John Locke (16321704). Some Thoughts Concerning Education. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
Some Thoughts Concerning Education
§ 111. Crying is a fault that should not be tolerated in children; not only for the unpleasant and unbecoming noise it fills the house with, but for more considerable reasons, in reference to the children themselves; which is to be our aim in education.
1. Their crying is very often a striving for mastery, and an open declaration of their insolence or obstinacy; when they have not the power to obtain their desire, they will, by their clamour and sobbing, maintain their title and right to it. This is an avowd continuing their claim, and a sort of remonstrance against the oppression and injustice of those who deny them what they have a mind to.
1. The obstinate or stomachful crying should by no means be permitted, because it is but another way of flattering their desires, and encouraging those passions which tis our main business to subdue: and if it be, as often it is, upon the receiving any correction, it quite defeats all the good effects of it; for any chastisement which leaves them in this declard opposition, only serves to make them worse. The restraints and punishments laid on children are all misapplyd and lost, as far as they do not prevail over their wills, teach them to submit their passions, and make their minds supple and pliant to what their parents reason advises them now, and so prepare them to obey what their own reason shall advise hereafter. But if in any thing wherein they are crossd, they may be sufferd to go away crying, they confirm themselves in their desires, and cherish the ill humour, with a declaration of their right, and a resolution to satisfy their inclination the first opportunity. This therefore is another argument against the frequent use of blows: for, whenever you come to that extremity, tis not enough to whip or beat them, you must do it, till you find you have subdud their minds, till with submission and patience they yield to the correction; which you shall best discover by their crying, and their ceasing from it upon your bidding. Without this, the beating of children is but a passionate tyranny over them; and it is mere cruelty, and not correction, to put their bodies in pain, without doing their minds any good. As this gives us a reason why children should seldom be corrected, so it also prevents their being so. For if, whenever they are chastisd, it were done thus without passion, soberly, and yet effectually too, laying on the blows and smart not furiously, and all at once, but slowly, with reasoning between, and with observation how it wrought, stopping when it had made them pliant, penitent and yielding; they would seldom need the like punishment again, being made careful to avoid the fault that deservd it. Besides, by this means, as the punishment would not be lost for being too little, and not effectual, so it would be kept from being too much, if we gave off as soon as we perceivd that it reachd the mind, and that was betterd. For since the chiding or beating of children should be always the least that possibly may be, that which is laid on in the heat of anger, seldom observes that measure, but is commonly more than it should be, though it prove less than enough.
§ 113. 2. Many children are apt to cry, upon any little pain they suffer, and the least harm that befalls them puts them into complaints and bawling. This few children avoid: for it being the first and natural way to declare their sufferings or wants, before they can speak, the compassion that is thought due to that tender age foolishly encourages, and continues it in them long after they can speak. Tis the duty, I confess, of those about children, to compassionate them, whenever they suffer any hurt; but not to shew it in pitying them. Help and ease them the best you can, but by no means bemoan them. This softens their minds, and makes them yield to the little harms that happen to them; whereby they sink deeper into that part which alone feels, and makes larger wounds there, than otherwise they would. They should be hardend against all sufferings, especially of the body, and have no tenderness but what rises from an ingenuous shame, and a quick sense of reputation. The many inconveniences this life is exposd to, require we should not be too sensible of every little hurt. What our minds yield not to, makes but a slight impression, and does us but very little harm. Tis the suffering of our spirits that gives and continues the pain. This brawniness and insensibility of mind, is the best armour we can have against the common evils and accidents of life; and being a temper that is to be got by exercise and custom, more than any other way, the practice of it should be begun betimes; and happy is he that is taught it early. That effeminacy of spirit, which is to be prevented or cured, as nothing that I know so much increases in children as crying; so nothing, on the other side, so much checks and restrains, as their being hinderd from that sort of complaining. In the little harms they suffer from knocks and falls, they should not be pitied for falling, but bid do so again; which besides that it stops their crying, is a better way to cure their heedlessness, and prevent their tumbling another time, than either chiding or bemoaning them. But, let the hurts they receive be what they will, stop their crying, and that will give them more quiet and ease at present, and harden them for the future.
