Of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil useful or not, by their education. Tis this that makes the great difference in mankind.
Locke begins Some Thoughts Concerning Education by stressing the importance of education. Education, he tells us, is what makes a man what he is. Locke believes firmly in the malleability of the human mind, and so he is convinced that no matter what natural inclinations a man is born it is the way in which he is educated that determines whether he will be virtuous or vicious, ill-bred or well-bred, wise or foolish. Education, then, is not just about teaching a child facts and forming his intellect; first and foremost education is about forming a full human being.
He that is not used to submit his will to the reason of others when he is young, will scarce hearken to his own reason when he is of an age to make use of it.
Locke sums up his entire theory of moral education in one sentence. The goal of moral education is to give a man the capacity to deny his own desires. The way to do this is to train a child, early on, to deny his own desires in favor of what his parents tell him to do. A child that becomes used to submitting his desires to his parents' orders, will grow up with the capacity to submit his desires to what his own reason dictates. This capacity, Locke thinks, is the principle of virtue, the foundation and aim of all education.
Learning any thing they should be taught might be made as much a recreation to they play as their play is to their learning.
One of Locke's main pieces of advice is to make learning fun. If learning is enjoyable, Locke points out, then children will apply themselves to it, and learn that much more. The way to make learning fun, he thinks, is to make sure that it is never presented as a task or a duty. Just as children play at their own liberty, Locke thinks, they should also learn at their own liberty.
The forming of their minds and manners requiring a constant attention, and particular application to every single boy, which is impossible in a numerous flock.
Here, Locke explains why he is not in favor of sending boys away to school. At school a child cannot receive the individual attention that he requires. It is only at home, with a tutor, that he can receive this attention. There are several reasons why a child needs individual attention. First of all, in order to instill the principle of virtue, every one of the child's actions must be reacted to correctly. Obviously this is impossible if the child is one of a large group. In addition, the child cannot be forced to learn when he is not in the right mood. But in a large group, concessions cannot be made to each individual child's inclinations. Finally, education must be tailor-made to suit the particular character of each child. Obviously, in a large group no one child's temperament will be taken into account; instead a single curriculum is used for everyone.
All their innocent folly, playing, and childish actions are to be left perfectly free and unrestrained as far as they can consist with the respect due to those that are present.
Locke is adamant in Some Thoughts that children be allowed to act like children. He thinks that their high spirits and what he calls their "gamefulness" are important qualities that will serve them well if used correctly. Their abundant energy can be harnessed for learning and other useful practices. In addition, he sees no reason to take away the joy that these qualities bring to children. Though it is true that these qualities would not be good to find in an adult, there should be no worry that the qualities will persist if they are not rooted out in childhood. These "symptoms of the age" will fade away naturally as the child matures.