A New Way to Educate Children
Rousseau lobbies against an educational system that tries to teach children concepts and facts before such time, as they would make use of them. He believes that a child should not neglect those studies, which meet his present needs, in order to learn that which he may acquire in later years. He claims that experience and emotion are our real teachers, thereby reinforcing the theory that a child should not be educated in matters which are not pertinent to their current station in life. He contends that a child should “remain in complete ignorance of those ideas which are beyond his grasp” (p686). In essence, Rousseau argues that the healthy spontaneous impulses of children were being repressed by the adult demands for emotional restraint, intellectual precision and social conformity as abdicated by the social and educational practices of his time.
Rousseau constructs a theory of education, starting with the influence of the child's natural environment, which should prevail over the influence of society and social institutions. Rousseau advocates allowing children to grow and develop naturally, in direct opposition to the prevailing methods of teaching. Children should be encouraged to develop their faculties through experience. This forms the basis for his fundamental principle of education. Rousseau argues that to be of use to a child, a concept must be relevant to his age. Rousseau promotes involving the student in hands-on learning experiences, as opposed to the more traditional methods of instruction. Children pay little heed to verbal explanation, nor do they remember them in his opinion. He stresses the importance of discovery as a learning tool. Ideas that seem difficult at the onset become less daunting when introduced using a hands-on approach. Simply stated, he proposes to teach his pupil through “doing”, using words only as a final recourse.
I don’t think Rousseau’s plan appealed to the peasants and urban workers in the 18th century. These people were hard workers who would have their children working to feed the family rather than wandering about the countryside learning. If their children had to be schooled, they most likely would have preferred they were subjected to the discipline provided by formal schools in towns and villages which were beginning to appear. Not only did these schools provide a more...