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The Mennonite Educator

Updated: Oct 9, 2023


Christopher Dock (c. 1698 - 1771)

Christopher Dock was born about 1698. He immigrated to the United States by 1714, becoming a teacher at Skippack in Philadelphia County (present-day Montgomery County, PA) by 1718.


After teaching for ten years, he turned primarily to farming and bought 100 acres in Salford Township in 1735 from the sons of William Penn fifteen pounds and 10 shillings. He then built a house on a knoll overlooking a spreading meadow.


Three years later, he returned to teaching and continued as a schoolmaster. This time he taught 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. Of this experience, he noted, "I neglected that profession [teaching] for ten years, for which I often felt the smiting hand of God, which before then had served me well. May the Lord graciously overlook my neglect of the youth during that time." However, during his ten years of farming, for four summers he travelled south to Germantown where he conducted classes in the Germantown Mennonite Meeting House for terms of three months.


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 children’s 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. Christopher believed that no child should be denied an education because he or she could not afford it. An innovative teacher, he 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.


He wrote, in German, the earliest known teaching methods text in the United States, Schul-Ordnung (School Management), a book on general pedagogy. The book was completed on 8 August 1750, but was not published until 1769. It was written through the efforts of Christopher Saur of Germantown, a printer whose son Christopher was a student of Dock's. He was so impressed with Dock's teaching style, which was becoming well known, that he asked him to write a guide so that others who taught children could benefit as well. The topics included enrollment, beginning the school day, teaching prayer, grading, discipline, and the teaching of the alphabet, of numbers, of punctuation, and of love and respect.



He 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. Christopher 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.


Christopher Dock was a practitioner of the Pennsylvania Dutch folk art fraktur. He would give his students little illustrations of a bird or a flower, as well as "Vorschriften" (writing lessons), as rewards.


He had two daughters, Margaret and Catherine. After his wife Elizabeth died, it is believed that he continued to live at the old homestead with his daughter Margaret and her family.


One evening in the fall of 1771, he did not return home from the Skippack school. A search was made and he was found in his schoolroom on his knees, dead where it had been his habit to pray for his students. His grave marker is a simple stone located in the Lower Skippack Mennonite Church cemetery.



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