09 October, 2009

PUNISHMENT IN CHILD’S EDUCATION: A REFLECTION ON JOHN LOCKE’S THOUGHT

By Anton Widyanto

I would like to aver that children are rational creatures. I also will say that all students are children. From these two claims, then I tend to conclude that students are rational creatures. Based on these premises and a conclusion, in this short paper I will discuss how the punishment should be positioned and implemented in school and family regarding child’s education.
Regarding the punishment, it seems that Locke tries to be objective. Therefore, he discusses it carefully. He does not reject punishment as a way to teach children. However, he gives some borders to implement it especially related to physical punishment.
For example, when he talks about whipping he (1996) says, “I think it is best the smart should come more immediately from another’s hand, though by the parent’s order who should it done; whereby the parent’s authority will be preserved and the child’s aversion for the pain suffers rather be turned on the person that immediately inflicts it” (p. 59). Here he tends to argue implicitly that the punishment should be given on the right person and the right time. Moreover, still relates to this, regarding beating he (1996) says, “beating is the worst and therefore the last means to be used in the correction of children and that only in cases of extremity after all gentler ways have been tried and proved unsuccessful; which, if well observed, there will be very seldom any need of blows” (p. 59). Here he stresses that the physical punishment like beating is only an alternative in child’s education. It implies explicitly that beating is a last mean to be used. It cannot be done haphazardly as if it is the only way to punish children for their bad deeds or behaviors. Furthermore, in another place he (1996) says, “Children learn to dance and fence without whipping; nay, arithmetic, drawing, etc. they apply themselves well enough without beating, which would make one suspect that there is something strange, unnatural, and disagreeable to that age in the things required in grammar schools or in the methods used there that children cannot be brought to without the severity of the lash, and hardly with that too, or else that it is a mistake that those tongues could not be taught them without beating” (p. 61). This statement emphasize that physical punishment approaches are not effective in child’s education. Those approaches will make children in trouble in their future.
I, personally, do agree with this argument because based on tabula rasa theory children learn from people surround them. If you always educate them through whipping or beating, it will influence their characters. They will be afraid to make mistakes, even though mistakes are important for human being in order to learn more to be better. The basic reason of this argument is that children are rational creatures. Thus, parents, or teachers need to treat them as they are. Regarding this point, it is interesting to quote Locke’s (1996) argument, “When I say therefore they must be treated as rational creatures I mean that you should make them sensible by the mildness of your carriage and the composure even in your correction of them that it is not out of caprichio, passion, or fancy that you command or forbid them anything” (p. 58). This statement implies implicitly that parents or teachers need to understand the psychological aspect of children. In other words, they should understand that every child is different. However, they are still rational creatures that should not be taught through irrational approaches (i.e. whipping, beating, etc).
Locke suggests that if you need to punish a child for the mistake he/she does, you should make him/her shy about it. It will educate him/her not to make the same mistake. Locke (1996) says, “If any vicious inclination in him be in the first appearance and instances of it treated as it should be first with your wonder and then, if returning again a second time, discountenanced with the severe brow of the father, tutor, and all about him and a treatment suitable to the state of discredit before mentioned, and this continued till he be made sensible and ashamed of his fault, I imagine there will be no need of any other correction nor ever any occasion to come to blows” (p. 60). Hence, what parents or teachers need to do is to make physical punishment as the last alternative and try to avoid it as far as possible. Locke (1996) says, “Nor can anyone be concluded unmanageable by the milder methods of government till they have been thoroughly tried upon him…” (p. 61).
The implementation of punishment basically also has relationship with character education. If you always use physical punishment approaches in educating your children, that will influence their characters. They will be more easily do rude behavior, and will also like to make revenges to others. Thus, Locke suggests that educational approaches are playing an important part in child’s education and one of them is to develop familiarity with children. In this case, I also agree with him. I think the familiarity between children and parents or teachers will in turn make a positive impact on the relationship between them. It will ease them to communicate and also will construct positive perspectives and understanding between them.
Talking more about character education, there are several interesting Locke’s thoughts need to be addressed. In several places he talks about lying. He says that lying is a bad characteristic and because of that it is punishable. He explains, “The first time he is found in a lie, it should rather be wondered at monstrous thing in him than reproved as an ordinary fault. If that keeps him not from relapsing, the next time he must sharply rebuked and fall into the state of great displeasure of his father and mother and all about him who take notice of it. And if this way work not cure, you must come to blows. For after he has been thus warned, a premeditated lie must always be looked upon as obstinacy and never be permitted to escape unpunished” (p. 101).
Furthermore, Locke explains that there are several characteristic that must be taught to the children, and some are needed to avoid. According to Locke, parents and teachers must develop children’s courage, and curiosity, and keep away children from cowardice, timorousness, stubbornness, cruelty, and lying.
Locke (1996) says, “Fortitude is the guard and support of other virtues; and without courage a man will scarce keep steady to his duty and fill up character of a truly worthy man” (p. 86). Moreover he says that courage is an important part that must be taught early to the children. “Courage, that makes us bear up against dangers that we fear and evils that we feel, is of great use in an estate, as ours is in this life, exposed to assaults on all hands; and therefore it is very advisable to get children into this armor as early as we can” (Locke, 1996, p. 86). I do agree with this statement. In my view, children need to be trained to face any problems in this life. They have to be brave and never be coward. If children have fortitude or courage, they will eliminate the cowardice or timorousness in their hearts. Hence they will be ready to run their lives.
Regarding children’s curiosity, Locke emphasizes that it always has to be encouraged. He says, “Curiosity in childrenis but an appetite after knowledge and therefore ought to be encouraged in them, not only as a good sign, but as the great instrument nature has provided to remove that ignorance they were born with and which, without this busy inquisitiveness, will make them dull and useless creatures” (p. 93). I think this statement is in line with Locke’s argumentation about children as rational creatures. The basic principle of children as rational creatures, I think, is not only related with how we should position ourselves toward them, but also has a strong connection with how we should educate them. To make education run successfully, no matter what the context is, we always have to respect our children as rational creatures that have curiosities. Moreover according to Locke, moral education for character should be guided and taught at home (Grant & Tarcov, 1996). Therefore, our responsibilities as parents or teachers are to accommodate and develop their curiosities, and not to kill them. If we kill their curiosities, it also means that we kill their creativities as humans.
 

Reference
Grant & Tarcov. (1996). John Locke. Indianapolis, IN: Hacket Publishing Company.
Locke, John. (1996). Some Thoughts Concerning Education and of the Conduct of Understanding. Indianapolis, Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.


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