he contributed were "A Hundred Necessary Rules for Children's Conduct," and "A Hundred Rules for Children," both of which reveal the interesting customs and practices among the Germans of colonial times.
Not only was Dock a successful teacher of the three R's, but he also made a real contribution in teaching art. Dock's specialty was Fractur-Schriften, or beautifully illuminated manuscripts. These consisted of Scripture texts or mottoes artistically penned in colored inks. It is said that Dock had 25 of them on the walls of his schoolroom. He used some of them as copy forms (Vorschriften) for his pupils. Others were given to pupils as rewards for excellent work. Some of Dock's originals have been preserved in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and in the Schwenkfelder Library of Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. Dock's influence can also be seen in collections containing the work of his pupils. Teachers of the 19th century continued the practice of this art and used Dock's ideas for the encouragement of pupil effort.
Dock also wrote at least seven hymns. Five of these hymns found their way into the earliest American Mennonite hymnal, Kleine Geistliche Harfe (1803), and were retained in later editions. It is quite possible that Dock's emphasis on teaching hymns in the schools and his very probable able service as chorister in the Salford and Skippack churches were largely responsible for the unusual interest in singing among the Mennonite congregations of Montgomery County.
Dock was not only a good teacher of academic subjects, but also an effective character builder and teacher of religion. His education was "Christian" education, with perfect integration of the sacred with the secular. He used religious materials such as the New Testament and the hymnal in his regular classes, he opened every school day with worship, making religion a natural experience for the children, and infused his entire teaching with a warm, sincere piety. Furthermore his religion was not superficial and external, but essential, and was the firm foundation for a genuinely effective program of character building. Narrow sectarianism and theological dogmatism were entirely absent; a devout and wholehearted following of Christ was his great concern.
For many years Dock's burial place was unknown, but his grave marker is a simple stone located in the Lower Skippack Mennonite Church cemetery with his initials "CH D" and the date of his death 1771 scratched into the stone. Tradition gives us an account of his death. It was his custom to remain at school after dismissal of the children to pray for each of his pupils in turn. One evening in the autumn of 1771 he did not return home at the usual time. He was found on his knees in the schoolroom, but his spirit had gone.
A memorial stone in honor of Christopher Dock was erected in 1915 by the Montgomery County Historical Society in the cemetery of the Lower Skippack Mennonite Church. It bears this inscription: "Here Christopher Dock, who in 1750 wrote the earliest American essay on Pedagogy, taught school, and here in 1771, he died on his knees in prayer." (Vol.1).
Abraham H. Cassel Collection of Fractur-Schriften listed as "Dock's Manuscripts," Pennsylvania Historical Library, contains art manuscripts and merit cards of Dock, so marked by Cassel.
Bender, Harold S. "Christopher Dock." German-American Review 11 (1945): 4-6.
Brumbaugh, Martin G. The Life and Works of Christopher Dock. Philadelphia, 1908.
"Copia einer Schrifft welche der Schulmeister, Christopher Dock, an seine noch lebende Schiller zur Lehr und Vermahnung aus Liebe geschrieben hat." Geistliches Magazien I, No. 33, (1764). Germantown, Christopher Saur.
Dock, Christopher. Eine Einfältige und gründlich abgefasste Schul-Ordnung, . . . (Christopher Saur, Germantown, 1770). A facsimile of the first edition is in Brumbaugh's Life and Works of Christopher Dock.
Hartzler, Johb E. Education Among the Mennonites of America. Danvers, Ill., 1925.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 456.
"Hundert Noethige Sitten-Regeln für Kinder." Geistliches Magazien I, No. 40.
"Hundert Christliche Lebens-Regeln für Kinder." Geistliches Magazien I, No. 41.
Leatherman, Quintus. "Christopher Dock, Mennonite Schoolmaster, 1718-1771." Mennonite Quarterly Review 16 (1942): 32-44.
Massanari, Karl Louis. "The Contribution of Christopher Dock to Contemporary Christian Teaching." Mennonite Quarterly Review 25 (1951): 100-115.
Pennypacker, Samuel W. Collection, Schwenkfelder Historical Library, Pennsburg, Pa, contains several of Dock's manuscripts and merit cards, so marked by Pennypacker.
Skippack Historical Society. "Christopher Dock." http://www.skippack.org/christopher_dock.htm (accessed 28 May 2009).
"Zwei erbauliche Lieder." Geistliches Magazien II, No. 15.
Cite This Article
Leatherman, Quintus. "Dock, Christopher (d. 1771)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 18 Sep 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dock,_Christopher_(d._1771)&oldid=106204.
Leatherman, Quintus. (1956). Dock, Christopher (d. 1771). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 September 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Dock,_Christopher_(d._1771)&oldid=106204.
Herald Press website.
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