§ 114. The former sort of crying requires severity to silence it; and where a look, or a positive command will not do it, blows must: for it proceeding from pride, obstinacy, and stomach, the will, where the fault lies, must be bent, and made to comply, by a rigour sufficient to master it. But this latter being ordinarily from softness of mind, a quite contrary cause, ought to be treated with a gentler hand. Persuasion, or diverting the thoughts another way, or laughing at their whining, may perhaps be at first the proper method: but for this, the circumstances of the thing, and the particular temper of the child, must be considered. No certain unvariable rules can be given about it; but it must be left to the prudence of the parents or tutor. But this, I think, I may say in general, that there should be a constant discountenancing of this sort of crying also; and that the father, by his authority, should always stop it, mixing a greater degree of roughness in his looks or words, proportionately as the child is of a greater age, or a sturdier temper: But always let it be enough to silence their whimpering, and put an end to the disorder.
§ 115. Cowardice and courage are so nearly related to the forementiond tempers, that it may not be amiss here to take notice of them. Fear is a passion that, if rightly governed, has its use. And though self-love seldom fails to keep it watchful and high enough in us, yet there may be an excess on the daring side; fool-hardiness and insensibility of danger being as little reasonable, as trembling and shrinking at the approach of every little evil. Fear was given us as a monitor to quicken our industry, and keep us upon our guard against the approaches of evil; and therefore to have no apprehension of mischief at hand, not to make a just estimate of the danger, but heedlessly to run into it, be the hazard what it will, without considering of what use or consequence it may be, is not the resolution of a rational creature, but brutish fury. Those who have children of this temper, have nothing to do, but a little to awaken their reason, which self-preservation will quickly dispose them to hearken to, unless (which is usually the case) some other passion hurries them on head-long, without sense and without consideration. A dislike of evil is so natural to mankind, that nobody, I think, can be without fear of it: fear being nothing but an uneasiness under the apprehension of that coming upon us, which we dislike. And therefore, whenever any one runs into danger, we may say, tis under the conduct of ignorance, or the command of some more imperious passion, nobody being so much an enemy to himself, as to come within the reach of evil, out of free choice, and court danger for dangers sake. If it be therefore pride, vain-glory, or rage, that silences a childs fear, or makes him not hearken to its advice, those are by fit means to be abated, that a little consideration may allay his heat, and make him bethink himself, whether this attempt be worth the venture. But this being a fault that children are not so often guilty of, I shall not be more particular in its cure. Weakness of spirit is the more common defect, and therefore will require the greater care.
Courage, that makes us bear up against dangers that we fear and evils that we feel, is of great use in an estate, as ours is in this life, exposd to assaults on all hands: and therefore it is very advisable to get children into this armour as early as we can. Natural temper, I confess, does here a great deal: but even where that is defective, and the heart is in itself weak and timorous, it may, by a right management, be brought to a better resolution. What is to be done to prevent breaking childrens spirits by frightful apprehensions instilld into them when young, or bemoaning themselves under every little suffering, I have already taken notice; how to harden their tempers, and raise their courage, if we find them too much subject to fear, is farther to be considerd.
True fortitude, I take to be the quiet possession of a mans self, and an undisturbd doing his duty, whatever evil besets, or danger lies in his way. This there are so few men attain to, that we are not to expect it from children. But yet something may be done: and a wise conduct by insensible degrees may carry them farther than one expects.
The neglect of this great care of them, whilst they are young, is the reason, perhaps, why there are so few that have this virtue in its full latitude when they are men. I should not say this in a nation so naturally brave, as ours is, did I think that true fortitude required nothing but courage in the field, and a contempt of life in the face of an enemy. This, I confess, is not the least part of it, nor can be denied the laurels and honours always justly due to the valour of those who venture their lives for their country. But yet this is not all. Dangers attack us in other places besides the field of battle; and though death be the king of terrors, yet pain, disgrace and poverty, have frightful looks, able to discompose most men whom they seem ready to seize on: and there are those who contemn some of these, and yet are heartily frighted with the other. True fortitude is prepard for dangers of all kinds, and unmoved, whatsoever evil it be that threatens. I do not mean unmoved with any fear at all. Where danger shews it self, apprehension cannot, without stupidity, be wanting; where danger is, sense of danger should be; and so much fear as should keep us awake, and excite our attention, industry, and vigour; but not disturb the calm use of our reason, nor hinder the execution of what that dictates.
