What was John Locke's point of view on education?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Locke outlined his point of view on education in an extremely influential essay aptly entitled "Some Thoughts Concerning Education," published in 1693. Building off his own thoughts on epistemology, which were advanced in his Essay on Human Understanding, he argued for an education that would shape the body, mind, and character of students. He urged parents to encourage their children to pursue an education that appealed to their interests and aptitudes, which, he argued, could be revealed when children were very young if parents were observant.

Locke also claimed that if children were not taught superstitions early in life, they would not carry them into adulthood. Both of these propositions were based on his famous tabula rasa theory, developed in Essay on Human Understanding. Locke also encouraged parents to teach their children rational thinking, even early in life. This could be done by example, and by reasoning with children on their own level:

I cannot but think that [reasoning] the true way of dealing with them. They understand it as early as they do language; and, if I misobserve not, they love to be treated as rational creatures, sooner than is imagin'd. 'Tis a pride should be cherish'd in them, and, as much as can be, made the greatest instrument to turn them by.

These habits of mind were far more important to Locke than any particular program of reading or academic curriculum. Of primary importance, however, was instilling virtue, which Locke identified with discipline (though not the harsh kind often associated with early modern parenting) and self-denial, i.e. not indulging all of children's wants:

The fondling must be taught to strike and call names, must have what he cries for, and do what he pleases. Thus parents, by humouring and cockering them when little, corrupt the principles of nature in their children, and wonder afterwards to taste the bitter waters, when they themselves have poison'd the fountain.

It should be noted that Locke was speaking only about aristocratic families, who had the money to educate their children at home. His view on poor children was that they should, if their parents were unable to support them, be sent to workhouses.

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