The philosophy of education

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Coming from the side of the natural sciences, having a background in biology, I had little experience and knowledge with philosophy of education. I must admit that I first thought that tackling such a monumental study as the philosophical underpinnings of the educational process would be overwhelming. I was gladly surprised with how the things we studied during the course illustrated the inner workings of my educational practice and provided "validation" to various methods and concepts that I empirically developed and used, such as trying to teach in a child-centered and experiential fashion.

The way that the authors and books are set up allows us to follow the evolution of some aspects of the different philosophies of education. This is very important so that we can have a better understanding of how we have gotten here and some notions into where are we heading in the future. As we can appreciate by closely examining the course bibliography, each one of the authors is constrained and heavily influenced by the prevailing educational and overall social paradigms of their time. However, they all proved innovative, radical and even revolutionary, and certainly remain remarkably enlightening and thought provoking even for our time. This is what makes them classics, like blablabla in the introduction of pedagogy of the oppressed states: "the mark of a great book is its ability to outlive his author."

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I will first present a brief biographical introduction of each author before delving into his o her ideas on education. This will help the reader understand some of the ideological and historical context in which the author's work was written as well as providing some insights into the man or woman behind the theory. As Professor Carlos Torres always says "scratch a theory find a biography"

Let us first examine the educational philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Considered one of the most prominent thinkers during the Enlightenment in eighteenth century Europe, Rousseau's influence can still be found in modern philosophy, political theory and education. His ideology, as his life, was considered highly controversial and even revolutionary for his time. He developed innovative theories about human nature, child rearing, education, citizenship, and the utopian society. Even though he has been heavily criticized throughout history for many of his ideas, most agree with Arnold H. Rowbotham in that: "it would be futile to deny the importance of Jean Jacques Rousseau in modern thought."

If one could essentially bring together Rousseau's educational theory under one concept it would be that of "negative education", i.e. allowing nature to take its course in the upbringing of children without the interfering of established societal codes and conventions. However, it is important to note that, as Grace Roosevelt points out, "Rousseauean pedagogy... is 'negative' in a double sense. The tutor's role is negative in that it requires removing Emile from evil rather than inculcating him with good; it is also negative in the sense of being limited to creating circumstances for self-education rather than attempting to instruct." First we will explore the "isolation" element of "negative education" and we will come back to "self-education" later in this paper.

Rousseau states "...the first education ought to be purely negative. It consists not at all in teaching virtue or truth, but in securing the heart from vice and the mind from error (p.93)." He argues that such vice and error are not found inherently in man. Men are born naturally good and pure. Making this point abundantly clear, Rousseau opens Emile with the statement: "Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things, everything degenerates in the hands of man (p.37)." It is only through the process of socialization that we become corrupted and deviated from our original ideal state. For Rousseau social institutions, beliefs, and traditions originate unnatural conditions such as fear, prejudice, superiority, and excessive desire - all of which create unhappiness. He notes that "...by removing the contradictions of man, a great obstacle to his happiness would be removed (p.41)." For him, the way to educate children to become whole and happy individuals is to isolate them from "customary" forms of schooling and from the detrimental influences of society until an appropriate age, and rely on nature and the physical world as both settings and means for all their initial learning.

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Rousseau's broad and holistic conception of education was incredibly ahead of its time. For him "...education comes to us from nature or from men or from things. The internal development of faculties and our organs is the education of nature. The use we are taught to make of this development is the education of men. And what we acquire from our own experience about the objects which affect us is the education of things (p.38)." Although the reductionist notion of "education as schooling" is a relatively modern idea, and one shouldn't expect Rousseau to think in this manner because Emile was written in a time before widespread schooling and national education systems, it is still remarkable that he had the insight to identify the importance of the different forces that influence and shape our personal and social development.

For Rousseau the ideal man is the "natural man". While society and conventional education make us weak, fearful, blablabla, education in and about nature provides us with.... If one would ask Rousseau for the appropriate method for instruction he would undoubtedly answer "skjdskjsdksdj fsdj

  • Literacy of nature
  • Learning from the senses via experience
  • Individual versus Social.
  • Eliminate society as medium, form direct connection between subject and object (i.e. man and nature)
  • Learning from the senses via experience

Child-centered.

Holistic.

Experiential.

Life-long.

Variable topics course organized around disciplinary knowledge central to development of core understandings of educational and learning processes, phenomenon, policies, methods, and instruction.

Èmile paved way for the liberal modern educational experiments. It stated that experience should come not from books but from life. Rousseau's theory of education rests on two assumptions: that man is by nature good and that society and civilization corrupt the native goodness. Only through proper education in youth could the "natural man" come to being. Children should be kept from books until the age of 12 and youth should be taught "natural religion" only. Girls were to be trained solely as wives and mothers.

Systematic introduction to field, indicating ways in which philosophy serves to elucidate educational aims, content, methods, and values.

