1902 Encyclopedia > Education > Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78)

(Part 15)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78). His book, Emile.

We now come to the book which has had more influence than any other on the education of later times. The Émile of Rousseau was published in 1762.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau image

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Swiss-French social philosopher and writer

It produced an astounding effect throughout Europe. Those were clays when the whole cultivated world vibrated to any touch of new philosophy. French had superseded Latin as the general medium of thought. French learning stood in the same relation to the rest of Europe as German learning does now; and any discovery of D’Alembert, Rousseau, or Maupertuis travelled with inconceivable speed from Versailles to Schönbrunn, from the Spree to the Neva. Kant in his distant home of Königsberg broke for one day through his habits, more regular than the town clock, and stayed at home to study the new revelation.

The burthen of Rousseau’s message was nature, such a nature as never did and never will exist, but still a name for an ideal worthy of our struggles. He revolted against the false civilization which he saw around him; he was penetrated with sorrow at the shams of government and society, at the misery of the poor existing side by side with the heartless-ness of the rich.

The child should be the pupil of nature. He lays great stress on the earliest education. The first year of life is in every respect the most important. Nature must be closely followed. The child’s tears are petitions which should be granted. The naughtiness of children comes from weakness; make the child strong and he will be good. Children’s destructiveness is a form of activity.

Do not be too anxious to make children talk; be satisfied with a small vocabulary. Lay aside all padded caps and baby jumpers. Let children learn to walk by learving that it hurts them to fall. Do not insist too much on the duty of obedience as on the necessity of submission to natural laws. Do not argue too much with children; educate the heart to wish for right actions; before all things study nature.

The chief moral principle is do no one harm. Émile is to be taught by the real things of life, by observation and experience. At twelve years old he is scarcely to know what a book is; to be able to read and write at fifteen is quite enough. We must first make him a man, and that chiefly by athletic exercises. Educate his sight to measure, count, and weigh accurately; teach him to draw; tune his ear to time and harmony; give him simple food, but let him eat as much as he likes.

Thus at twelve years old Émile is a real child of nature. His carriage and bearing are fair and confident, his nature open and candid, his speech simple and to the point; his ideas are few but clear; he knows nothing by learning, much by experience. He has read deeply in the book of nature. His mind is not on his tongue but in his head. He speaks only one language, but knows what he is saying, and can do what he cannot describe. Routine and custom are unknown to him; authority and example affect him not; he does what he thinks right. He understands nothing of duty and obedience, but he will do what you ask him, and will expect a similar service of you in return. His strength and body are fully developed; he is first-rate at running, jumping, and judging distances. Should he die at this age he will so far have lived his life.

From twelve to fifteen Émile’s practical education is to continue. He is still to avoid books which teach not learning itself but to appear learned. He is to be taught and to practice some handicraft.

Half the value of education is to waste time wisely, to tide over dangerous years with safety, until the character is better able to stand temptation. At fifteen a new epoch commences. The passions are awakened; the care of the teacher should now redouble; he should never leave the helm.

Émile having gradually acquired the love of himself and of those immediately about him, will begin to love his kind. Now is the time to teach him history, and the machinery of society, the world as it is and as it might be. Still an encumbrance of useless and burdensome knowledge is to be avoided. Between this age and manhood Émile learns all that it is necessary for him to know.

It is, perhaps, strange that a book in many respects so wild and fantastic should have produced so great a practical effect. In pursuance of its precepts, children went about naked, were not allowed to read, and when they grew up wore the simplest clothes, and cared for little learning except the study of nature and Plutarch.

The catastrophe of the French Revolution has made the importance of Émile less apparent to us. Much of the heroism of that time is doubtless due to the exaltation produced by the sweeping away of abuses, and the approach of a brighter age.

But we must not forget that the first generation of Émile was just thirty years old in 1792; that many of the Giroudins, the Marseillais, the soldiers and generals of Carnot and Napoleon had been bred in that hardy school. There is no more interesting chapter in the history of education than the tracing back of epochs of special activity to the obscure source from which they arose. Thus the Whigs of the Reform Bill sprang from the wits of Edinburgh, the heroes of the Rebellion from the divines who translated the Bible, the martyrs of the Revolution from the philosophers of the Encyclopaedia.

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