Civilization leads humans to an unhealthy form of self-love which centred on vanity, jealousy and pride. Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that this unhealthy self-love emerged when humans went to live in cities, as they lived in ‘bad habits’, vices and in comparison. As a result, he believed that a natural education helps in a child’s development as it encourages happiness, wonder and spontaneity. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wanted children not to be influenced from society; therefore, a child who is not raised in society will emerge and grow up without any corruption.
During the 18th century children were treated as miniature adults. Their nature and basic needs were not met. Since they were treated as little men and little women they were trained to behave and practice the same ideas as adults. Consequently, Rousseau wanted to liberate the child. He saw the child as different to the adult, innocent and vulnerable who deserve to be happy and to be free. He reversed the universal order, his educational theory consisted of the study of nature of the child. Hence, he became the inventor of child-centre education.
Through his book Emile he wrote about all of his concerns on the child and his aims on education. He was a lover of nature thus, his teaching consisted also on appreciation of nature. Maria Montessori was also inspired by Rousseau ways of teaching in fact, in 1906 she opened a school named Casa dei Bambini where she believed that education helps to bring out the inner individuality of the children and that nature shows children new experiences.
When he wrote his book Emile, he wrote about his ideas on education and about the role of the society it has on children. When it appeared in 1762 it caused a great scandal. The Archbishop of Paris, saw in it a dangerous and mischievous work and that it went against Christian Religion therefore, he ordered the book to be burned, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau was banished from Geneva. However, the scandal of the book attracted more public attention and mothers were won over and began nursing their own infant and great lords began to learn handicrafts, like Rousseau’s imaginary pupil. Hence, it became the most significant book on education after Plato’s Republic.
Johann Bernhard Basedow was one of the first who wrote important books to show that Jean-Jacques Rousseau ideas could be applied in fact, in 1774 together with Christian Heinrich Wolke founded at Dessau an institution which they called The Philanthropinum. It was open to pupils of every belief and every nationality and proposed to render study easy and pleasurable, by following the directions of nature itself.
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi too had his life transformed after reading Emile, in 1775 he founded a school where he put in practice his progressive and professional method of teaching that was based on Rousseau’s ideas in his book. Pestalozzi’s work was followed by Fredrich Frobel, who founded the primary schools or asylums known by the names of kindergartens where his modern education was based on the children’s capabilities and their unique needs. As a result, all these works were a fruitful development of seed sown from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book Emile.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that it was possible to preserve the original nature of the child by controlling his education and the environment thus, the book tells about on how the child is taken from his parents and the schools, isolated from society, and put into the hands of a tutor, who brings him up in contact with nature’s wonders and nature’s beauties. Rousseau divides Emile in five stages, four which deals on Emile’s education and the last stage deals with the training of the young girl who is to become his wife.
Hence, through this imaginary student Rousseau presents his ideas on how a child transitions through education. In Emile, Rousseau believes that the best way a child learns is through stages.
The first stage- (birth to two years) Infancy, talks about the importance of mothers and their role in breastfeeding their off springs, the meaning of the infants’ tears and outcries and how to give great care and not to pamper infants. He advises that the child should be let free and not to wear tight clothing and to play outside to gain better understanding of nature.
The second stage- (two till twelve) The Age of Nature, where Rousseau wanted the child to learn through negative education that is, learning through appreciation and experience rather than giving the knowledge directly. Thus, Rousseau believed that books are not important as a child who reads does not learn things but learns only words. Therefore, in this stage curiosity takes its place and causes the activity of the mind. Here Emile learns to handle the spade, hammer, and hoe so that these objects will lead him to learn to count, measure and to weigh. The child is able to learn to observe, to compare the objects and to judge distances. This is the most important period of human life as the child is allowed to experience new situations and to learn from mistakes.
The third Stage – (twelve till fifteen) The Age of Reason, where Rousseau believed that only at this age that the child begins to reason. Here the child can learn geography, history, and science. In this stage Emile had to learn by himself and to depend on his opinions than the opinions of others.
