JohnLockeJohn Locke was an English philosopher and physician in the 17th century who is known as the “Father of Classical Liberalism.”  He was also one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers.  Locke is well-known for his tabula rasa view of the human mind, his social contract theory, and his belief that knowledge is derived through experience of the senses.  His political theories influenced the writings of other philosophers and the key ideas behind the United States’ Declaration of Independence.  Locke is famous for three works: A Letter Concerning Toleration, The Second Treatise on Civil Government, and Some Thoughts Concerning Education.  Locke has also been labeled “the father of modern education in England” (Locke, 205).

Locke outlined every detail on how to educate the human mind in Some Thoughts Concerning Education.  He wrote about how students should be dressed, fed, exercised, instructed, and assessed (Baldwin, 186).  He also advocated for a close relationship between teacher and pupil, just like the American educational model (Baldwin, 184).  Locke’s work in psychology helped him develop the idea of “associationism,” where he warned parents not to allow their children to develop negative associations that would hurt their education (Yolton, 28-29).  He denounced scholasticism and advocated for experimentation in learning.  He also promoted training students in wisdom and virtue rather than focusing on main content.

Most educators have ignored Locke’s educational works, but some critics argue that Locke’s educational theories are best applied to private tutoring instead of real educational systems (Baldwin, 187).  Locke’s rejection of classical education annoyed the educators of his day, but his advocacy for hands-on learning predated modern progressive educators by several centuries (Locke, 206).  Locke believed that play is just as essential as learning because play can reinforce learning.  So teachers should have some elements of “fun” in the classroom (Yolton, 84-85).

Locke had many profitable ideas about education but his approach to Biblical training is a concern for Christian educators.  Locke believed that the only virtue in reading the Bible was for moral values (Yolton, 27).  The Bible should be read so people learn about the Gospel, not just as a moral guide.  Classical education should be combined with hands-on activities to provide a well-rounded education for the students.  Locke was right on his approach to combining physical education with mental study as evidenced by the physical education programs that have been added to the American school system.

– Hannah S. Bowers


Baldwin, B. T. (1913, April). John Locke’s contributions to education. The sewanee review21(2), 177-187. Retrieved October 9, 2013, from

Locke, J. (1947). On politics and education (pp. 205-388). Roslyn, NY: Walter J. Black, Inc.

Yolton, J. W. (1971). John Locke and education. New York, NY: Random House.