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

Some Thoughts Concerning Education

Sections 71–80

§ 71. Having under consideration how great the influence of company is, and how prone we are all, especially children, to imitation, I must here take the liberty to mind parents of this one thing, viz. That he that will have his son have a respect for him and his orders, must himself have a great reverence for his son. Maxima debetur pueris reverentia. You must do nothing before him, which you would not have him imitate. If any thing escape you, which you would have pass for a fault in him, he will be sure to shelter himself under your example, and shelter himself so as that it will not be easy to come at him, to correct it in him the right way. If you punish him for what he sees you practise yourself, he will not think that severity to proceed from kindness in you, careful to amend a fault in him; but will be apt to interpret it the peevishness and arbitrary imperiousness of a father, who, without any ground for it, would deny his son the liberty and pleasures he takes himself. Or if you assume to yourself the liberty you have taken, as a privilege belonging to riper years, to which a child must not aspire, you do but add new force to your example, and recommend the action the more powerfully to him. For you must always remember, that children affect to be men earlier than is thought; and they love breeches, not for their cut or ease, but because the having them is a mark or step towards manhood. What I say of the father’s carriage before his children, must extend itself to all those who have any authority over them, or for whom he would have them have any respect.

§ 72. But to return to the business of rewards and punishments. All the actions of childishness, and unfashionable carriage, and whatever time and age will of itself be sure to reform, being (as I have said) exempt from the discipline of the rod, there will not be so much need of beating children as is generally made use of. To which if we add learning to read, write, dance, foreign language, &c. as under the same privilege, there will be but very rarely an occasion for blows or force in an ingenuous education. The right way to teach them those things, is, to give them a liking and inclination to what you suppose to them to be learn’d, and that will engage their industry and application. This I think no hard matter to do, if children be handled as they should be, and the rewards and punishments above-mention’d be carefully apply’d, and with them these few rules observ’d in the method of instructing them.

§ 73. 1. None of the things they are to learn, should ever be made a burthen to them, or impos’d on them as a task. Whatever is so propos’d, presently becomes irksome; the mind takes an aversion to it, though before it were a thing of delight or indifferency. Let a child but be order’d to whip his top at a certain time every day, whether he has or has not a mind to it; let this be but requir’d of him as a duty, wherein he must spend so many hours morning and afternoon, and see whether he will not soon be weary of any play at this rate. Is it not so with grown men? What they do chearfully of themselves, do they not presently grow sick of, and can no more endure, as soon as they find it is expected of them as a duty? Children have as much a mind to shew that they are free, that their own good actions come from themselves, that they are absolute and independent, as any of the proudest of you grown men, think of them as you please.

§ 74. 2. As a consequence of this, they should seldom be put about doing even those things you have got an inclination in them to, but when they have a mind and disposition to it. He that loves reading, writing, musick, &c. finds yet in himself certain seasons wherein those things have no relish to him; and if at that time he forces himself to it, he only pothers and wearies himself to no purpose. So it is with children. This change of temper should be carefully observ’d in them, and the favourable seasons of aptitude and inclination be heedfully laid hold of: and if they are not often enough forward of themselves, a good disposition should be talk’d into them, before they be set upon any thing. This I think no hard matter for a discreet tutor to do, who has study’d his pupil’s temper, and will be at a little pains to fill his head with suitable ideas, such as may make him in love with the present business. By this means a great deal of time and tiring would be sav’d: for a child will learn three times as much when he is in tune, as he will with double the time and pains when he goes awkwardly or is dragg’d unwillingly to it. If this were minded as it should, children might be permitted to weary themselves with play, and yet have time enough to learn what is suited to the capacity of each age. But no such thing is consider’d in the ordinary way of education, nor can it well be. That rough discipline of the rod is built upon other principles, has no attraction in it, regards not what humour children are in, nor looks after favourable seasons of inclination. And indeed it would be ridiculous, when compulsion and blows have rais’d an aversion in the child to his task, to expect he should freely of his own accord leave his play, and with pleasure court the occasions of learning; whereas, were matters order’d right, learning anything they should be taught might be made as much a recreation to their play, as their play is to their learning. The pains are equal on both sides. Nor is it that which troubles them; for they love to be busy, and the change and variety is that which naturally delights them. The only odds is, in that which we call play they act at liberty, and employ their pains (whereof you may observe them never sparing) freely; but what they are to learn is forc’d upon them, they are call’d, compell’d, and driven to it. This is that, that at first entrance balks and cools them; they want their liberty. Get them but to ask their tutor to teach them, as they do often their play-fellows, instead of his calling upon them to learn, and they being satisfy’d that they act as freely in this as they do in other things, they will go on with as much pleasure in it, and it will not differ from their other sports and play. By these ways, carefully pursu’d, a child may be brought to desire to be taught any thing you have a mind he should learn. The hardest part, I confess, is with the first or eldest; but when once he is set right, it is easy by him to lead the rest whither one will.

