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Some Thoughts Concerning Education

John Locke

196–217: Other Accomplishments

177–195: The Other Subjects

Important Quotations Explained

Summary

Locke ends by discussing a few other skills that a child should acquire. These are the finishing touches of education. Locke recommends that a child learn dance because he thinks it produces manliness, confidence, and a graceful carriage. On the other hand, he discourages the study of music, because he does not think that the skill is worth the extreme effort that must be put in to acquire it(in addition, as with poetry, he does not think it would be a good thing if a child became too fond or too good at music). Horse riding is a good skill but also not worth wasting too much time over. Fencing, finally, should be discouraged because once a boy knows how to fence he will be more likely to enter duels, and thus to get hurt.

Locke also suggests that every child should develop a manual skill. He knows that his upper class audience will balk at this idea. He reasons with them as follows: children like to keep busy and so they should be kept busy. They cannot be studying all the time; their minds need some way to relax and refresh. Instead of having them relax and refresh their minds through idle and silly pursuits, why not have them relax by doing something useful? Locke then runs through possible manual skills to teach the child. He dismisses painting as a bad idea for much the same reason that he did not like the idea of poetry or music; he does not want the child to become too distracted from his main business. In addition, since painting is more mental than manual it will not really serve the purpose of relaxing and refreshing the mind. What will serve the purpose is gardening, varnishing, carpentry, perfuming, engraving, or grinding optical lenses. Locke also suggests that every boy learn the skill of accounting. This way they can keep their finances in order and maintain their wealth.

Locke ends the book with a discussion of travel. Locke believes that travel is important, but thinks that it is usually undertaken at the wrong time. The typical age for travel during Locke's day was between the ages of sixteen and twenty one. Locke suggests that travel either take place before the age of sixteen, so that the trip can aid in the child's study of foreign languages, or else after twenty one, so that the boy already has a thorough understanding of his own culture and can usefully compare it to the other cultures he sees while abroad. In order to arrange for a later travel time, Locke suggests postponing the usual time for marriage, which he considers too early anyway.

Summary

Although Locke emphasizes allowing children their requisite freedom, he ends advocating constraint. He strictly lays out exactly which activities a child should and should not engage in. A child should learn to dance; he should not learn to play an instrument. A child should learn to ride horses, but should not spend too much time on the activity. A child should not learn how to fence. There is not much room left here for freedom of choice. Again, Locke does not really allow for much in the way of individual preferences.

Although earlier in the book Locke suggests that parents should let their children play freely, he now warns against the evils of idle recreation. Instead of playing freely, he suggests that a child learn how to plant or engrave or grind eyeglass lenses. One explanation for this seeming inconsistency is that the manual skill will come in handy in later childhood, when the child is too old to run around wildly.

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