John Locke (1632–1704) - American Education
English philosopher who espoused philosophical empiricism and, through the influence of his writings, became the true “author of the American Revolution.” Although that title is usually ascribed to Thomas Jefferson, the latter gladly acknowledged Locke’s writings on the “rights of man” as his source for the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.
Locke’s influence on American education was as far-reaching as his influence on American politics. His philosophy proved ideal for a people fleeing state controls for an independent life in which each individual controlled his own destiny in a new world of limitless frontiers. Locke rejected the concept of the divine right of kings and the concept of predestination. Ultimate sovereignty, he maintained, rests in the people, not the state. He insisted that all men were indeed created equal, born with minds that were, in effect, blank slates, or tabulae rasae, on which experiences inscribed all knowledge. In Some Thoughts Concerning Education, Locke concluded that men may be variously endowed by nature, but that they are shaped by knowledge. He called universal education essential for the survival of any nation; to restrict access to education to clerics, scholars and noblemen would assure a nation’s demise. “Knowing is seeing,” he declared, “and, if it be so, it is madness to persuade ourselves that we do so by another man’s eyes, let him use never so many words to tell us that what he asserts is very visible.”
Locke called for separation of church and state and the development of curricula based on “their usefulness” to man “in the future course of his life.” These precepts would be enthusiastically embraced by later colonial leaders such as Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin who went on to secularize the curricula of colonial grammar schools and colleges by including utilitarian courses in science, mechanics, commerce and other subjects needed to build a new nation.