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

Some Thoughts Concerning Education

Sections 181–190

§ 181. When he has once got such an acquaintance with the globes, as is above mentioned, he may be fit to be tried in a little geometry; wherein I think the first six books of Euclid enough for him to be taught. For I am in some doubt, whether more to a man of business be necessary or useful. At least, if he have a genius and inclination to it, being enter’d so far by his tutor, he will be able to go on of himself without a teacher.

The globes therefore must be studied, and that diligently; and I think may be begun betimes, if the tutor will be but careful to distinguish what the child is capable of knowing, and what not; for which this may be a rule that perhaps will go a pretty way, viz. that children may be taught anything that falls under their senses, especially their sight, as far as their memories only are exercised: and thus a child very young may learn, which is the Æquator, which the Meridian, &c. which Europe, and which England, upon the globes, as soon almost as he knows the rooms of the house he lives in, if care be taken not to teach him too much at once, nor to set him upon a new part, till that which he is upon be perfectly learned and fixed in his memory.

§ 182. With geography, chronology ought to go hand in hand. I mean the general part of it, so that he may have in his mind a view of the whole current of time, and the several considerable epochs that are made use of in history. Without these two, history, which is the great mistress of prudence and civil knowledge, and ought to be the proper study of a gentleman, or man of business in the world; without geography and chronology, I say, history will be very ill retain’d, and very little useful; but be only a jumble of matters of fact, confusedly heaped together without order or instruction. ’Tis by these two that the actions of mankind are ranked into their proper places of time and countries, under which circumstances they are not only much easier kept in the memory, but in that natural order, are only capable to afford those observations which make a man the better and the abler for reading them.

§ 183. When I speak of chronology as a science he should be perfect in, I do not mean the little controversies that are in it. These are endless, and most of them of so little importance to a gentleman, as not to deserve to be enquir’d into, were they capable of an easy decision. And therefore all that learned noise and dust of the chronologist is wholly to be avoided. The most useful book I have seen in that part of learning, is a small treatise of Strauchius, which is printed in twelves, under the title of Breviarium Chronologicum, out of which may be selected all that is necessary to be taught a young gentleman concerning chronology; for all that is in that treatise a learner need not be cumbred with. He has in him the most remarkable or useful epochs reduced all to that of the Julian Period, which is the easiest and plainest and surest method that can be made use of in chronology. To this treatise of Strauchius, Helvicus’s tables may be added, as a book to be turned to on all occasions.

§ 184. As nothing teaches, so nothing delights more than history. The first of these recommends it to the study of grown men, the latter makes me think it the fittest for a young lad, who as soon as he is instructed in chronology, and acquainted with the several epochs in use in this part of the world, and can reduce them to the Julian Period, should then have some Latin history put into his hand. The choice should be directed by the easiness of the stile; for wherever he begins, chronology will keep it from confusion; and the pleasantness of the subject inviting him to read, the language will insensibly be got without that terrible vexation and uneasiness which children suffer where they are put into books beyond their capacity; such as are the Roman orators and poets, only to learn the Roman language. When he has by reading master’d the easier, such perhaps as Justin, Eutropius, Quintius Curtius, &c. the next degree to these will give him no great trouble: and thus by a gradual progress from the plaintest and easiest historians, he may at last come to read the most difficult and sublime of the Latin authors, such as are Tully, Virgil, and Horace.

§ 185. The knowledge of virtue, all along from the beginning, in all the instances he is capable of, being taught him more by practice than rules; and the love of reputation, instead of satisfying his appetite, being made habitual in him, I know not whether he should read any other discourses of morality but what he finds in the Bible; or have any system of ethicks put into his hand till he can read Tully’s Offices not as a school-boy to learn Latin, but as one that would be informed in the principles and precepts of virtue for the conduct of his life.

§ 186. When he has pretty well digested Tully’s Offices, and added to it, Puffendorf de Officio Hominis & Civis, it may be seasonable to set him upon Grotius de Jure Belli & Pacis, or, which perhaps is the better of the two, Puffendorf de Jure naturali & Gentium; wherein he will be instructed in the natural rights of men, and the original and foundations of society, and the duties resulting from thence. This general part of civil-law and history, are studies which a gentleman should not barely touch at, but constantly dwell upon, and never have done with. A virtuous and well-behaved young man, that is well-versed in the general part of the civil-law (which concerns not the chicane of private cases, but the affairs and intercourse of civilized nations in general, grounded upon principles of reason) understands Latin well, and can write a good hand, one may turn loose into the world with great assurance that he will find employment and esteem every where.

§ 187. It would be strange to suppose an English gentleman should be ignorant of the law of his country. This, whatever station he is in, is so requisite, that from a Justice of the Peace to a Minister of State I know no place he can well fill without it. I do not mean the chicane or wrangling and captious part of the law: a gentleman, whose business is to seek the true measures of right and wrong, and not the arts how to avoid doing the one, and secure himself in doing the other, ought to be as far from such a study of the law, as he is concerned diligently to apply himself to that wherein he may be serviceable to his country. And to that purpose, I think the right way for a gentleman to study our law, which he does not design for his calling, is to take a view of our English constitution and government in the antient books of the common-law, and some more modern writers, who out of them have given an account of this government. And having got a true idea of that, then to read our history, and with it join in every king’s reign the laws then made. This will give an insight into the reason of our statutes, and shew the true ground upon which they came to be made, and what weight they ought to have.

