Questioning the Didactic Why is teaching so disproportionately conceived in the didactic approach? Why is the student not considered first, instead of the teaching method? What is the didactic approach doing to the student? How is it doing it?
Looking to Locke for Answers The value of didactic teaching is generally perceived as being in transmitting facts, which will increase a student’s knowledge and therefore their ability to succeed in the world. As opposed to experiential learning, didactic teaching is teacher-centred rather than child-centred. The education does not look to the child for guidance in how to teach them. Rather it looks to the teacher for facts, which the child would benefit from attaining. These are all questions which John Locke can help us to answer. Last
Locke and Comenius Last week we looked at Comenius and how his ideas expanded in The Great Didactic were designed to work towards a universal education. Despite being influenced by Comenius, Locke was less interested in proposing a ‘universal education’ than figuring out how it would work. Locke was primarily a philosopher and, more than anything, was focussed on human understanding, as the title of his most famous book would suggest: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In this book he outlined how understanding operated; first through sense perception, then through reflection on those sense perceptions.
So, what is sense perception? Sense perception is experience, particularly of the experience of the five senses. So, holding a finger to a flame would produce an experience of pain.
And what is reflection? Reflecting on the experience of pain felt from putting a finger to a flame would result in associating a flame with pain. Therefore reasonably implying that to put one’s finger to a flame is not a clever thing to do.
Inductive Reasoning Locke suggested that together sense perception and reflection constituted a continuous human consciousness from which reason and rationality is produced.
So what are reason and rationality? For Locke reason determines what is true, best or correct. For him, because human’s are originally ‘white papers’, this means that even reason and rationality must be taught. For Locke humans are not innately rational and must be taught to be so through intelligent reasoning.
What Knowledge? [Regarding a] young gentleman’s studies, his tutor should remember, that his business is not so much to teach him all that is knowable, as to raise in him a love and esteem of knowledge; and to put him in the right way of knowing and improving himself when he has a mind to it. (Locke, 1909-14: p. 336)
Who’s Knowledge (or vices)? I know it is often said, that to discover to a young man the vices of the age is to teach them him. That, I confess, is a good deal so, according as it is done; and therefore requires a discreet man of parts, who knows the world, and can judge of the temper, inclination, and weak side of his pupil. This farther is to be remember’d, that it is not possible now (as perhaps formerly it was) to keep a young gentleman from vice by a total ignorance of it, unless you will all his life mew him up in a closet, and never let him go into company. (Locke, 1909-14: p. 150) The only fence against the world, is, a thorough knowledge of it, into which a young gentleman should be enter’d by degrees, as he can bear it; and the earlier the better, so he be in safe and skilful hands to guide him. (Locke, 1909-14: p. 151)
Treating as Rational Creatures It will perhaps be wonder’d, that I mention reasoning with children; and yet I cannot but think that the true way of dealing with them. They understand it as early as they do language; and, if I misobserve not, they love to be treated as rational creatures, sooner than is imagin’d. ’Tis a pride should be cherish’d in them, and, as much as can be, made the greatest instrument to turn them by. (Locke, 1909-14: p. 130) But when I talk of reasoning, I do not intend any other but such as is suited to the child’s capacity and apprehension. No body can think a boy or three of seven years old should be argu’d with as a grown man. Long discourses, and philosophical reasonings, at best, amaze and confound, but do not instruct children. (Locke, 1909-14: p. 131)
Discipline or Love? The great mistake I have observ’d in people’s breeding their children, has been, that this has not been taken care enough of in its due season: that the mind has not been made obedient to discipline, and pliant to reason, when at first it was most tender, most easy to be bow’d. Parents being wisely ordain’d by nature to love their children, are very apt, if reason watch not that natural affection very warily, are apt, I say, to let it run into fondness. They love their little ones and it is their duty; but they often, with them, cherish their faults too. (Locke, 1909-14: p. 51)
How Blank is the Slate? God has stamp’d certain characters upon men’s minds, which like their shapes, may perhaps be a little mended, but can hardly be totally alter’d and transform’d into the contrary. (Locke, 1909-14: p. 94) He therefore that is about children should well study their natures and aptitudes, and see by often trials what turn they easily take, and what becomes them; observe what their native stock is, how it may be improv’d, and what it is fit for: he should consider what they want, whether they be capable of having it wrought into them by industry, and incorporated there by practice; and whether it be worth while to endeavour it. (Locke, 1909-14: p. 95)
Bibliography Locke, J. (1909-14) Some Thoughts Concerning Education New York: P.F. Collier & Son