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Some Thoughts Concerning Education

John Locke

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

According to Locke, what is the primary goal of education?

According to Locke, the primary goal of education is to make the student into a virtuous person. In large part, this involves instilling the principle of virtue into the child. A child who has the principle of virtue is one who can neglect his passions and appetites when these contradict the dictates of reason.

A virtuous child, Locke thinks, will be honest and good-natured, and will love and respect everyone he meets. Once the child has these characteristics, many of the other desirable qualities will come along naturally. The child, for instance, will learn good manners merely by observing the best way to express his good nature. He will always appear well bred, and make everyone else comfortable around him because he will desire to have everyone happy and comfortable. He will also be much more likely, later in life, to be wise about his business.

Locke believes that without virtue, and the resulting good manners, no other qualities can come off as positive. A witty man without good manners comes off as a buffoon; a courageous man without good manners comes off as a brute; a plain man without good manners comes off as a rustic; and, perhaps most importantly, a learned man without good manners comes off as a pedant. Whether or not the child is a scholar, therefore, is of much lesser concern to Locke than whether he has a good nature and good breeding. Learning, Locke tells us, can be a great boon to virtue and wisdom, but it can also be a great boon to vice and folly. Without virtue, learning is more of a bad quality than a good one.

According to Locke, how can the servants pose a threat to a child's education?

Locke sees the servants as posing many threats to the child's education. Perhaps the most significant threat they pose is simply the threat of their ill-bred company. Locke believes that the most valuable tool in education is example and habit. Who we spend time with, then, is the most important determinant of what we will become. If a young child is constantly surrounded with his well-bred parents and tutor then he will learn the manners of good breeding. But if he, instead, spends his time with the servants, then he will learn the meaner, coarser ways of conducting oneself. Locke is adamant, therefore, that the parents keep the child with them (or with the tutor) as much as possible. To this end, he suggests that the child be allowed to act like his childish self in their company, and not forced to "behave".

Locke also mentions numerous other subtle ways in which the servants can undermine the child's education. Servants tend to tell children spooky stories and this can have bad and lasting effects on the child's psyche, making him timid and unsettled. Servants are also prone to giving children sweets, meats, alcohol, and other foods that Locke thinks are indulgent and harmful to the child's health. One last, more serious, way in which servants can become problematic is in the child's disciplining. When trying to make the child pliant to reason, it is important for everyone around the child to react negatively when he does wrong. Often, though, when the parents and tutor are purposely giving the child the cold shoulder, the servants take pity on him. In this way the correct message (i.e. that when you indulge your desires over the dictates of reason, everyone will react to you negatively)is not reinforced properly.

According to Locke, what are the most important qualities in a tutor, and why?

Locke claims that the most important virtues in a tutor are virtue, good breeding, and knowledge of the world. It is of much lesser importance that the tutor be a scholar. Academic learning, Locke points out, can be largely derived from books; the tutor need only give his student the tools and the inclination that will allow him to study further on his own. But virtue, breeding, and worldly-wisdom can only be learned from someone who has these qualities.

Suggested Essay Topics

How does Locke think that the relationship between parent and child should change as the child matures? Why?

According to Locke what is the role of reward and punishment in education? Which sort of reward and punishment is good and which bad? Do you agree with his assessment of the importance of reward and punishment?

Why does Locke allow for beating in the case of obstinacy?

Locke says that without good breeding no good qualities show up as such. What does he mean by this? Do you think this is true?

What inclination does Locke identify as the root of all evil and injustice in the world? To what extent is this claim justified?

How does Locke suggest that parents make learning into an enjoyable experience?

Locke is very hard on the school system. What are some of his major complaints with the way they educate the young? How would he like to see these problems redressed?

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