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John Locke (1632–1704). Some Thoughts Concerning Education.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Some Thoughts Concerning Education

Sections 101–110

§ 101. Having thus very early set up your authority, and by the gentler applications of it sham’d him out of what leads towards an immoral habit, as soon as you have observ’d it in him, (for I would by no means have chiding us’d, much less blows, till obstinacy and incorrigibleness make it absolutely necessary) it will be fit to consider which way the natural make of his mind inclines him. Some men by the unalterable frame of their constitutions, are stout, others timorous, some confident, others modest, tractable, or obstinate, curious or careless, quick or slow. There are not more differences in men’s faces, and the outward lineaments of their bodies, than there are in the makes and tempers of their minds; only there is this difference, that the distinguishing characters of the face, and the lineaments of the body, grow more plain and visible with time and age; but the peculiar physiognomy of the mind is most discernible in children, before art and cunning have taught them to hide their deformities, and conceal their ill inclinations under a dissembled outside.

§ 102. Begin therefore betimes nicely to observe your son’s temper; and that, when he is under least restraint, in his play, and as he thinks out of your sight. See what are his predominate passions and prevailing inclinations; whether he be fierce or mild, bold or bashful, compassionate or cruel, open or reserv’d, &c. For as these are different in him, so are your methods to be different, and your authority must hence take measures to apply itself different ways to him. These native propensities, these prevalencies of constitution, are not to be cur’d by rules, or a direct contest, especially those of them that are the humbler and meaner sort, which proceed from fear, and lowness of spirit; though with art they may be much mended, and turn’d to good purposes. But this, be sure, after all is done, the byass will always hang on that side that nature first plac’d it: And if you carefully observe the characters of his mind, now in the first scenes of his life, you will ever after be able to judge which way his thoughts lean, and what he aims at even hereafter, when, as he grows up, the plot thickens, and he puts on several shapes to act it.

§ 103. I told you before, that children love liberty; and therefore they should be brought to do the things are fit for them, without feeling any restraint laid upon them. I now tell you, they love something more; and that is dominion: And this is the first original of most vicious habits, that are ordinary and natural. This love of power and dominion shews itself very early, and that in these two things.

§ 104. 1. We see children, as soon almost as they are born (I am sure long before they can speak) cry, grow peevish, sullen, and out of humour, for nothing but to have their wills. They would have their desires submitted to by others; they contend for a ready compliance from all about them, especially from those that stand near or beneath them in age or degree, as soon as they come to consider others with those distinctions.

§ 105. 2. Another thing wherein they shew their love of dominion, is, their desire to have things to be theirs: They would have propriety and possession, pleasing themselves with the power which that seems to give, and the right they thereby have, to dispose of them as they please. He that has not observ’d these two humours working very betimes in children, has taken little notice of their actions: And he who thinks that these two roots of almost all the injustice and contention that so disturb human life, are not early to be weeded out, and contrary habits introduc’d, neglects the proper season to lay the foundations of a good and worthy man. To do this, I imagine these following things may somewhat conduce.

§ 106. 1. That a child should never be suffer’d to have what he craves, much less what he cries for, I had said, or so much as speaks for: But that being apt to the misunderstood, and interpreted as if I meant a child should never speak to his parents for any thing, which will perhaps be thought to lay too great a curb on the minds of children, to the prejudice of that love and affection which should be between them and their parents; I shall explain my self a little more particularly. It is fit that they should have liberty to declare their wants to their parents, and that with all tenderness they should be hearken’d to, and supply’d, at least whilst they are very little. But ’tis one thing to say, I am hungry, another to say, I would have roastmeat. Having declar’d their wants, their natural wants, the pain they feel from hunger, thirst, cold, or any other necessity of nature, ’tis the duty of their parents and those about them to relieve them: But children must leave it to the choice and ordering of their parents, what they think properest for them, and how much; and must not be permitted to chuse for themselves, and say, I would have wine, or white-bread; the very naming of it should make them lose it.

§ 107. That which parents should take care of here, is to distinguish between the wants of fancy, and those of nature; which Horace has well taught them to do in this verse:

  • Queis humana sibi doleat natura negatis.
  • Those are truly natural wants, which reason alone, without some other help, is not able to fence against, nor keep from disturbing us. The pains of sickness and hurts, hunger, thirst, and cold, want of sleep and rest or relaxation of the part weary’d with labour, are what all men feel and the best dispos’d minds cannot but be sensible of their uneasiness; and therefore ought, by fit applications, to seek their removal, though not with impatience, or over great haste, upon the first approaches of them, where delay does not threaten some irreparable harm. The pains that come from the necessities of nature, are monitors to us to beware of greater mischiefs, which they are the forerunners of; and therefore they must not be wholly neglected, nor strain’d too far. But yet the more children can be inur’d to hardships of this kind, by a wise care to make them stronger in body and mind, the better it will be for them. I need not here give any caution to keep within the bounds of doing them good, and to take care, that what children are made to suffer, should neither break their spirits, nor injure their health, parents being but too apt of themselves to incline more than they should to the softer side.

