Children's Literature: A Reader's History, from Aesop to Harry Potter

By Seth Lerer | Go to book overview

5
Playthings of the Mind
JOHN LOCKE AND
CHILDREN'S LITERATURE

“Children,” wrote the early eighteenth-century educator John Clarke, “are Strangers in the World.” They are born without ideas, and what they learn comes to them through their experience. Their “first Acquaintance … is with sensible Objects. Those must store the yet empty Cabinet of the Mind with a variety of Ideas.” It is, he goes on, “the business of Education to watch over that weak and tender Age, that the yet unwary thoughtless Mind, uncapable of feeling into Nature and the Consequences of things, be not too much led away, and entirely possessed by the deluding Pleasures of Sense.” The end of education is the “forming of the Mind to Virtue,” and the syllabus of study (language, history, mathematics, rhetoric, and so on) calibrates itself to that end. One would think, Clarke continues, that given the centrality of education to the growth of the young mind and body, there would be a “great Variety of Books” on the subject. But there are few, and in the end, “I know not of any in our Language that are worth the Perusal but Mr. Locke's.”1

John Clarke and his many peers in pedagogy have been long forgotten. But John Locke has not. In his Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690) and, more pointedly, Some Thoughts concerning Education (1692), Locke offered a philosophically grounded theory of education. With its governing convictions that the human being has no innate ideas at birth; that the child learns from the experience of the external world; that pictures, toys, and models can assist in teaching words and concepts; and, finally, that the goal of education should be both instruction and delight— with all this, Locke's theory has had perhaps more impact on tutoring and teaching than that of any other educator in the past three hundred

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