§ 75. Though it be past doubt, that the fittest time for children to learn any thing, is, when their minds are in tune, and well dispos’d to it; when neither flagging of spirit, nor intentness of thought upon something else, makes them awkward and averse; yet two things are to be taken care of: 1. That these seasons either not being warily observ’d, and laid hold on as often as they return, or else, not returning as often as they should, the improvement of the child be not thereby neglected, and so he be let grow into an habitual idleness, and confirm’d in this disposition: 2. That though other things are ill learn’d, when the mind is either indispos’d, or otherwise taken up; yet it is of great moment, and worth our endeavours, to teach the mind to get the mastery over itself, and to be able, upon choice, to take itself off from the hot pursuit of one thing, and set itself upon another with facility and delight, or at any time to shake off its sluggishness, and vigorously employ itself about what reason, or the advice of another shall direct. This is to be done in children, by trying them sometimes, when they are by laziness unbent, or by avocation bent another way, and endeavouring to make them buckle to the thing propos’d. If by this means the mind can get an habitual dominion over itself, lay by ideas or business as occasion requires, and betake itself to new and less acceptable employments without reluctancy or discomposure, it will be an advantage of more consequence than Latin or logick or most of those things children are usually requir’d to learn.

§ 76. Children being more active and busy in that age, than in any other part of their life, and being indifferent to any thing they can do, so they may be but doing, dancing and Scotch-hoppers would be the same thing to them, were the encouragements and discouragements equal. But to things we would have them learn, the great and only discouragement I can observe, is, that they are call’d to it, ’tis made their business, they are teaz’d and chid about it, and do it with trembling and apprehension; or, when they come willingly to it, are kept too long at it, till they are quite tir’d: all which intrenches too much on that natural freedom they extremely affect. And it is that liberty alone which gives the true relish and delight to their ordinary play-games. Turn the tables, and you will find they will soon change their application; especially if they see the examples of others whom they esteem and think above themselves. And if the things which they observe others to do, be order’d so, that they insinuate themselves into them as the privilege of an age or condition above theirs; then ambition, and the desire still to get forward and higher, and to be like those above them, will set them on work, and make them go on with vigour and pleasure; pleasure in what they have begun by their own desire, in which way the enjoyment of their dearly beloved freedom will be no small encouragement to them. To all which, if there be added the satisfaction of credit and reputation, I am apt to think there will need no other spur to excite their application and assiduity, as much as is necessary. I confess, there needs patience and skill, gentleness and attention, and a prudent conduct to attain this at first. But why have you a tutor, if there needed no pains? But when this is once establish’d, all the rest will follow, more easily than in any more severe and imperious discipline. And I think it no hard matter to gain this point; I am sure it will not be, where children have no ill examples set before them. The great danger therefore, I apprehend, is only from servants, and other ill-order’d children, or such other vicious or foolish people, who spoil children both by the ill pattern they set before them in their own ill manners, and by giving them together the two things they should never have at once; I mean vicious pleasures and commendation.

