So we have now identified three theories of child care and education, corresponding to Hobbes, the hyperparenting leviathan; Locke who proposes that with good education shall be self-governing; and Rousseau, who believes children are better left to their own natural development. Lurking in the background is a fourth theorist: Decartes. Here Hobbes saw man’s nature as savage (his life therefore nasty, brutish, and short), Rousseau as good and pure, and Locke as a blank slate, Descartes saw man possesing an innate knowledge of God and right and wrong. Decartes is therefore a naturalist, in so much as he regarded the knowledge of God and other ideas to be innate. Yet, unlike Rousseau, Descartes did not believe that goodness itself was innate. The ability to discover this was possible by reflection from first principles according to the practice of rationalism.
Locke rejected Cartesian rationalism and was a leading proponent of empiricism. Empiricism argued that knowledge was aquired more reliably not by reflection and deduction, but by experiment. An experiment is a controlled observation to address a specific question. In fact, Locke’s education is an application of empiricism. Students don’t receive a set of thought-provoking questions to ponder, the contemplation of which constitutes education, but rather Locke begins with guided experience, spontanous opportunities for teaching, and finally, some reflection.
The middle class is mostly Lockean, writes Publius, with a touch of Hobbes for hyperparents, while the poor tend toward Rosseau’s theory of benign neglect.