Monday, June 1, 2015
On Rousseau and His Novel "Emile"
On Rousseau and His Novel "Emile": Perhaps Jean-Jacques Rousseau's writings (along with Voltaire's and Diderot's) were the intellectual underpinnings of the entire French Revolution (particularly for the Jacobin faction). His work is also considered the inspiration behind the phrase "pursuit of happiness" in the American Declaration of Independence. Needless to say, Rousseau's influence on Enlightenment thinking in the late eighteenth century was very trans-Atlantic. But it was his novel Emile, which Rousseau thought of as his finest work, that can be viewed as one of the first educational philosophies in the Western world. And because Rousseau maintained such a cynical view of human nature, he felt that everything mankind built or touched would eventually succumb to degenerative forces like corruption and greed. Thus, schooling and teaching ought to be focused on undoing whatever "evils" society instilled in its members, not helping children to conform to the status quo. At times, Rousseau got very specific when mentioning topics such as "breast-feeding" and "swaddling," but on the whole, he kept his commentary generalized regarding Emile's continuous development. In short, Rousseau's educational philosophy largely downplayed "book-learning" while emphasizing the importance of everyday "experiences" and "interactions" with the physical world.