It was interesting to follow the evolution of sorts, of different aspects

Rousseau presents the readers with a pedagogy that holds certain merits for both the master and the child, but also contains serious limitations. If one ignores some of the more dated references in Rousseau's text (his application of Medicine as a temporary fad is easy to discount, with our privilege of hindsight), a conclusion is that his work is essentialist: he is interested in the essential spirit of ideas. My question is: Given that some parts of Rousseau's text can be discredited, what ideas remain relevant?

Education should be progressive child-centered, life-long and experiential with the aims of developing well rounded individuals that are good citizens and who live the "good life"

The relationship between master and child are beneficial in that the child constantly has examples and sources of lessons that are insightful and lifelong. Yet many of the lessons Jean-Jacques teaches Emile are done through a sort of "tough love" approach, in that Emile is initially unaware of the end result but has come out better in the end.

How does this contribute to internalized oppression of the women and girls of his time?

I believe that Rousseau's approach to teaching young boys about speaking is problematic in that it sows seeds of patriarchy and chauvinism. Where do we see this in today's society?

One final question: What are the applications of Rousseau's pedagogy for modern environmental and ecological concerns? That is, many of the lessons Emile learns take place outdoors (the conditioning of his body, the beans vs. Maltese melons, etc.). How would such a pedagogy affect the climate of environmental education, so to speak?

In a document exploring the roots of environmental education, Edward J. McCrea poses the question: " Does environmental education owe its origins to the influence of philosophers such as Rousseau who felt that education should maintain a focus on the environment?" When I first read McCrea's piece several years ago I didn't really think much of this question, and I skipped directly to the more modern origins of this field, mainly the 1960's and 70's. Now after reading Emile's first two books I understand completely how one can argue for the strong connection between Rousseau's educational philosophy and today's environmental education. However, the latest trends in environmental education and education for sustainable development all advocate a more integrated approach that promotes a healthy balance of natural and social learning. I believe that Rousseau's extreme views on society would have little acceptance in the modern environmental education field.

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In Book II of Emile, Jean-Jacques Rousseau presents his view on the concept of happiness, stating that happiness is produced when desire and faculties are commensurate. Correspondingly, an unhappy individual can be made happy by reducing their excess desire.

Rousseau's main point is that if desire exceeds one's capabilities and/or condition, misery arises. I find this similar to Buddhist philosophy: that desire, or attachment, is the cause of suffering; this can be compared to Rousseau's excess desire because it is an attachment which is beyond one's faculties or powers: desire for transient objects, conditions, or life itself. (59)

It's hard to imagine a situation in which faculties are in excess of desires, especially when connected with Rousseau's concept of boundless imagination;

He is trying to establish an education which is experiential and exists in a balance between desires and faculties (or, more generally, ideas and reality).

He opens Emile with the phrase: "God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil" (10). He loves the dichotomy, which structures much of his text: he separates good and evil, nature and man, man (as individual) and citizen (as an inseparable part of a social order), and private and public education (which he describes as "conflicting types of educational systems" (14)). These extremes never seem to touch each other, and the individual is fated to inhabit the between, to constantly negotiate between the two.

I would argue that an essentialism that advocates an education as a return to nature, what Rousseau calls a habit of "having no habits" (40) is a fallacious notion which assumes that humans have a past perfection of which it is possible to work towards.

I believe Rousseau has important and relevant ideas, but only when they are removed from his fantastically extreme dichotomies.

In response to Richard's observations about Rousseau's love of the dichotomy, I am interested in Rousseau's binary view of class. In examining the differences between rich and poor, Rousseau presents an overly romanticized view of poverty and those who live in it. He sees poverty as a more natural, and more noble, state of being, free from the corrupting influences of riches and civilization. Rousseau goes as far as to posit that "the poor man does not need to be educated" because he can "become a man by himself" (52). Yet such a claim seems at odds with his underlying philosophy of education. If the aim of education is to create fully developed human beings capable of living the good life, how can such objectives be effectively accomplished under the auspices of destitution and financial duress? Do Rousseau's ideas about class have validity or is this merely another "fallacious notion" that should be discredited?

I agree with Meredith's thoughts regarding the problematic nature of Rousseau's thoughts on class, particularly in a contemporary context (as mentioned by Lilie). I think it is important to keep in mind Rousseau's notion of education was quite broad, in that education is life-long and deals with anything and everything that begins at one's birth. Because the poor were removed from society's demoralizing and corrupt ways, they had more of a chance to become the "natural man," despite their financial situation.

It is difficult to connect these ideas in a modern context now that education is generally understood as schooling, and poor classes form part of the compulsory system, no longer physically removed from society at large. In response to both Meredith and Lilie's posts, I would suggest (as has Daniel) that the notion of poor v. rich education as defined by Rousseau is unrealistic and has been invalidated by today's actual circumstances. Rousseau's simplistic and romantic conceptions of education and class, while dubious in his time, are surely irrelevant now.

The reasoning behind this is that, according to Rousseau,

In general, Rousseau thus presents a challenge, a provocation, to rethink education, the role of schooling in education, and what we call socialization, forcing us to reflect on and discuss what constitutes a proper education for a child.

Very important. Notion of socialization in light of current educational trends. Teaching children to assimilate to the system.