The first step to get this noble and manly steadiness, is, what I have above mentioned, carefully to keep children from frights of all kinds, when they are young. Let not any fearful apprehensions be talkd into them, nor terrible objects surprise them. This often so shatters and discomposes the spirits, that they never recover it again; but during their whole life, upon the first suggestion or appearance of any terrifying idea, are scatterd and confounded; the body is enervated, and the mind disturbd, and the man scarce himself, or capable of any composed or rational action. Whether this be from an habitual motion of the animal spirits, introducd by the first strong impression, or from the alteration of the constitution by some more unaccountable way, this is certain, that so it is. Instances of such who in a weak timorous mind, have borne, all their whole lives through, the effects of a fright when they were young, are every where to be seen, and therefore as much as may be to be prevented.
The next thing is by gentle degrees to accustom children to those things they are too much afraid of. But here great caution is to be used, that you do not make too much haste, nor attempt this cure too early, for fear lest you increase the mischief instead of remedying it. Little ones in arms may be easily kept out of the way of terrifying objects, and till they can talk and understand what is said to them, are scarce capable of that reasoning and discourse which should be used to let them know there is no harm in those frightful objects, which we would make them familiar with, and do, to that purpose by gentle degrees bring nearer and nearer to them. And therefore tis seldom there is need of any application to them of this kind, till after they can run about and talk. But yet, if it should happen that infants should have taken offence at any thing which cannot be easily kept out of their way, and that they shew marks of terror as often as it comes in sight; all the allays of fright, by diverting their thoughts, or mixing pleasant and agreeable appearances with it, must be used, till it be grown familiar and inoffensive to them.
I think we may observe, that, when children are first born, all objects of sight that do not hurt the eyes, are indifferent to them; and they are no more afraid of a blackamoor or a lion, than of their nurse or a cat. What is it then, that afterwards, in certain mixtures of shape and colour, comes to affright them? Nothing but the apprehensions of harm that accompanies those things. Did a child suck every day a new nurse, I make account it would be no more affrighted with the change of faces at six months old, than at sixty. The reason then why it will not come to a stranger, is, because having been accustomed to receive its food and kind usage only from one or two that are about it, the child apprehends, by coming into the arms of a stranger, the being taken from what delights and feeds it and every moment supplies its wants, which it often feels, and therefore fears when the nurse is away.
The only thing we naturally are afraid of is pain, or loss of pleasure. And because these are not annexed to any shape, colour, or size of visible objects, we are frighted with none of them, till either we have felt pain from them, or have notions put into us that they will do us harm. The pleasant brightness and lustre of flame and fire so delights children, that at first they always desire to be handling of it: but when constant experience has convinced them, by the exquisite pain it has put them to, how cruel and unmerciful it is, they are afraid to touch it, and carefully avoid it. This being the ground of fear, tis not hard to find whence it arises, and how it is to be cured in all mistaken objects of terror. And when the mind is confirmd against them, and has got a mastery over it self and its usual fears in lighter occasions, it is in good preparation to meet more real dangers. Your child shrieks, and runs away at the sight of a frog; let another catch it, and lay it down at a good distance from him: at first accustom him to look upon it; when he can do that, then to come nearer to it, and see it leap without emotion; then to touch it lightly, when it is held fast in anothers hand; and so on, till he can come to handle it as confidently as a butterfly or a sparrow. By the same way any other vain terrors may be removd; if care be taken, that you go not too fast, and push not the child on to a new degree of assurance, till he be thoroughly confirmd in the former. And thus the young soldier is to be traind on to the warfare of life; wherein care is to be taken, that more things be not represented as dangerous than really are so; and then, that whatever you observe him to be more frighted at than he should, you be sure to tole him on to by insensible degrees, till he at last, quitting his fears, masters the difficulty, and comes off with applause. Successes of this kind, often repeated, will make him find, that evils are not always so certain or so great as our fears represent them; and that the way to avoid them, is not to run away, or be discomposd, dejected, and deterrd by fear, where either our credit or duty requires us to go on.
