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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XV. Education

§ 15. Influence of the Essay on subsequent Educational Theory

Locke’s significance in the history of education is not to be sought in his expressly pedagogical works. An Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690), whence the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries derived their experimental psychology and their rationalist and sceptical philosophies, is, also, the source of its author’s great influence upon subsequent educational theory and practice, more especially as these developed in France and Germany. The teaching of An Essay respecting the relation of experience to mental development is paralleled by the doctrine that formal education is a process which profoundly modifies the minds subjected to it; when philanthropic feeling is added to this doctrine, the desire of making instruction universal is bound to arise. Locke’s exposition of mind as itself a development leads straight to the conception that the method of teaching is conditioned, as to nature, material and sequence, by mental development. Hence, the demand so frequently reiterated in eighteenth-century educational theory for the training of the senses, and for modes of instruction, which will make children discover everything for themselves; hence, also, the impatience of authority, the antithesis, sometimes foolishly expressed, between “words” and “things,” and an inadequate test of what constitutes usefulness. In short, from An Essay’s teaching is derived much of the educational theory of Rousseau, La Chalotais, Helvétius, Basedow and their sympathisers, down to Herbert Spencer.