In the writing by John Locke called “Thoughts concerning Education” we get an idea of his thoughts on the importance and impact of education as well as in his writing “Conduct of the Understanding.” Both of these writings have a place in the history of educational theory. This subject appears to be important to him and he gave it much thought. He stressed the power of education in the growth of the mind. Some of the comments he made were as the following; “the minds of children as easily turned, this way or that, as water itself” and “we are born with faculties and powers, capable almost of anything;” and, “as it is in the body, so it is in the mind, practice makes it what it is.” These comments and others of great insight show how strong of a conviction he had in the power of education. His opinions on the topic of education have contributed to and affected the thoughts of every theorizer in the field since his day.
It was in 1693 and at the age of sixty-one that Locke published “Some thoughts concerning education.” These writings came from a series of letters he had written to a friend, Edward Clarke, giving him advice on the proper way to educate his son. From these letters the field of education was given the following theories which are important contributions:
“The mind at birth possesses no innate ideas. The mind of man is a “tabula rasa” or blank slate at birth, upon which is impressed many sense impressions. All knowledge proceeds through sense experience. As the mind stores up a variety of sense impressions, associations occur which provide new knowledge. The mind is consequently passive. The senses provide the mind with the materials which represent reality. These materials are not identical with the object outside of the mind. The material is the idea within the mind which represents the object outside the mind being received by the senses. By combining, comparing and analyzing these materials or ideas arising through sensations, we derive thoughts. Knowledge is not sense perception but intellectual perception.”
Locke argued that it is wrong to impose any one religion upon the free consciences of people. People ought to live in complete tolerance of one another’s faiths. In his Letters Concerning Toleration he states that no one religion is capable of demonstrating its exclusive claim to be the one and true religion. Of course that was back then in the 1600’s. I wonder what he would think today.
According to Locke, governments were organized for the protection of all the citizens and society was to be formed by the unanimous agreement of its members to live in one community for purposes of protection. He proposed a government by the People. Where the form of government derives from the consent of the majority of the citizens. Since all governments are created by the people, the ultimate authority resides with the people and not with the created government. He also believed that governments exist for the protection of the natural rights of every citizen. He stated that these are the rights of life, liberty and property. He felt that when any government attempted to remove these rights that the government would become an unjust aggressor. He said that no citizen ever gives up his natural rights and as such the people have the right to resist when a government abuses the powers entrusted to it. He claimed that the act of resistance is not rebellion but self-defense. These philosophies are those that the writers of our constitution embraced and I for one am very grateful for his contribution to the freedoms I enjoy every day. What greater thing can our children be taught in the schools than these concepts of freedom.
Locke said that the purpose of education is to produce an individual with a sound mind in a sound body, so as to better serve his country. He thought that the content of education should depend on a person’s station in life. He said that the common man only required moral, social and vocational knowledge with the Bible being a good source along with well developed vocational knowledge. He however felt that gentlemen should have an education of the highest quality because it was the gentleman who would come into positions of leadership and who would be leading his country. He also believed that the gentleman needed a thorough knowledge of his own language. He agreed with Milton and other Puritans that the content of curriculum needed to serve a practical end. So he suggested that contemporary foreign languages, history, geography, economics and math and science all be introduced. He said that all Christians needed to live virtuously and that the gentleman needed to develop the control and poise of outward behavior of excellent manners. Locke stressed that the education of the gentleman had to aim at developing correct social skills. He further stressed that they be able to apply intellectual and moral knowledge in governing practical affairs. The education received needed to be such that it would lead to a successful life in the practical affairs of society. He also felt that good books and scholarship would bring satisfaction in life.
Those are just some of the main concepts regarding and affecting education which Locke brought to the world in the late 1600’s.