§ 77. As children should very seldom be corrected by blows, so I think frequent, and especially passionate chiding of almost as ill consequence. It lessens the authority of the parents, and the respect of the child; for I bid you still remember, they distinguish early betwixt passion and reason: and as they cannot but have a reverence for what comes from the latter, so they quickly grow into a contempt of the former; or if it causes a present terror, yet it soon wears off, and natural inclination will easily learn to slight such scare-crows which make a noise, but are not animated by reason. Children being to be restrain’d by the parents only in vicious (which, in their tender years, are only a few) things, a look or nod only ought to correct them when they do amiss; or, if words are sometimes to be us’d, they ought to be grave, kind, and sober, representing the ill or unbecomingness of the faults, rather than a hasty rating of the child for it; which makes him not sufficiently distinguish, whether your dislike be not more directed to him than his fault. Passionate chiding usually carries rough and ill language with it, which has this fartser ill effect, that it teaches and justifies it in children: and the names that their parents or præceptors give them, they will not be asham’d or backward to bestow on others, having so good authority for the use of them.

§ 78. I foresee here it will be objected to me, what then, will you have children never beaten nor chid for any fault? This will be to let loose the reins to all kind of disorder. Not so much, as is imagin’d, if a right course has been taken in the first seasoning of their minds, and implanting that awe of their parents above mentioned. For beating, by constant observation, is found to do little good, where the smart of it is all the punishment is fear’d or felt in it; for the influence of that quickly wears out, with the memory of it. But yet there is one, and but one fault, for which, I think, children should be beaten, and that is, obstinacy or rebellion. And in this too, I would have it order’d so, if it can be, that the shame of the whipping, and not the pain, should be the greatest part of the punishment. Shame of doing amiss, and deserving chastisement, is the only true restraint belonging to virtue. The smart of the rod, if shame accompanies it not, soon ceases, and is forgotten, and will quickly by use lose its terror. I have known the children of a person of quality kept in awe by the fear of having their shoes pull’d off, as much as others by apprehensions of a rod hanging over them. Some such punishment I think better than beating; for ’tis shame of the fault, and the disgrace that attends it, that they should stand in fear of, rather than pain, if you would have them have a temper truly ingenuous. But stubbornness, and an obstinate disobedience, must be master’d with force and blows; for this there is no other remedy. Whatever particular action you bid him do, or forbear, you must be sure to see your self obey’d; no quarter in this case, no resistance: for when once it comes to be a trial of skill, a contest for mastery betwixt you, as it is if you command and he refuses, you must be sure to carry it, whatever blows it costs, if a nod or words will not prevail; unless, for ever after you intend to live in obedience to your son. A prudent and kind mother of my acquaintance, was, on such an occasion, forc’d to whip her little daughter, at her first coming home from nurse, eight times successively the same morning, before she could master her stubbornness, and obtain a compliance in a very easy and indifferent matter. If she had left off sooner, and stopp’d at the seventh whipping, she had spoil’d the child for ever, and, by her unprevailing blows, only confirm’d her refractoriness, very hardly afterwards to be cur’d: but wisely persisting till she had bent her mind, and suppled her will, the only end of correction and chastisement, she establish’d her authority thoroughly in the very first occasions, and had ever after a very ready compliance and obedience in all things from her daughter; for as this was the first time, so I think it was the last too she ever struck her.

The pain of the rod, the first occasion that requires it, continu’d and increas’d, without leaving off till it has throughly prevail’d, should first bend the mind, and settle the parent’s authority; and then gravity, mix’d with kindness, should for ever after keep it.