§ 188. Rhetorick and logick being the arts that in the ordinary method usually follow immediately after grammar, it may perhaps be wondered that I have said to little of them. The reason is, because of the little advantage young people receive by them: for I have seldom or never observed any one to get the skill of reasoning well, or speaking handsomely, by studying those rules which pretend to reach it: and therefore I would have a young gentleman take a view of them in the shortest systems could be found, without dwelling long on the contemplation and study of those formalities. Right reasoning is founded on something else than the predicaments and predicables, and does not consist in talking in mode and figure it self. But ’tis beside my present business to enlarge upon this speculation. To come therefore to what we have in hand; if you would have your son reason well, let him read Chillingworth; and if you would have him speak well, let him be conversant in Tully, to give him the true idea of eloquence; and let him read those things that are well writ in English, to perfect his style in the purity of our language.

§ 189. If the use and end of right reasoning be to have right notions and a right judgment of things, to distinguish betwixt truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and to act accordingly; be sure not to let your son be bred up in the art and formality of disputing, either practising it himself, or admiring it in others; unless instead of an able man, you desire to have him an insignificant wrangler, opiniator in discourse, and priding himself in contradicting others; or, which is worse, questioning every thing, and thinking there is no such thing as truth to be sought, but only victory, in disputing. There cannot be any thing so disingenuous, so misbecoming a gentleman or any one who pretends to be a rational creature, as not to yield to plain reason and the conviction of clear arguments. Is there any thing more consistent with civil conversation, and the end of all debate, than not to take an answer, though never so full and satisfactory, but still to go on with the dispute as long as equivocal sounds can furnish (a medius terminus) a term to wrangle with on the one side, or a distinction on the other; whether pertinent or impertinent, sense or nonsense, agreeing with or contrary to what he had said before, it matters not. For this, in short, is the way and perfection of logical disputes, that the opponent never takes any answer, nor the respondent ever yields to any argument. This neither of them must do, whatever becomes of truth or knowledge, unless he will pass for a poor baffled wretch, and lie under the disgrace of not being able to maintain whatever he has once affirm’d, which is the great aim and glory in disputing. Truth is to be found and supported by a mature and due consideration of things themselves, and not by artificial terms and ways of arguing: these lead not men so much into the discovery of truth, as into a captious and fallacious use of doubtful words, which is the most useless and most offensive way of talking, and such as least suits a gentleman or a lover of truth of any thing in the world.

There can scarce be a greater defect in a gentleman than not to express himself well either in writing or speaking. But yet I think I may ask my reader, whether he doth not know a great many, who live upon their estates, and so with the name should have the qualities of gentlemen, who cannot so much as tell a story as they should, much less speak clearly and persuasively in any business. This I think not to be so much their fault, as the fault of their education; for I must, without partiality, do my countrymen this right, that where they apply themselves, I see none of their neighbours outgo them. They have been taught rhetorick, but yet never taught how to express themselves handsomely with their tongues or pens in the language they are always to use; as if the names of the figures that embellish’d the discourses of those who understood the art of speaking, were the very art and skill of speaking well. This, as all other things of practice, is to be learn’d not by a few or a great many rules given, but by exercise and application according to good rules, or rather patterns, till habits are got, and a facility of doing it well.

Agreeable hereunto, perhaps it might not be amiss to make children, as soon as they are capable of it, often to tell a story of any thing they know; and to correct at first the most remarkable fault they are guilty of in their way putting it together. When that fault is cured, then to shew them the next, and so on, till one after another, all, at least the gross ones, are mended. When they can tell tales pretty well, then it may be the time to make them write them. The Fables of Æsop, the only book almost that I know fit for children, may afford them matter for this exercise of writing English, as well as for reading and translating, to enter them in the Latin tongue. When they have got past the faults of grammar, and can join in a continued coherent discourse the several parts of a story, without bald and unhandsome forms of transition (as is usual) often repeated, he that desires to perfect them yet farther in this, which is the first step to speaking well and needs no invention, may have recourse to Tully, and by putting in practice those rules which that master of eloquence gives in his first book de inventione, § 20, make them know wherein the skill and graces of an handsome narrative, according to the several subjects and designs of it, lie. Of each of which rules fit examples may be found out, and therein they may be shewn how others have practised them. The antient classick authors afford plenty of such examples, which they should be made not only to translate, but have set before them as patterns for their daily imitation.