But since the great foundation of fear in children is pain, the way to harden and fortify children against fear and danger is to accustom them to suffer pain. This tis possible will be thought, by kind parents, a very unnatural thing towards their children; and by most, unreasonable, to endeavour to reconcile any one to the sense of pain, by bringing it upon him. Twill be said: It may perhaps give the child an aversion for him that makes him suffer; but can never recommend to him suffering itself. This is a strange method. You will not have children whippd and punishd for their faults, but you would have them tormented for doing well, or for tormenting sake. I doubt not but such objections as these will be made, and I shall be thought inconsistent with my self, or fantastical, in proposing it. I confess, it is a thing to be managed with great discretion, and therefore it falls not out amiss, that it will not be receivd or relishd, but by those who consider well, and look into the reason of things. I would not have children much beaten for their faults, because I would not have them think bodily pain the greatest punishment: and I would have them, when they do well, be sometimes put in pain, for the same reason, that they might be accustomd to bear it, without looking on it as the greatest evil. How much education may reconcile young people to pain and sufference, the examples of Sparta do sufficiently shew: and they who have once brought themselves not to think bodily pain the greatest of evils, or that which they ought to stand most in fear of, have made no small advance towards virtue. But I am not so foolish to propose the Lacedæmonian discipline in our age or constitution. But yet I do say, that inuring children gently to suffer some degrees of pain without shrinking, is a way to gain firmness to their minds, and lay a foundation for courage and resolution in the future part of their lives.
The next thing is, sometimes designedly to put them in pain: but care must be taken that this be done when the child is in good humour, and satisfied of the good-will and kindness of him that hurts him, at the time that he does it. There must no marks of anger or displeasure on the one side, nor compassion or repenting on the other, go along with it: and it must be sure to be no more than the child can bear without repining or taking it amiss, or for a punishment. Managed by these degrees, and with such circumstances, I have seen a child run away laughing with good smart blows of a wand on his back, who would have cried for an unkind word, and have been very sensible of the chastisement of a cold look, from the same person. Satisfy a child by a constant course of your care and kindness, that you perfectly love him, and he may by degrees be accustomd to bear very painful and rough usage from you, without flinching or complaining: and this we see children do every day in play one with another. The softer you find your child is, the more you are to seek occasions, at fit times, thus to harden him. The great art in this is, to begin with what is but very little painful, and to proceed by insensible degrees, when you are playing, and in good humour with him, and speaking well of him: and when you have once got him to think himself made amends for his suffering by the praise is given him for his courage; when he can take a pride in giving such marks of his manliness, and can prefer the reputation of being brave and stout, to the avoiding a little pain, or the shrinking under it; you need not despair in time and by the assistance of his growing reason, to master his timorousness, and mend the weakness of his constitution. As he grows bigger, he is to be set upon bolder attempts than his natural temper carries him to; and whenever he is observd to flinch from what one has reason to think he would come off well in, if he had but courage to undertake, that he should be assisted in at first, and by degrees shamd to, till at last practice has given more assurance, and with it a mastery; which must be rewarded with great praise, and the good opinion of others, for his performance. When by these steps he has got resolution enough not to be deterrd from what he ought to do, by the apprehension of danger; when fear does not, in sudden or hazardous occurrences, discompose his mind, set his body a-trembling, and make him unfit for action, or run away from it, he has then the courage of a rational creature: and such an hardiness we should endeavour by custom and use to bring children to, as proper occasions come in our way.
