Rousseau’s theory On Education and The Development Of The person – By Maheshwar Giri

April 30, 2010

The Emile or on Education is essentially a work that details Rousseau’s philosophy of education. It was originally published just several months after the Social Contract in 1762. It was immediately banned in Paris because of which Rousseau had to flee out of Paris. The major point of controversy in the Emile was not in his philosophy of education rather it was the claims in the book, The Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar in which Rousseau argues against traditional views of religion that led to the banning of the book. The Emile is unique in one sense because it is written as part novel and part philosophical treatise. Rousseau would use this same form in some of his later works as well. The book is written in first person, with the narrator as the tutor, and describes his education of a pupil, Emile, from birth to adulthood.

The basic philosophy of education that Rousseau advocates in the Emile is rooted in the notion that human beings are good by nature. The Emile is his large work which is divided into five Books. In one of the book Rousseau claimed that the goal of education should be to cultivate our natural tendencies. Rousseau clarifies that a return to the state of nature, once human beings have become civilized, is not possible. Thus he argues for the proper education of an individual from his early days. And he also argues for the natural way of teaching and learning. His philosophy on education appeal for the natural education. This philosophy on education was also mentioned in his A Discourse on Political Economy as:

From the first moment of life, men ought to begin learning to deserve to live; and, as at the instant of birth we partake of the rights of citizenship, that instant ought to be the beginning of the exercise of our duty. If there are laws for the age of maturity, there ought to be laws for infancy, teaching obedience to others: and as the reason of each man is not left to be the sole arbiter of his duties, government ought the less indiscriminately to abandon to the intelligence and prejudices of fathers the education of their children, as that education is of still greater importance to the State than to the fathers: for, according to the course of nature, the death of the father often deprives him of the final fruits of education; but his country sooner or later perceives its effects. Families dissolve but the State remains.

Rousseau’s philosophy of education, therefore, is not geared simply at particular techniques that best ensure that a child will absorb information and concepts. It is better understood as a way of ensuring that the child’s character be developed in such a way as to have a healthy sense of self-worth and morality. This will allow the child to be virtuous even in the unnatural and imperfect society in which he lives. All his philosophy on education is put forward to explain by considering a character named Emile in Emile.

‘The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young child by making him reason! This beginning at the end; this is making an instrument of a result. If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated.” (Rousseau Jean Jacques. “Emile on Education”.1762: 256.)

Rousseau believed that a person should be given the moral lessons from his infancy, thorough childhood, and into early adulthood. His education should be under the tutor’s constant supervision. The tutor must even manipulate the environment in order to teach sometimes difficult moral lessons about humility, chastity, and honesty.
Rousseau believed it was possible to preserve the original nature of the child by careful control of his education and environment based on an analysis of the different physical and psychological stages through which he passed from birth to maturity. He thought that momentum for learning was provided by growth of the person’s nature. It is the childhood stage of a person’s life which is very much responsible for the habit of that person in the future.

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