When they understand how to write English with due connexion, propriety and order, and are pretty well masters of a tolerable narrative style, they may be advanced to writing of letters; wherein they should not be put upon any strains of wit or compliment, but taught to express their own plain easy sense, without any incoherence, confusion or roughness. And when they are perfect in this, they may, to raise their thoughts, have set before them the examples of Voitures, for the entertainment of their friends at a distance, with letters of compliment, mirth, raillery or diversion; and Tully’s Epistles, as the best pattern whether for business or conversation. The writing of letters has so much to do in all the occurrences of human life, that no gentleman can avoid shewing himself in this kind of writing. Occasions will daily force him to make this use of his pen, which, besides the consequences that, in his affairs, his well or ill managing of it often draws after it, always lays him open to a severer examination of his breeding, sense, and abilities, than oral discourses; whose transient faults dying for the most part with the sound that gives them life, and so not subject to a strict review, more easily escape observation and censure.

Had the methods of education been directed to their right end, one would have thought this so necessary a part could not have been neglected whilst themes and verses in Latin, of no use at all, were so constantly every where pressed, to the racking of children’s inventions beyond their strength and hindering their chearful progress in learning the tongues by unnatural difficulties. But custom has so ordain’d it, and who dares disobey? And would it not be very unreasonable to require of a learned country school-master (who has all the tropes and figures in Farnaby’s Rhetorick at his fingers’ ends) to teach his scholar to express himself handsomely in English, when it appears to be so little his business or thought, that the boy’s mother (despised, ’tis like, as illiterate for not having read a system of logick and rhetorick) outdoes him in it?

To write and speak correctly gives a grace and gains a favourable attention to what one has to say: and since ’tis English that an English gentleman will have constant use of, that is the language he should chiefly cultivate, and wherein most care should be taken to polish and perfect his style. To speak or write better Latin than English, may make a man be talk’d of, but he would find it more to his purpose to express himself well in his own tongue, that he uses every moment, than to have the vain commendation of others for a very insignificant quality. This I find universally neglected, and no care taken any where to improve young men in their own language, that they may thoroughly understand and be masters of it. If any one among us have a facility or purity more than ordinary in his mother tongue, it is owing to chance, or his genius, or any thing rather than to his education or any care of his teacher. To mind what English his pupil speaks or writes, is below the dignity of one bred up amongst Greek and Latin, though he have but little of them himself. These are the learned languages fit only for learned men to meddle with and teach; English is the language of the illiterate vulgar: tho’ yet we see the polity of some of our neighbours hath not thought it beneath the publick care to promote and reward the improvement of their own language. Polishing and enriching their tongue is no small business amongst them; it hath colleges and stipends appointed it, and there is raised amongst them a great ambition and emulation of writing correctly: and we see what they are come to by it, and how far they have spread one of the worst languages possibly in this part of the world, if we look upon it as it was in some few reigns backwards, whatever it be now. The great men among the Romans were daily exercising themselves in their own language; and we find yet upon record the names of orators, who taught some of their emperors Latin, though it were their mother tongue.

’Tis plain the Greeks were yet more nice in theirs. All other speech was barbarous to them but their own, and no foreign language appears to have been studied or valued amongst that learned and acute people; tho’ it be past doubt that they borrowed their learning and philosophy from abroad.

I am not here speaking against Greek and Latin; I think they ought to be studied, and the Latin at least understood well by every gentleman. But whatever foreign languages a young man meddles with (and the more he knows the better) that which he should critically study, and labour to get a facility, clearness and elegancy to express himself in, should be his own; and to this purpose he should daily be exercised in it.

§ 190. Natural philosophy, as a speculative science, I imagine we have none, and perhaps I may think I have reason to say we never shall be able to make a science of it. The works of nature are contrived by a wisdom, and operate by ways too far surpassing our faculties to discover or capacities to conceive, for us ever to be able to reduce them into a science. Natural philosophy being the knowledge of the principles, properties and operations of things as they are in themselves, I imagine there are two parts of it, one comprehending spirits, with their nature and qualities, and the other bodies. The first of these is usually referred to metaphysicks: but under what title soever the consideration of spirits comes, I think it ought to go before the study of matter and body, not as a science that can be methodized into a system, and treated of upon principles of knowledge; but as an enlargement of our minds towards a truer and fuller comprehension of the intellectual world to which we are led both by reason and revelation. And since the clearest and largest discoveries we have of other spirits, besides God and our own souls, is imparted to us from heaven by revelation, I think the information that at least young people should have of them, should be taken from that revelation. To this purpose, I conclude, it would be well, if there were made a good history of the Bible, for young people to read; wherein if every thing that is fit to be put into it, were laid down in its due order of time, and several things omitted which are suited only to riper age, that confusion which is usually produced by promiscuous reading of the Scripture, as it lies now bound up in our Bibles, would be avoided. And also this other good obtained, that by reading of it constantly, there would be instilled into the minds of children a notion and belief of spirits, they having so much to do in all the transactions of that history, which will be a good preparation to the study of bodies. For without the notion and allowance of spirit, our philosophy will be lame and defective in one main part of it, when it leaves out the contemplation of the most excellent and powerful part of the creation.