This, if well reflected on, would make people more wary in the use of the rod and the cudgel, and keep them from being so apt to think beating the safe and universal remedy to be apply’d at random on all occasions. This is certain, however, if it does no good, it does great harm; if it reaches not the mind, and makes not the will supple, it hardens the offender; and whatever pain he has suffer’d for it, does but endear him to his beloved stubbornness, which has got him this time the victory, and prepares him to contest, and hope for it for the future. This I doubt not but by ill-order’d correction many have been taught to be obstinate and refractory who otherwise would have been very pliant and tractable. For if you punish a child so, as if it were only to revenge the past fault, which has rais’d your choler, what operation can this have upon his mind, which is the part to be amended? If there were no sturdy humor or wilfulness mix’d with his fault, there was nothing in it that requir’d the severity of blows. A kind or grave admonition is enough to remedy the slips of frailty, forgetfulness, or inadvertency, and is as much as they will stand in need of. But if there were a perverseness in the will, if it were a design’d, resolv’d disobedience, the punishment is not to be measur’d by the greatness or smallness of the matter wherein it appear’d, but by the opposition it carries, and stands in, to that respect and submission is due to the father’s orders; which must always be rigorously exacted, and the blows by pauses laid on, till they reach the mind, and you perceive the signs of a true sorrow, shame, and purpose of obedience.

This, I confess, requires something more than setting children a task, and whipping them without any more a-do if it be not done, and done to our fancy. This requires care, attention, observation, and a nice study of children’s tempers, and weighing their faults well, before we come to this sort of punishment. But is not that better than always to have the rod in hand as the only instrument of government? And by frequent use of it on all occasions, misapply and render inefficacious this last and useful remedy, where there is need of it? For what else can be expected, when it is promiscuously us’d upon every little slip? When a mistake in concordance, or a wrong position in verse, shall have the severity of the lash, in a well-temper’d and industrious lad, as surely as a wilful crime in an obstinate and perverse offender; how can such a way of correction be expected to do good on the mind, and set that right? Which is the only thing to be look’d after; and when set right, brings all the rest that you can desire along with it.

§ 79. Where a wrong bent of the will wants not amendment, there can be no need of blows. All other faults, where the mind is rightly dispos’d, and refuses not the government and authority of the father or tutor, are but mistakes, and may often be overlook’d; or when they are taken notice of, need no other but the gentle remedies of advice, direction, and reproof, till the repeated and wilful neglect of those, shews the fault to be in the mind, and that a manifest perverseness of the will lies at the root of their disobedience. But whenever obstinacy, which is an open defiance, appears, that cannot be wink’d at or neglected, but must, in the first instance, be subdu’d and master’d; only care must be had, that we mistake not and we must be sure it is obstinacy and nothing else.

§ 80. But since the occasions of punishment, especially beating, are as much to be avoided as may be, I think it should not be often brought to this point. If the awe I spoke of be once got, a look will be sufficient in most cases. Nor indeed should the same carriage, seriousness, or application be expected from young children as from those of riper growth. They must be permitted, as I said, the foolish and childish actions suitable to their years, without taking notice of them. Inadvertency, carelessness, and gayety, is the character of that age. I think the severity I spoke of is not to extend itself to such unseasonable restraints. Nor is that hastily to be interpreted obstinacy or wilfulness, which is the natural product of their age or temper. In such miscarriages they are to be assisted, and help’d towards an amendment, as weak people under a natural infirmity; which, though they are warn’d of, yet every relapse must not be counted a perfect neglect, and they presently treated as obstinate. Faults of frailty, as they should never be neglected, or let pass without minding, so, unless the will mix with them, they should never be exaggerated, or very sharply reprov’d; but with a gentle hand set right, as time and age permit. By this means, children will come to see what ’tis in any miscarriage that is chiefly offensive, and so learn to avoid it. This will encourage them to keep their wills right; which is the great business, when they find that it preserves them from any great displeasure, and that in all their other failings they meet with the kind concern and help, rather than the anger and passionate reproaches of their tutor and parents. Keep them from vice and vicious dispositions, and such a kind of behaviour in general will come with every degree of their age, as is suitable to that age and the company they ordinarily converse with; and as they grow in years, they will grow in attention and application. But that your words may always carry weight and authority with them, if it shall happen, upon any occasion, that you bid him leave off the doing of any even childish things, you must be sure to carry the point, and not let him have the mastery. But yet, I say, I would have the father seldom interpose his authority and command in these cases, or in any other, but such as have a tendency to vicious habits. I think there are better ways of prevailing with them: and a gentle persuasion in reasoning, (when the first point of submission to your will is got) will most times do much better.