In Locke’s “Thoughts” we have no such comprehensive scheme as is presented in the “Tractate.” At another time Locke sketched in outline a national system of education; here he deals only with the home training of a gentleman’s son. He scorns the schools of the day, and urges great care in the selection of a tutor. Since Locke’s time schools have so improved that he might now revise his opinion on this point, as he might on others; for it must be confessed that Locke was not in the modern sense a student of child psychology, nor of mental and physical development in general. Thus his advice on the feeding of children, the general tenor of which is good, could hardly be followed with safety in detail. But for us the chief interest of Locke’s essay is in his conception of the moral discipline of children by their parents and teachers; and since he was a man of keen observation, wide experience, clear principles, and much human sympathy, his remarks on this subject are worth careful study.

The gist of his counsel may be put thus: abandon the rod, except as a last resort; abandon scolding, threats, rules, rewards, arguments, and persuasion; train to right thinking and right action through the use of approval and affection, with all their normal accompaniment of benefits, when children behave properly, and of disapproval and coldness, with their natural consequences in the withdrawal of pleasures and companionship, when children misbehave. But above all, use this moral discipline morally—that is, with direct reference to your child’s motives, to his will in the matter, not with reference merely to the outward effect of his actions. Locke urges, in reality, a steady, consistent, sympathetic, yet dispassionate moral pressure as the surest means of bringing children to good conduct. He would have them learn “to love what they ought to love and hate what they ought to hate” as a matter first of habit, to be approved by reason only as they mature: but from the beginning he would have children act not in mere conformity to external requirements, but with a willing adoption of standards always clearly revealed and, as time goes on, properly explained. He would use authority as a moral agent to induce purpose.

There is wisdom in Locke’s words. Even under more modern conceptions of child nature, parents can hardly find general principles better than those he gives for guidance in the concrete exigencies of moral training in the home. All moral training is difficult, because it demands character and judgment: it is truly as much a “training of parents” as of children. But although there is much to be learned from modern writing on many an aspect of child life of which John Locke was wholly ignorant, he put in his way certain essential truths which have often been put since in different terms but to the same effect.

As to learning, Locke agrees with the fundamental point in Milton’s “Tractate.” In Latin, he decries overemphasis on grammar and would substitute for it extended reading. He would also combine with literary study a training in handicraft, which parallels Milton’s scheme of learning from workers in the various fields of practical activity. But the contrast between Locke’s point of view, which is individualistic, and Milton’s, which is national, is brought out by the fact that Milton would have practical men teach his young academicians with a view to the serious use of their knowledge and skill in public affairs, whereas Locke looks upon a handicraft chiefly as a good gentlemanly avocation.

On one point Locke has been generally misinterpreted. He has been held to be a typical advocate of the “doctrine of formal discipline”—the doctrine which asserts that studies are to be chosen not because of their objective usefulness but because of their supposed efficacy in the training of some intellectual “faculty” or in the production of an obscurely defined (and in reality wholly mythical) “general power.” The passage on the training of memory, § 176, is clear proof that Locke held no such views as have been imputed to him. He did insist, to be sure, on the necessity of intellectual and moral discipline, but only on such discipline of specific habits of mind and will as is generally admitted to be possible and desirable.

These two essays were written some three hundred years ago. They reflect many customs, standards, and traditions foreign to modern thought. They name men and books most modern readers never heard of. Their authors were not even imbued with some of the most forward-looking conceptions and ideals of their own day. But, these things admitted, we must also admit that the essays are essentially fresh and valuable still—and profit by their wisdom if we can.〖The best single book on education in the seventeenth century is Adamson’s “Pioneers of Modern Education,” Cambridge University Press.〗

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