I have finally discovered the significance of this ?John Locke? character, who reportedly lived and died a while back.

According to a piece in the Claremont Review of Books by Dorothea Israel Wolfson, a teaching fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for the Study of American Government, John Locke was the instigator of the first of three revolutions in children’s literature. His, as explained in Some Thoughts Concerning Education and implemented by Locke-inspired tutors and educators throughout the English-speaking world, was to connect the content of children’s literature to the need to develop responsible citizens for the “new political and intellectual order,? the “liberal, tolerant regime? he had proposed in Two Treatises.

As such, Locke believed it important to “take education from the hands of the clerisy,? Wolfson writes, ?and to overcome its domineering and persecutory spirit.? In practical terms, this meant developing primers and reading materials that were not entirely religious, having children read classic but secular works such as Aesop?s Fables, and to use the new children’s literature to ?impart a moral message,? rather than relying on Biblical passages alone, which Locke suggested were ?very inconvenient for children.?

Locke?s revolution was followed by a 19th-century shift in direction away from moralism in any form, and towards pure play and enjoyment. Lewis Carroll is the exemplar, followed by the youth-oriented fiction of the publishing explosion of the early 20th century (think Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, fantasy and sci fi, etc.). Then, in the 1970s, children?s literature took a third turn ? a turn for the worse, I’d put it, when ?writers started to ‘push the boundaries’ of material considered acceptable for children? both in specific content and in adult themes. ?Locke thought that the ‘tender’ minds of children should be protected from the corruptions of the adult world,? Wolfson writes, ?and yet these are now the genre’s warp and woof.?

So, finally there is a critical answer to the question of what it means to apply Lockean principles to modern problems: it means offering children the rich language and moral teachings of classic works of children’s literature, both religious and secular, instead of having children read postmodern tripe, including a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood in which the heroine is a rape victim who meets up with the perpetrator, her mother?s boyfriend, at her grandmother’s house and blasts him with a shotgun.

Not making that up. The story is included in The Norton Anthology of Children?s Literature, the subject of Wolfson’s review.