The Fourth Stage- (fifteen to twenty) Puberty, at this stage the child is no longer a child but sentiments began to emerge. The body, the senses and the brain are developed thus, is ready to be educated for a life with others and to be educated in social relationships.
The final Stage – (twenty till twenty five) Adulthood At this point Emile encounters Sophie where he learns about love and is ready to return to society. In brief, Rousseau discusses his beliefs on educating the young female. He argues that females need less education and should be taught on how to be mothers and to endure the wrongs of their husbands without complaints.
Influence on the field of Education
Jean-Jacques Rousseau brought a new era in education and its influence is evident even today. Rousseau explains that education is life itself not a preparation for a future state. His focus is on the child and how the child should be treated. He was against the teaching methods that they used as he believed that children should take pleasure in their learning. He argued that, at first the child should only play and do sports as they help to grow heathy and strong. Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that the true motive for learning is the desire to know and to experience it.
There are more important aspects that influenced education some of them are:
- Children develop through different stages thus, different types of education must be presented to each of them.
- Every mind has its own form’ as a result education must be individualised.
- The power of the environment, as it helps in enriching the child’s interest by developing new opportunities and experiences.
- The important role of the educator, the one that creates the environment to accompany the children and not to impose on their ideas.
- The importance of the children to make sense and to develop their own ideas through their own life experience.
- Children are naturally good, they are different to adults as they are vulnerable and innocent.
Jean Jacques Rousseau was criticized for his book, as some believed that it is not wise to leave a child completely free, and to learn things from experience as the child needs guidance during the different stages in his/her life. Finally, some argued that a child needs to be part of a society not to be kept away as the child can imitate and learn through society.
In my opinion, things are quite the same in today’s world. We live in a world where competition and imitation are at its best. We do not stop and appreciate nature, we just take it for granted. We do not make use of the opportunities that nature can give us. I do agree with Rousseau that people lived better in forests as they appreciated nature and lived in more harmony.
Unfortunately , like in Rousseau’s time the child is never a child, because nowadays the child is still living in a competitive life, he/she are taught subjects that are career centred and are not growing with nature. I do believe that during childhood, children should be let free so that they can explore, experience and learn about the importance of life. Just as Rousseau argues ‘To live is not merely to breathe, it is to act. It is to make use of our organs, of our senses, of our faculties, of all the powers which bear witness to us of our own existence. He who has lived most is not he who has numbered the most years, but he who has been most truly conscious of what life is.
However, I do believe that the child should not be left alone. The child should be a part of a society as it helps the child to develop social qualities. I do agree that the child can learn through his/her mistakes as mistakes are teachers. Hence, just as Rousseau argues that society is evil and corrupts the child, I do agree that society may influence the child’s wellbeing. I, as Rousseau, am against rivalry, comparison and punishments as they lower self-esteem and create insecurities.
What I liked about Rousseau is that at that time he realized that a teacher’s role is to facilitate the child’s learning to be there to help in any difficulties and to prepare them for life, not to teach children by rote. As a parent myself, I totally agree that a mother should take her role and breast feed her off springs and to be there for her children.
What I did not like is how he abandoned his children, as I believe that he would have been a great father considering what he wrote and the influence he left behind him. What I also did not like is how he believed that man should be strong and active whilst women should be weak and passive.
In conclusion, our modern society in early childhood education has been influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas. Some of his ideas lasted throughout history whilst others have not lasted however, most of his work has been beneficial to our modern society. Rousseau ‘s ideas are still present in today’s educational system in terms of a natural and physically-oriented way of learning and playing with physical objects that promote hand and brain coordination. Other great philosophers such as Maria Montessori built her work on his research having done great results to the child’s wellbeing.
Therefore, today more educators and schools should incorporate Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s timeless philosophies, they should let the child to have more time to play and to explore on their his/her own and to prepare the child not just academically but for life.