The Individuality of Temperaments

Locke recognizes the fact that every person has their own unique temperament, and that this temperament needs to be taken account of in education. Given the variability of human strengths and weaknesses, he points out, there is no sense in having a set curriculum that is applied equally to all children. Instead, a child must be carefully observed (ideally, while he is at play, because that is when he is most freely himself) and his education tailor-made to suit his character.

Locke is convinced that children's minds are malleable, so that their natural faults can be remedied if they are intercepted early enough. But he only thinks that they are malleable up to a certain point. A child's character cannot be entirely altered, it can only be improved—the weaknesses guarded against and the strengths cultivated. Creating a unique plan of education to suit each child is just one more way in which Locke's method is as pleasant as possible for a child: no child is forced to do something of which he is incapable or ill-suited.

Though there is an endless variety of temperaments, Locke takes the time to run through some of the more common ones (mostly negative) in order to tell us how best to deal with them. He instructs parents on what to do with a cowardly child, an overly fearless child, a cruel child, a domineering child, a dishonest child, and a sluggish child, as well as how to cultivate a child's natural curiosity.

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