Reflection on John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education

Reflection on John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education for EDUC 901
What had happened? Nothing particularly original. We had a fight, our first, nothing more or less than that. What had ignited the resentment was of course her role of mother’s daughter rubbing against mine of father’s son—our first fight hadn’t even been ours. But then the battle initially rocking most [relationships] is usually just that—the worm in the dream is always the past, that impediment to all renewal.*

Mimesis - imitation, representation, representation by art

My thoughts swirl in constant questions as I approach an understanding of Locke’s ideal education. Beyond the body, virtue, and academic curriculum, what calls to me in his text is the concept of mimesis - a concept that first emerged with Plato and the poets. Suspending rightness or wrongness and considering the concept of mimesis as what’s so, where does the boundary between the other and the self exist? So much of mimesis is negative: mimicry, imitation.

Just how much does mimesis play itself out in educating children? At first, the idea is absurd - why would we simply mimic those in authority? Surely I didn’t try to emulate my elders when I was young. No one would agree to that, would they? We’re our own person. We determine who we are down to our core, to our foundations of self. Locke’s continual reference to the importance of conversation and creating spaces and opportunities where children are allowed to hear and participate in dialogues to increase their interest and virtue have given me pause. In what ways do we re-enact and re-embody those early lessons from (sometimes) before our memories? What are we afraid of - and where does that come from? Is one really “bad at math” - or are they acting out of the wax grooves set upon their minds from another?

To raise a virtuous gentleman should we surround him with other virtuous individuals? What of those lacking in virtue? Does mimesis work in the other direction as well? What does this look like in practice today? Group work and the mixing of minds so that the smarter will rub off on the not-so-smart. Like groupings based on standards and skill levels. Is this all that bad?

*Adapted from Philip Roth, The Counterlife. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1986.


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