§ 116. One thing I have frequently observd in children, that when they have got possession of any poor creature, they are apt to use it ill: they often torment, and treat very roughly, young birds, butterflies, and such other poor animals which fall into their hands, and that with a seeming kind of pleasure. This I think should be watched in them, and if they incline to any such cruelty, they should be taught to contrary usage. For the custom of tormenting and killing of beasts, will, by degrees, harden their minds even towards men; and they who delight in the suffering and destruction of inferior creatures, will not be apt to be very compassionate or benign to those of their own kind. Our practice takes notice of this in the exclusion of butchers from juries of life and death. Children should from the beginning be bred up in an abhorrence of killing or tormenting any living creature; and be taught not to spoil or destroy any thing, unless it be for the preservation or advantage of some other that is nobler. And truly, if the preservation of all mankind, as much as in him lies, were every ones persuasion, as indeed it is every ones duty, and the true principle to regulate our religion, politics and morality by, the world would be much quieter, and better naturd than it is. But to return to our present business; I cannot but commend both the kindness and prudence of a mother I knew, who was wont always to indulge her daughters, when any of them desired dogs, squirrels, birds, or any such things as young girls use to be delighted with: but then, when they had them, they must be sure to keep them well, and look diligently after them, that they wanted nothing, or were not ill used. For if they were negligent in their care of them, it was counted a great fault, which often forfeited their possession, or at least they faild not to be rebuked for it; whereby they were early taught diligence and good nature. And indeed, I think people should be accustomed, from their cradles, to be tender to all sensible creatures, and to spoil or waste nothing at all.
This delight they take in doing of mischief, whereby I mean spoiling of any thing to no purpose, but more especially the pleasure they take to put any thing in pain, that is capable of it; I cannot persuade my self to be any other than a foreign and introduced disposition, an habit borrowed from custom and conversation. People teach children to strike, and laugh when they hurt or see harm come to others: and they have the examples of most about them, to confirm them in it. All the entertainment and talk of history is nothing almost but fighting and killing: and the honour and renown that is bestowed on conquerors (who for the most part are but the great butchers of mankind) farther mislead growing youth, who by this means come to think slaughter the laudable business of mankind, and the most heroic of virtues. By these steps unnatural cruelty is planted in us; and what humanity abhors, custom reconciles and recommends to us, by laying it in the way to honour. Thus, by fashion and opinion, that comes to be a pleasure, which in itself neither is, nor can be any. This ought carefully to be watched, and early remedied; so as to settle and cherish the contrary and more natural temper of benignity and compassion in the room of it; but still by the same gentle methods which are to be applied to the other two faults before mentiond. It may not perhaps be unreasonable here to add this farther caution, viz., That the mischiefs or harms that come by play, inadvertency, or ignorance, and were not known to be harms, or designd for mischiefs sake, though they may perhaps be sometimes of considerable damage, yet are not at all, or but very gently, to be taken notice of. For this, I think, I cannot too often inculcate, that whatever miscarriage a child is guilty of, and whatever be the consequence of it, the thing to be regarded in taking notice of it, is only what root it springs from, and what habit it is like to establish: and to that the correction ought to be directed, and the child not to suffer any punishment for any harm which may have come by his play or inadvertency. The faults to be amended lie in the mind; and if they are such as either age will cure, or no ill habits will follow from, the present action, whatever displeasing circumstances it may have, is to be passed by without any animadversion.
§ 117. Another way to instill sentiments of humanity, and to keep them lively in young folks, will be, to accustom them to civility in their language and deportment towards their inferiors and the meaner sort of people, particularly servants. It is not unusual to observe the children in gentlemens families treat the servants of the house with domineering words, names of contempt, and an imperious carriage; as if they were of another race and species beneath them. Whether ill example, the advantage of fortune, or their natural vanity, inspire this haughtiness, it should be prevented, or weeded out; and a gentle, courteous, affable carriage towards the lower ranks of men, placed in the room of it. No part of their superiority will be hereby lost; but the distinction increased, and their authority strengthend; when love in inferiors is joind to outward respect, and an esteem of the person has a share in their submission: and domestics will pay a more ready and chearful service, when they find themselves not spurnd because fortune has laid them below the level of others at their masters feet. Children should not be sufferd to lose the consideration of human nature in the shufflings of outward conditions. The more they have, the better humord they should be taught to be, and the more compassionate and gentle to those of their brethren who are placed lower, and have scantier portions. If they are sufferd from their cradles to treat men ill and rudely, because, by their fathers title, they think they have a little power over them, at best it is ill-bred; and if care be not taken, will by degrees nurse up their natural pride into an habitual contempt of those beneath them. And where will that probably end but in oppression and cruelty?
