Enlightenment and Children, Calvin and Hobbes


Calvin and Hobbes is a 1980s comic strip by Bill Watterson that ran for over a decade. It followed the adventures of young Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes, who was a real tiger in Calvin’s imagination.

The strip pictured above is one of the extended Sunday editions, and is a perfect example of Watterson’s cutting – yet friendly and funny – social commentary. Calvin and Hobbes decide to play war, but ultimately realize that it is a stupid game once both are ‘dead’ at the game’s end.

This strip, aside from being clever in its own right, reflects elements of both Strasburger’s and Blake’s opinions on childhood education during the Enlightenment. While John Locke believed in a stern education, teaching kids what to believe so they wouldn’t get it wrong, Blake, being a romantic, disagreed, stating that children need to educate themselves through their natural curiosity.

It can certainly be argued that Calvin himself is a reflection of Blake’s ideas separate from any specific strip’s content. Calvin hates school, constantly stating how it saps creativity from children. The strip above in particular, however, is a clever way of allowing kids to learn by themselves while still making a strong social point for the strip’s (more numerous) adult readers.

On its surface, this strip is a funny comic about how Calvin and Hobbes don’t want to play war because they just shoot each other right away, ruining the game’s fun. On a deeper level, however, and one immediately apparent to adults, the strip satirizes the cruelties of war, demonstrating that not only does war often leave no survivors, but so few figures in history have striven to peace through peaceful means.

This strip does not hold a child’s hand, nor does it outright state what they should be taking away from it (though it may be obvious to older readers). It allows the children to read the strip their own way and understand the point being made in their own way. Strasburger would likely appreciate this approach to teaching children. He believes that children should be allowed and even encouraged to choose their own learning experiences (at least in some cases). This would (theoretically) help them avoid negative experiences like the young child who disliked E.T., and it would allow them to find media they appreciate and can learn from. Strasburger said in his article “…children should be empowered to take control of their own media experiences, negotiating and learning along the way,” and while Calvin and Hobbes isn’t exactly new media, it still certainly fits in to Strasburger’s theory.

This is in direct contrast to what Locke seems to think about children, however. He says in his writing, “They are wholly, if possible, to be kept from such conversation; for the contagion of these ill precedents, both in civility and virtue, horribly infects children, as often as they come within reach of it,” by which he means that children should be kept from more ‘harmful’ or distasteful topics, else they be corrupted by them.

This strip is actually a distilled example of one of Watterson’s grander points: a standardized education where children are told to sit down, shut up and listen serves only to sap their individuality and rob them of their natural desire to learn. Again, Locke would probably disagree, saying that young minds should be filled with “a fear to offend them [their teachers],” while simultaneously ignoring a teacher’s duty to engage children and help them grow their own ways. While Blake probably never saw a Calvin and Hobbes strip, he would probably very much appreciate their meaning.


3 thoughts on “Enlightenment and Children, Calvin and Hobbes

  1. Thomas,

    Thanks for getting this in to me. I have to refer you back to the original assignment though. You do a good job summarizing the Enlightenment ideas in Calvin and Hobbes, but you don’t cite anything specific from Locke or Blake, just marginally reference them, and you don’t mention Strasburger at all. The grace period is over on the 29th, so you have time to give this post a tune-up. For now, Grade: U.

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