    But whatever compliance the necessities of nature may require, the wants of fancy children should never be gratify’d in, nor suffered to mention. The very speaking for any such thing should make them lose it. Clothes, when they need, they must have; but if they speak for this stuff or that colour, they should be sure to go without it. Not that I would have parents purposely cross the desires of their children in matters of indifference,; on the contrary, where their carriage deserves it, and one is sure it will not corrupt or effeminate their minds, and make them fond of trifles, I think all things should be contriv’d, as much as could be, to their satisfaction, that they may find the ease and pleasure of doing well. The best for children is that they should not place any pleasure in such things at all, nor regulate their delight by their fancies, but be indifferent to all that nature has made so. This is what their parents and teachers should chiefly aim at; but till this be obtain’d, all that I oppose here, is the liberty of asking, which in these things of conceit ought to be restrain’d by a constant forfeiture annex’d to it.

    This may perhaps be thought a little too severe by the natural indulgence of tender parents; but yet it is no more than necessary: For since the method I propose is to banish the rod, this restraint of their tongues will be of great use to settle that awe we have elsewhere spoken of, and to keep up in them the respect and reverence due to their parents. Next, it will teach to keep in, and so master their inclinations. By this means they will be brought to learn the art of stifling their desires, as soon as they rise up in them, when they are easiest to be subdu’d. For giving vent, gives life and strength to our appetites; and he that has the confidence to turn his wishes into demands, will be but a little way from thinking he ought to obtain them. This, I am sure, every one can more easily bear a denial from himself, than from any body else. They should therefore be accustom’d betimes to consult, and make use of their reason, before they give allowance to their inclinations. ’Tis a great step towards the mastery of our desires, to give this stop to them, and shut them up in silence. This habit got by children, of staying the forwardness of their fancies, and deliberating whether it be fit or no, before they speak, will be of no small advantage to them in matters of greater consequence, in the future course of their lives. For that which I cannot too often inculcate, is, that whatever the matter be about which it is conversant, whether great or small, the main (I had almost said only) thing to be consider’d in every action of a child, is, what influence it will have upon his mind; what habit it tends to, and is like to settle in him; how it will become him when he is bigger; and if it be encourag’d, whither it will lead him when he is grown up.

    My meaning therefore is not, that children should purposely be made uneasy. This would relish too much of inhumanity and ill-nature, and be apt to infect them with it. They should be brought to deny their appetites; and their minds, as well as bodies, be made vigorous, easy, and strong, by the custom of having their inclinations in subjection, and their bodies exercis’d with hardships: But all this, without giving them any mark or apprehension of ill-will towards them. The constant loss of what they crav’d or carv’d to themselves, should teach them modesty, submission, and a power to forbear: But the rewarding their modesty, and silence, by giving them what they lik’d, should also assure them of the love of those who rigorously exacted this obedience. The contenting themselves now in the want of what they wish’d for, is a virtue that another time should be rewarded with what is suited and acceptable to them; which should be bestow’d on them as if it were a natural consequence of their good behaviour, and not a bargain about it. But you will lose your labour, and what is more, their love and reverence too, if they can receive from others what you deny them. This is to be kept very staunch, and carefully to be watch’d. And here the servants come again my way.

    § 108. If this be begun betimes, and they accustom themselves early to silence their desires, this useful habit will settle them; and as they come to grow up in age and discretion, they may be allow’d greater liberty, when reason comes to speak in ’em, and not passion: For whenever reason would speak, it should be hearken’d to. But as they should never be heard, when they speak for any particular thing they would have, unless it be first propos’d to them; so they should always be heard, and fairly and kindly answer’d, when they ask after any thing they would know, and desire to be inform’d about. Curiosity should be as carefully cherish’d in children, as other appetites suppress’d.

    However strict an hand is to be kept upon all desires of fancy, yet there is one case wherein fancy must be permitted to speak, and be hearken’d to also. Recreation is as necessary as labour or food. But because there can be no recreation without delight, which depends not always on reason, but oftner fancy, it must be permitted children not only to divert themselves, but to do it after their own fashion, provided it be innocently, and without prejudice to their health; and therefore in this case they should not be deny’d, if they proposed any particular kind of recreation. Tho’ I think in a well-order’d education, they will seldom be brought to the necessity of asking any such liberty. Care should be taken, that what is of advantage to them, they should always do with delight; and before they are weary’d with one, they should be timely diverted to some other useful employment. But if they are not yet brought to that degree of perfection, that one way of improvement can be made a recreation to them, they must be let loose to the childish play they fancy; which they should be wean’d from by being made to surfeit of it: But from things of use, that they are employ’d in, they should always be sent away with an appetite; at least be dismiss’d before they are tir’d, and grow quite sick of it, that so they may return to it again, as to a pleasure that diverts them. For you must never think them set right, till they can find delight in the practice of laudable things; and the useful exercises of the body and mind, taking their turns, make their lives and improvement pleasant in a continu’d train of recreations, wherein the weary’d part is constantly reliev’d and refresh’d. Whether this can be done in every temper, or whether tutors and parents will be at the pains, and have the discretion and patience to bring them to this, I know not; but that it may be done in most children, if a right course be taken to raise in them the desire of credit, esteem, and reputation, I do not at all doubt. And when they have so much true life put into them, they may freely be talk’d with about what most delights them, and be directed or let loose to it; so that they may perceive that they are belov’d and cherish’d, and that those under whose tuition they are, are not enemies to their satisfaction. Such a management will make them in love with the hand that directs them, and the virtue they are directed to.