§ 118. Curiosity in children (which I had occasion just to mention § 108) is but an appetite after knowledge; and therefore ought to be encouraged in them, not only as a good sign, but as the great instrument nature has provided to remove that ignorance they were born with; and which, without this busy inquisitiveness, will make them dull and useless creatures. The ways to encourage it, and keep it active and busy, are, I suppose, these following:
1. Not to check or discountenance any enquiries he shall make, nor suffer them to be laughd at; but to answer all his questions, and explain the matter he desires to know, so as to make them as much intelligible to him as suits the capacity of his age and knowledge. But confound not his understanding with explications or notions that are above it; or with the variety or number of things that are not to his present purpose. Mark what tis his mind aims at in the question, and not what words he expresses it in: and when you have informed and satisfied him in that, you shall see how his thoughts will enlarge themselves, and how by fit answers he may be led on farther than perhaps you could imagine. For knowledge is grateful to the understanding, as light to the eyes: children are pleased and delighted with it exceedingly, especially if they see that their enquiries are regarded, and that their desire of knowing is encouraged and commended. And I doubt not but one great reason why many children abandon themselves wholly to silly sports, and trifle away all their time insipidly, is, because they have found their curiosity baulkd, and their enquiries neglected. But had they been treated with more kindness and respect, and their questions answered, as they should, to their satisfaction; I doubt not but they would have taken more pleasure in learning, and improving their knowledge, wherein there would be still newness and variety, which is what they are delighted with, than in returning over and over to the same play and play-things.
§ 119. 2. To this serious answering their questions, and informing their understandings, in what they desire, as if it were a matter that needed it, should be added some peculiar ways of commendation. Let others whom they esteem, be told before their faces of the knowledge they have in such and such things; and since we are all, even from our cradles, vain and proud creatures, let their vanity be flatterd with things that will do them good; and let their pride set them on work on something which may turn to their advantage. Upon this ground you shall find, that there cannot be a greater spur to the attaining what you would have the eldest learn, and know himself, than to set him upon teaching it his younger brothers and sisters.
§ 120. 3. As childrens enquiries are not to be slighted; so also great care is to be taken, that they never receive deceitful and eluding answers. They easily perceive when they are slighted or deceived; and quickly learn the trick of neglect, dissimulation and falsehood, which they observe others to make use of. We are not to intrench upon truth in any conversation, but least of all with children; since if we play false with them, we not only deceive their expectation, and hinder their knowledge, but corrupt their innocence, and teach them the worst of vices. They are travellers newly arrived in a strange country, of which they know nothing; we should therefore make conscience not to mislead them. And though their questions seem sometimes not very material, yet they should be seriously answerd; for however they may appear to us (to whom they are long since known) enquiries not worth the making; they are of moment to those who are wholly ignorant. Children are strangers to all we are acquainted with; and all the things they meet with, are at first unknown to them, as they once were to us: and happy are they who meet with civil people, that will comply with their ignorance, and help them to get out of it.
If you or I now should be set down in Japan, with all our prudence and knowledge about us, a conceit whereof makes us, perhaps, so apt to slight the thoughts and enquiries of children; should we, I say, be set down in Japan, we should, no doubt (if we would inform our selves of what is there to be known) ask a thousand questions, which, to a supercilious or inconsiderate Japaner, would seem very idle and impertinent; though to us they would be very material and of importance to be resolved; and we should be glad to find a man so complaisant and courteous, as to satisfy our demands, and instruct our ignorance.
When any new thing comes in their way, children usually ask the common question of a stranger: What is it? Whereby they ordinarily mean nothing but the name; and therefore to tell them how it is calld, is usually the proper answer to that demand. And the next question usually is, What is it for? And to this it should be answered truly and directly. The use of the thing should be told, and the way explained, how it serves to such a purpose, as far as their capacities can comprehend it. And so of any other circumstances they shall ask about it; not turning them going, till you have given them all the satisfaction they are capable of; and so leading them by your answers into farther questions. And perhaps to a grown man, such conversation will not be altogether so idle and insignificant as we are apt to imagine. The native and untaught suggestions of inquisitive children do often offer things, that may set a considering mans thoughts on work. And I think there is frequently more to be learnd from the unexpected questions of a child, than the discourses of men, who talk in a road, according to the notions they have borrowed, and the prejudices of their education.