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Some Thoughts Concerning Education

John Locke

100–115: Temperaments

95–99: As Child Gets Older

100–115: Temperaments, page 2

page 1 of 2

Locke now turns to the topic of temperaments in more detail. He runs through some of the more common temperaments found in children (mostly negative ones) and gives advice on how best to deal with these.

The first inclination that he considers is one that he believes nearly all children share. It is a love of dominion and power. This temperament, Locke asserts, is the cause of nearly all injustice and contention in the world. Therefore, it is very imp ortant that it be eliminated early. He brings forward two pieces of evidence to bolster the claim that all children love dominion. First of all, he points out, all children cry and grow peevish for the mere purpose of having their way. They love, in other words, to have other people submit to their desires. In addition, all children are proprietary and possessive. As anyone who has been around children must have noticed, they love to say "mine".

Locke has several ideas about how to counteract this temperament. First, a child can never be permitted to ask for something specifically by name. He can say, "I am hungry", but he cannot say, "I want a plum". Or rather, he cannot ask for things by name u ntil he is old enough to be asking based on reason and discretion. (The only exception is in the case of recreation; they can ask for specific toys and games by name.) Second, a child must be rewarded for acting deferential, complaisant, and civil towar d all other children. Once they see that this behavior earns them love and esteem and that they do not lose anything by it, they will actually come to prefer this sort of behavior to domineering. Relatedly, a child must be encouraged to share. He should b e led to the conclusion that the most generous person always has the most to choose from (because then everyone shares with him). Extra care must be taken that the child never lose anything by being generous, because this would naturally encourage covetou sness, which is the root of all evil.

The best way to encourage a sense of justice is also by encouraging generosity, since it is impossible to understand what injustice is until you understand the concept of property. If however, a child does behave unjustly (i.e. by taking something that is not his)then the father or tutor must react by taking away something that belongs to the child. This will teach the child that it makes no sense to behave unjustly since there will always stronger men in the world than you, and others can always join for ces against you.

Closely related to the issue of dominion, is the issue of crying. Locke says that crying cannot be tolerated. He breaks crying down into two sorts. One sort of crying is a sign of stubbornness and domineering. It is an attempt to impose your will upon oth ers. The other sort of crying is a querulouslness and whining. The first sort of crying cannot be tolerated because it encourages inclinations that we want to subdue: namely the indulgence of their desires. If a child goes away crying, he is confirming to himself the legitimacy of his desire, and resolving to satisfy that desire as soon as he gets the chance. The way to prevent this sort of crying is to react to it with a severe look, disapproving words, or, if it comes to the point of obstinacy, blows.

The second sort of crying cannot be tolerated because it only makes the child feel worse for himself. Though a parent should show compassion for every little pain, he should not do so through pity. The child needs to be hardened against suffering. The way to put an end to this sort of crying is to divert the child's thoughts in whatever way is most appropriate (either by laughing, teasing, or whatever best suits his temperament and mood).

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