John Locke had a number of major influences on society in general, but his influences on education have stood the taste of time. His idea of Tabula Rasa, his introduction of empiricism, and idea of the use of all senses are all objectives that are used in schools today.
The idea of Tabula Rasa is basically defined as a “blank slate.” Locke believed that everyone is born with a clean mind, a supposed condition that he attributed to the human mind before ideas have been imprinted on it by the reaction of the senses to the exterior world.
“Thus the first capacity of human intellect is that the mind is fitted to receive the impressions made on it; either through the senses by outward objects; or by its own operations when it reflects on them. This is the first step a man makes towards the discovery of anything…”
-John Locke (On Ideas as the Materials of All Our Knowledge)
Locke considers the new mind as white paper or wax. It is to be moulded and formed as one pleases. It is up to the teacher to insure that it is formed the correct way and that there is no inate knowledge. This is incorporated into education the grade system. Children start out in kindergarten or pre-school with a blank slate; we start teaching the very basics as if they know nothing. The more information and experience they gather, the further they move along the grade continuum.
Locke was considered the founder of British empiricist. He believed that all knowledge comes to us through experience. “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience.” Basically, all knowledge has its origin and end in experience, or perception using the senses. He says, “Experience is twofold, sensation and reflection. From both sources we obtain ideas.” Sensation is the perception of external phenomena and reflection is the perception of the operations of the mind itself.
This view of empirical thinking is widely used in schools today, especially in the science fields. Concepts and skills are much easier to learn if you can experience them.
The empirical way of teaching has brought about the use of the scientific method. First, students must observe a situation and decide if there is a problem. Secondly, make an educated guess, or hypothesis, of what will happen. Next, test this hypothesis. If it is true then draw a conclusion. If not, make a new hypothesis and test again. This is a very valuable way to learn. The students get to experience the whole situation and will in tern retain and understand this information better.
Along with using empirical methods of learning, Locke insisted that all the senses be used when learning. It is not enough for a teacher to just stand in front of a classroom and lecture; students are only using one sense (hearing) to try to comprehend the material. Locke feels that you must hear, feel, see, smell, taste everything in order to get the full potential knowledge. This is very relative to today’s teachings because we, as teachers, need to appeal to all learning styles. Some students learn better visually, others orally and so on, so we have to hit all area in order to give all students an equal chance to learn.
In closing, John Locke was a very significant figure on how we educate children today. He gave us the idea of starting students with a clean slate, the use of the scientific method, and the essential use of all the senses. All these ideas are important aspects of today”s classroom and will most assuredly be a continued use in the future.
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