    This farther advantage may be made by a free liberty permitted them in their recreations, that it will discover their natural tempers, shew their inclinations and aptitudes, and thereby direct wise parents in the choice both of the course of life and employment they shall design them for, and of fit remedies, in the mean time, to be apply’d to whatever bent of nature they may observe most likely to mislead any of their children.

    § 109. 2. Children who live together, often strive for mastery, whose wills shall carry it over the rest: whoever begins the contest, should be sure to be cross’d in it. But not only that, but they should be taught to have all the deference, complaisance, and civility one for the other imaginable. This, when they see it procures them respect, love and esteem, and that they lose no superiority by it, they will take more pleasure in, than in insolent domineering; for so plainly is the other.

    The accusations of children one against another, which usually are but the clamours of anger and revenge desiring aid, should not be favourably received, nor hearken’d to. It weakens and effeminates their minds to suffer them to complain; and if they endure sometimes crossing or pain from others without being permitted to think it strange or intolerable, it will do them no harm to learn sufferance, and harden them early. But though you give no countenance to the complaints of the querulous, yet take care to curb the insolence and ill nature of the injurious. When you observe it yourself, reprove it before the injur’d party: but if the complaint be of something really worth your notice, and prevention another time, then reprove the offender by himself alone, out of sight of him that complain’d and make him go and ask pardon, and make reparation: which coming thus, as it were from himself, will be the more chearfully performed, and more kindly receiv’d, the love strengthen’d between them, and a custom of civility grow familiar amongst your children.

    § 110. 3. As to the having and possessing of things, teach them to part with what they have, easily and freely to their friends, and let them find by experience that the most liberal has always the most plenty, with esteem and commendation to boot, and they will quickly learn to practise it. This I imagine, will make brothers and sisters kinder and civiller to one another, and consequently to others, than twenty rules about good manners, with which children are ordinarily perplex’d and cumber’d. Covetousness, and the desire of having in our possession, and under our dominion, more than we have need of, being the root of all evil, should be early and carefully weeded out, and the contrary quality of a readiness to impart to others, implanted. This should be encourag’d by great commendation and credit, and constantly taking care that he loses nothing by his liberality. Let all the instances he gives of such freeness be always repay’d, and with interest; and let him sensibly perceive, that the kindness he shews to others, is no ill husbandry for himself; but that it brings a return of kindness both from those that receive it, and those who look on. Make this a contest among children, who shall out-do one another this way: and by this means, by a constant practice, children having made it easy to themselves to part with what they have, good nature may be settled in them into an habit, and they may take pleasure, and pique themselves in being kind, liberal and civil, to others.

    If liberality ought to be encourag’d certainly great care is to be taken that children transgress not the rules of Justice: and whenever they do, they should be set right, and if there be occasion for it, severely rebuk’d.

    Our first actions being guided more by self-love than reason or reflection, ’tis no wonder that in children they should be very apt to deviate from the just measures of right and wrong; which are in the mind the result of improv’d reason and serious meditation. This the more they are apt to mistake, the more careful guard ought to be kept over them; and every the least slip in this great social virtue taken notice of, and rectify’d; and that in things of the least weight and moment, both to instruct their ignorance, and prevent ill habits; which from small beginnings in pins and cherry-stones, will, if let alone, grow up to higher frauds, and be in danger to end at last in downright harden’d dishonesty. The first tendency to any injustice that appears, must be suppress’d with a shew of wonder and abhorrence in the parents and governors. But because children cannot well comprehend what injustice is, till they understand property, and how particular persons come by it, the safest way to secure honesty, is to lay the foundations of it early in liberality, and an easiness to part with to others whatever they have or like themselves. This may be taught them early, before they have language and understanding enough to form distinct notions of property, and to know what is theirs by a peculiar right exclusive of others. And since children seldom have any thing but by gift, and that for the most part from their parents, they may be at first taught not to take or keep any thing but what is given them by those, whom they take to have power over it. And as their capacities enlarge, other rules and cases of justice, and rights concerning Meum and Tuum, may be propos’d and inculcated. If any act of injustice in them appears to proceed, not from mistake, but a perverseness in their wills, when a gentle rebuke and shame will not reform this irregular and covetous inclination, rougher remedies must be apply’d: And ’tis but for the father and tutor to take and keep from them something that they value and think their own, or order somebody else to do it; and by such instances, make them sensible what little advantage they are like to make by possessing themselves unjustly of what is another’s, whilst there are in the world stronger and more men than they. But if an ingenuous detestation of this shameful vice be but carefully and early instill’d into ’em, as I think it may, that is the true and genuine method to obviate this crime, and will be a better guard against dishonesty than any considerations drawn from interest; habits working more constantly, and with greater facility, than reason, which, when we have most need of it, is seldom fairly consulted, and more rarely obey’d.