John Locke was a great educator on several counts. In an immediate sense he was himself a practitioner and publicist of good education. This profile is concerned with his life in education, his theory of knowledge, his advice to parents on the upbringing of their children, and his educational priorities with specific reference to the curriculum. But Locke also made significant contributions to human understanding in such fields as theology, economics, medicine and science, and particularly political philosophy. This dual prominence places Locke, arguably the most significant educationist n English history, in a long and honourable tradition.
As Nathan Tarcov observed: philosophers have been able to stand out in the realms of both educational theory and political theory ever since the two fields of thought first flowed from their common fountainhead, the Republic of Plato’ (Tarcov, 1984, p. 1-2). Seventeenth-century England In the seventeenth century England experienced two revolutions. In 1649, after years of civil war, the first culminated in the execution of King Charles I of the Stuart family and the establishment of a Commonwealth, replaced in 1653 by a Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell.
In 1660 the monarchy was restored under Charles II and, on his death in 1685, the throne passed peaceably enough to his younger brother, James. Once again, however, the country’s parliamentary traditions and Protestant Church were perceived to be in danger. Further resistance to the Stuart monarchy arose and in 1688 a second revolution occurred, though on this occasion James II fled to France, thus avoiding the fate of his father. The throne was assumed by his elder daughter Mary and her husband, Prince William of Orange.
These events must have touched the lives of many, if not all, of those who lived in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales during the seventeenth century. They are integral to an understanding of the life and work of John Locke, who was both a keen observer of, and at times a participant in, the political, constitutional, religious, economic and educational controversies of these momentous times. Indeed, he was closely connected with one of the great politicians of the day, Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury.
In 1683 Locke thought it politic to remove himself to the Netherlands, though whether for his political or physical health is not entirely clear. In 1688 he returned to England as a supporter of the new regime and indeed was favoured by William of Orange with the offer of the post of ambassador to the Elector of Brandenburg, a post he refused. Nevertheless, other government appointments followed: as Commissioner of Appeal and member of a new Council of Trade.
But the 1690s were important not mainly for Locke’s involvement in politics, but because it was now possible for him to publish his major works, works which in some cases he had been preparing for many years. These included the Letter concerning toleration (1689), An essay concerning human 2 nderstanding (1690), Two treatises of government (1690), and the book upon which his reputation as an educator mainly rests, Some thoughts concerning education, the first edition of which appeared in 1693 (hereafter referred to as Thoughts).
A life in education John Locke was born on 29 August 1632 at Wrington in the county of Somerset in the south-west of England. His father, also named John, was a lawyer and small landowner who supported Parliament against Charles I and served as a captain in the Parliamentary army during the English civil war. His mother Agnes, the daughter of a local tanner, Edmund Keene, was some ten years lder than her husband, and 35 years of age when John, the first of their three sons, was born.
It would appear that Locke’s father was a stern man (for example an advocate of the severe whipping of unmarried mothers) who did not believe in indulging his son as a child, but in keeping him in awe of his father and at some distance. Whether Locke as a boy appreciated the benefits of this severe regime is not clear. Certainly as an adult he counselled parents to a similar course: For, liberty and indulgence can do no good to children: their want of judgement makes them stand in need of estraint and discipline’ (Thoughts, s. 0). He that is not used to submit his will to the reason of others, when he is young, will scarcely hearken or submit to his own reason, when he is of an age to make use of it’ (Thoughts, s. 36). Little is known about John Locke’s early education, though he doubtless grew up in a bookish household, and it was not until the age of 15, in 1647, that he was sent to Westminster School in London, then under the aegis of one of its most famous headmasters, Dr Richard Busby.
Busby’s reputation was based upon the length of his tenure of office (some fifty-seven years), his cholarship, his skill as a teacher and his unsparing use of the birch upon recalcitrant boys. Westminster must have come as a considerable surprise to the young Locke. The physical contrast between the large urban school with more than 200 boys, which stood in the very shadow of Westminster Abbey itself, and the far-reaching landscapes viewed from Belluton, the Locke home in Somerset, which stood above the little market town of Pensford, must have been considerable.
Even more disconcerting, perhaps, to one who had been brought up in a strict Puritan and Parliamentarian atmosphere, would have been the discovery that Richard Busby was an vowed Royalist, who made no secret of his political sympathies. Indeed, prayers for the King were offered within the school an hour or so before his execution, which took place on 30 January 1649 at Whitehall, only a few hundred meters away. Locke’s studies at Westminster were centred upon the classical languages of Latin and Greek, and he also began to study Hebrew.
He was clearly a hardworking boy and in 1650 was elected to a King’s scholarship. This gave him the right to free lodgings within the school, and also access to major scholarships at both Oxford and Cambridge. This became Locke’s ambition and he took extra lessons with Busby for a fee of 1 per quarter, and spent the summers not in Somerset, but at the under-master’s establishment at Chiswick, near London, for the purposes of further study. In 1652 Locke’s diligence was rewarded when he was elected to a 20 scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford.
