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Locke on child-rearing: freedom and authority in 'Some Thoughts Concerning Education'

Locke on child-rearing: freedom and authority in 'Some Thoughts Concerning Education'

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Anne Harris. Originally submitted for EN4365: Literature and Childhood in the 18th Century at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Dr. Susan Manly in the category of English Literature
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Anne Harris. Originally submitted for EN4365: Literature and Childhood in the 18th Century at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Dr. Susan Manly in the category of English Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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11/27/2013

 
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Produce a close reading of Locke on education, focusing on the idea of freedom,and/or government, in his writing.Abstract:
The political philosophy of John Locke, as determined by his many writtenworks on the subject, embraces the ideal of a ‘State of Nature’, where men are inherentlyequal and free to pursue desires with regard to one’s reason. Governments rule by theconsent of the governed to protect individual rights and property. Locke’s educationaltext,
Some Thoughts Concerning Education
, prescribes quite a different form of freedom,however. In regard to child education, Locke espouses the view that children should havea Biblical ‘awe’ of their authority figures, the parents, and that these parents shouldensure appropriate behavior though manipulation and repetition. This paper performed aclose reading of the tract
Some Thoughts Concerning Education
, while referencinganother of Locke’s texts
The Second Treatise of Government 
and critical works by Natasha Gill, John Dunn, and Joseph Carrig, to further examine the disparity betweenadult freedom in the State of Nature and child obedience to parental authority. Thefindings of this close reading indicate that under the Lockean educational system, parentswield an intimidating and arbitrary authority. In the quest to avoid absolute rules or requirements and instead inculcate a strong sense of reason, parents must resort tomanipulation and mindless repetition. This system may create children unable to strivefor the aims of questioning authority and, if necessary, revoking consent. The validity of examining Locke’s educational writing in light of his political tracts and the inherentissues of authority in child-rearing and education are also considered.Keywords: Locke; education; authority; politics; childrenThe political philosophy of John Locke is based on idea of a ‘State of Nature’,where all men are equal and free. It is a state of liberty to pursue desires, but not thelicence to do so without regard to one’s reason
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. No person has the right to subordinateany other 
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and governments form by the consent of the governed to protect property andrights
3
. Locke’s views on education, as revealed in a close reading of 
Some ThoughtsConcerning Education
, prescribe a type of freedom and governing that differs greatlyfrom that of his political tracts. In
Some Thoughts
children are given neither liberty nor licence, as parents are encouraged to become godlike figures to their children. They may
1
John Locke, ‘Second Treatise of Government’, Classics of Modern Political Theory,edited by Stephan M. Cahn, p. 219
2
Jonathan Wolff,
 An Introduction to Political Philosophy
, p. 19
3
Jeremy Waldron, ‘Locke’,
 Political Thinkers from Socrates to the Present 
, edited byDavid Boucher and Paul Kelly, pp. 182-183
 
2assert an almost Biblical authority of ‘awe’ over their children, inculcate a sense of reason that they can then manipulate to their liking, and override this reason usingrepetition to teach unconscious behaviour under the guise of ‘habit’.It is first worth considering whether it is useful to view Locke’s educationaltheories in the canon of his political writings, and from that, if their respective definitionsof freedom can be compared. In a letter to Edward Clarke in the beginning of 
SomeThoughts
, Locke remarks that had it not been for the encouragement of ‘Friends’ to makehis thoughts public, the work would have been unpublished
4
.
Some Thoughts
made noclaim to being a philosophical tract
5
, and in the ‘Second Treatise of Government’ Lockealso is careful to distinguish the expectations of ‘political power’ from those of ‘parental power’
6
. Natasha Gill in
 Educational Philosophy and the French Enlightenment 
(2010)examines how comparable the two theories were at all, given the innate differences between families and governments. Families are a naturally forming power structurewhile governments are artificially created for the public good
7
. The ‘Second Treatise’advocates citizens revoking consent and overthrowing governments that fail to representthem
8
yet children by their lack of physical or financial power cannot overthrow their  parents
9
.  Nevertheless, there is still some ground for comparison.
Some Thoughts
wasarguably, in Lehrer’s term, ‘philosophically-grounded’
 in style and content. Locke’s
4
All quotations from
Some Thoughts Concerning Education
are taken from
Literatureand Childhood in the Eighteenth Century Course Reader Part I,
edited by Susan Manly
5
Natasha Gill,
 Educational Philosophy in the French Enlightenment 
, p. 24
6
Joseph Carrig, ‘Liberal Impediments to Liberal Education: The Assent to Locke’, p. 42
7
Gill, p. 30
8
Waldron, p. 187
9
Gill, p. 30
10
Seth Lehrer,
Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History
, p. 104
 
3contemporary readers would have connected this work to his previous political writings by virtue of his famous name alone, giving the comparison a historical precedent. Even if families and governments are inherently different organisations, Locke himself recognized the intertwined nature of childhood education and adult liberty, remarking inthe introductory letter to Edward Clarke that proper education is essential to ‘the welfareand prosperity of the nation’. Locke’s educational guide must then be to nurture childreninto becoming intelligent and free-thinking adults, adults who he hopes will somedayfollow his political philosophy.In the ‘First Treatise of Government’, Locke declares himself to be opposed to the philosophy of Sir Robert Filmer and others who advocate a Divine Right of Kings. Heasserts his belief that no man is inherently better equipped to rule, and all ruler/subjectrelations are built on the consent of the governed
. This political belief seems not toextend to the educational sphere, however, as Locke advises parents to wield an authorityof paternal intimidation and unspoken expectations, used against beings that cannotrevoke consent.Locke begins
Some Thoughts Concerning Education
by speaking against parentalindulgence, saying that this doting ‘corrupt[s] the principles of nature’. He believes suchindulgence will create a hedonism that persists into adulthood. The fault lies not with thechild in having the desires, Locke argues, but rather with parents who ‘cherish their Faults’. Locke reinforces throughout
Some Thoughts
that ‘Liberty and Indulgence can dono Good to Children: Their Want of Judgement makes them stand in need of Restraintand Discipline’. The invocation of liberty with indulgence clearly indicates how Lockeviews true freedom in regard to children; as they are not capable of wielding said
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Locke. ‘Second Treatise of Government’, pp. 217-218

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