TRAINING AND EDUCATING CHILDREN By John Locke Published 1751

JohnLockeQuotesCuriousityTRAINING AND EDUCATING CHILDREN; Excerpt from The Works of John Locke by John Locke; Fifth Edition published 1751

[NOTE: I would encourage every parent to get out of doors with their children while they are growing, get away from the city, out in the mountains, woods, the seaside, the lake, river, prairie. Get them out among the other creatures, God’s creation; the Handmaiden of the Lord (i.e. Nature) Let their curiosity and yours never die, for there are always hidden treasures that God only reveals to eyes of those who are diligent in their search.]

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115. Children should be trained to be courageous. Keep children from frights of all kinds when they are young. . . . By gentle degrees accustom them to things they are too much afraid of. . . . Inuring children gently to suffer some degrees of pain without shrinking is a way to gain firmness to their minds.]

116. Cruelty.—One thing I have frequently observed 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 the 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 anything, 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 one’s persuasion, as indeed it is every one’s duty, and the true principle to regulate our religion, politics, and morality by, the world would be much quieter and better natured 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 want always to indulge her daughters, when any of them desired dogs, squirrels, birds, or any such things, as young girls use[i.e., are accustomed] 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 failed 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 anything to no urpose, but more especially the pleasure they take to put any thing in pain that is capable of it, I cannot persuade myself to be any other than a foreign and introduced disposition, a 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 entertainments of talk and history is of 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 youths, who by this means come to think slaughter the laudable business of mankind, and the most heroic of virtues. This custom plants unnatural appetites and reconciles us to that which it has laid 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 mentioned. But pray remember that the mischiefs or harms that come by play, inadvertency, or ignorance, and were not known to be harms, or designed for mischief’s 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. Children must treat [others] with civility. Children should not be suffered to lose the consideration of human nature in the shufflings of outward conditions.]

118. Curiosity.—Curiosity in children 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 vigorous, are, I suppose, these following:

1. Not to check or discountenance any inquiries he shall make, nor suffer them to be laughed at; but to answer all his questions, and explain the matters 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 proceed on to other things, and how by fit answers to his inquiries he may be led on farther than perhaps you could imagine. For knowledge to the understanding is acceptable as light to the eyes: [“For knowledge is grateful to the understanding as light to the eyes “—in later editions.] and children are pleased and delighted with it exceedingly, especially if they see that their inquiries 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 in trifling, is, because they have found their curiosity balked, and their inquiries 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 playthings.

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 flattered with things that will do them good,1 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 children’s inquiries 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 entrench 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 answered: for however they may appear to us (to whom they are long since known) inquiries 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 inquiries of children; should we, I say, be set down in Japan, we should, no doubt (if we would inform ourselves of what is there to be known), ask a thousand questions, which, to a supercilious or inconsiderate Japaner[Japanese], would seem very idle and impertinent; and yet to us would be natural; and we should be glad to find a man so kind and humane as to answer them 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 called, is usually the proper answer to that demand. 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 man’s thoughts on work. And I think there is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child, than the discourses of men, who talk in a road. Usually asked at a later stage in the child’s development, according to the notions they have borrowed, and the prejudices of their education.

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