Though Locke no doubt felt gratitude towards Busby and Westminster School for his formal education, and for his entrance to Oxford, other aspects of school life were probably less congenial. The excessively hard academic regime (the day began at 5:15 a. m. , the severe floggings, coupled with the licence which prevailed among the boys outside the periods of formal instruction, appears to have contributed towards Locke’s considerable aversion to schools, and a strong preference for private and domestic education.
Certainly in 1691 he advised Edward Clarke that if his son’s lack of educational progress were a result of a lack of application, one remedy might be to send him: to Westminster, or some other very severe school, where if he were whipped soundly whilst you are looking out another fit tutor for him, he would perhaps be the more pliant and 3 illing to learn at home afterwards’ (quoted in Sahakian and Sahakian, 1975, p. 16). Locke’s formal, and no less rigorous, course at Oxford (the day began at 5 a. m. would have included classics, rhetoric, logic, morals and geometry, and he took his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1656. This was followed by further study for the Master of Arts degree, taken two years later, in June 1658. Other subjects of study with which he was concerned were mathematics, astronomy, history, Hebrew, Arabic, natural philosophy, botany, chemistry and medicine. Locke saw little point in the traditional scholastic disputations and wranglings that occupied o much of the undergraduate course.
Rhetoric and logic, as taught in the Oxford of his day, earned his particular condemnation. Rather was he attracted to aspects of the new learning (including Cartesian rationalism) and from the beginning of his time at Oxford he kept a medical notebook, which began, simply enough, with family medical recipes collected by his mother. This progressed to the reading of the latest medical textbooks and to simple experimentation. The catalogue of his final library shows that of more than 3,600 books, 402 were medical and 240 scientific (Axtell, 1968, p. 71).
In December 1658 Locke was elected to a senior studentship at Christ Church, and thereafter was able to broaden the range of his studies. In 1660 he was appointed Lecturer in Greek, and in 1662 Lecturer in Rhetoric. In 1663 he was elected to the office of Censor of Moral Philosophy, one of the senior disciplinary roles in the college. Locke’s work as a tutor was not merely confined to an academic role. Though he himself had been 20 years old when entering the university, the majority of students in his care came at an earlier age, most commonly 16 or 17. One indeed, Charles Berkeley, was only 13.
Locke upervised not only their courses of study, and supplied them with individual reading lists according to their abilities and interests, but also exercised guidance in matters of finance and morals. Locke’s concerns for students would have been all the more pointed given that in 1663 he himself must have felt rather alone in the world. By that date both his parents and his two brothers were dead and, in spite of some female attachments, Locke remained a bachelor to his dying day. In 1667, at the age of 35, Locke left the University of Oxford to take up a post in the household of the Earl of Shaftesbury at Exeter House in London.
There his duties were to act as medical adviser to the family and as tutor to Shaftesbury’s son, also named Anthony Ashley Cooper, then a somewhat sickly and rather backward boy of 15 or 16. Locke not only fulfilled this task but also arranged young Anthony’s marriage to Lady Dorothy Manners, and subsequently attended her during one miscarriage and at the birth of her eldest son, the third Anthony Ashley Cooper, as well as other children. For some years Locke continued in this role of medical and educational adviser to the family, even after Shaftesbury’s death in 1683.
He supervised the education of the third Anthony, both through the appointment of a governess, Elizabeth Birch, who could speak both Latin and Greek, and directly himself. Subsequently, the boy attended Westminster School. Although Locke’s medical advice was valued within the Shaftesbury household and outside (in 1675 he received the degree of Bachelor of Medicine from the University of Oxford), his own health was never robust. Locke suffered from asthma, and found London air uncongenial. In the 1670s, while in France for the benefit of his own health, he acted as tutor to Caleb, the son of Sir
John Banks, a friend of Shaftesbury. For some two years from 1677, Locke and the young Caleb, who was 15 when he came under Locke’s care, travelled in France, with much time spent in Paris. By the 1680s Locke had gained considerable experience and reputation as a tutor to the sons of the nobility and gentry: at university, in a household and on the grand tour. In Holland from 1683 he was frequently called upon to give advice upon education. From 1687 Locke lived in Rotterdam in the house of his friend Benjamin Furly, who at the time had five children aged etween 6 years and 12 monthsBenjohan, John, Joanna, Rachel and Arent.
No doubt Locke observed them closely and played some part in their upbringing. Indeed, he designed an engraved copy sheet for teaching children to write with Arent in mind. But the Thoughts originated not from Locke’s immediate concerns with the children of his 4 acquaintances in Holland but from a request from an English friend and distant relative, Edward Clarke. Clarke was a landowner who lived at Chipley in Locke’s home county of Somerset and who was concerned with the education of his children, particularly his eldest son, also named
Edward, who was 8 years old in 1684 when Clarke wrote seeking Locke’s advice. Locke’s first letter was written on 19 July 1684 and was received by the Clarkes on 3 August. The letters continued throughout 1685 and 1686, even after 1687 by which time the Clarkes had engaged a tutor for their son. After Locke’s return from Holland in 1689 it appears that the Clarkes, and others to whom they had shown the manuscripts, urged Locke to publish them. After much revision, the first edition of Some thoughts concerning education duly appeared in July 1693.