Thinking Citizen Blog. “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” (1693)

Thinking Citizen Blog — Friday is Education and Education Policy Day

Today’s Topic: John Locke (1632–1704) — “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” (1693) Until this week, I was unaware of the importance of John Locke in the history of education. I had thought of him as a political theorist and epistemologist not as an educator. But apparently his best selling book in his own time was “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” (1693). What were his big ideas? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. The essence of moral education is training in self-denial.

2. But self-denial based on reason, not custom, or blind obedience.

3. The sooner the training begins the better.


1. Locke was a physician who starts the book with a discussion of physical needs. Getting enough sleep and eating a proper diet were the starting points.

2. Children should be exposed to harsh physical conditions (eg. cold temperature) to build up physical resilience.

3. “A sound mind in a sound body” (Juvenal)

NB: Locke felt strongly that every child should learn to draw, dance, and swim, learn a trade, master accounting, math, astronomy, geography, and anatomy. He considered an illustrated version of Aesop’s Fables as the single best way to teach children morality. On the other hand, he was not a particular fan of foreign language instruction, poetry, or music.


1. “Children should well study their natures and aptitudes and see, by often trials, what turn they easily take and what becomes them, observe what their native stock is, how it may be improved, and what it is fit for.”

2. The teacher “should remember that his business is not so much to teach [the child] all that is knowable, as to raise in him a love and esteem of knowledge; and to put him in the right way of knowing and improving himself.”

3. Locke considered the “common place book” to be an indispensable practical tool for making sense of the world — a place to record the most important things learned from any field. He developed his own methodology which was published in 1685 (oddly, in French). It was translated into English in 1706.

NB: “Commonplacing” was standard practice for centuries at universities across Europe and later at places like Harvard in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Erasmus did it. Milton did it. So did Emerson and Thoreau. Historian Robert Darnton: “ Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities.” Reading, for Locke, was active, not passive.

The Works of John Locke, vol. 8 (Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Posthumous Works, Familiar Letters) — Online Library of Liberty

John Locke

Some Thoughts Concerning Education

Extraordinary Commonplaces



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