The Autonomous Thinker in Rousseau
And its implications for Montessori and Homeschool Education
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: An Introduction
1712-1778Mother died in childbirth/ R. ran away at 16Taken in by theBaronnedeWarans- educated in her house and became her loverWrote on music in Diderot’sEncyclopedie1750- A Discourse on The Sciences and The Arts1752 -wrote an opera which received much acclaimPublishedThe Emilein 1762- produced outrage and R. fled to Switzerland1745-1778- invalid marriage to ThereseLevasseur- 5 children abandoned to orphanages
Basis of His Educational Philosophy
Posits “adivision within man’s soul resulting from his spiritual and physical dependence on other men which ruptures his unity and wholeness.”Manwas born good, free, self-sufficient and solitary and that the invention of the arts and sciences served to enslave him, corrupting his morals and robbing him of his happiness.Goalof educationisthe creation of the autonomous man, free both morally andintellectuallyAvoidance of amour-propre
The senses and the survival mechanism= the motivation for learning“Give the child no commandments or corrections, that he may never come into contact with derivatives of the arbitrary will of others.”direct contact withnature (necessity),without the intermediary of books
Property Rights- The bean exampleCompassionThe equality of man’s vulnerability to sufferingSexual education-conflating desire with the desire for the good and the beautifulTravels and the evaluation of different social contracts
Important Ambiguities and Tensions
What is compassion?Notafeeling, rathera reasoned decision of how to make the object of pity stronger or moreautonomousAform ofself affirmation, limited to a social rather than moral good
Let’s Define Our Terms
Autonomy/self-sufficiency-wanting only what you can do and doing what you please, so you never need depend on another (this also means not extending the scope of your desire past what is immediately necessary to your flourishing (food, shelter etc.)Compassion-activeconcern for welfare of others ultimately based on the equality of all men in their common susceptibility to sufferingMoral Freedom-freedom from enslavement to one’s own artificial needs (fostered by modern society and including friends, entertainment, luxury etc.) and from the domination of other manIntellectual Freedom-approaching realms of class distinctions, division of labor, passions, morals, politics etc. in an evaluative manner, tested against one’s own authentic and personal experiences.
To what extent is Rousseau’s vision of education- particularly his ideas on freedom, autonomy, compassion, self-sufficiency and the role of the tutor- embedded in a homeschooling environment and/or a Montessori education?My objectivewas initiallyto determine whether Rousseau’s call to shield children from any external, arbitrary will, or practically speaking to allow them to do as their inclinations bids within an ordered realm governed by necessity and self-preservation, successfully facilitates internalization of the sciences and secondly; to determine whether social boundaries and compassion can spring organically from a child’s own experience of his will and susceptibility to suffering.
By never having to take abstract knowledge on faith from adults and instead engaging in a continual testing of his own powers against the natural world, the child will have the necessary feedback to correct himself and in developing his powers will have a confidence in them of a much surer quality than the pupil who merely memorizes facts with no tie to his practical concerns. Under Rousseau’s tutelage, education becomes the optimal experience (incorporating mental, physical and spiritual struggle and feedback) so critical to authentic formation (by which I mean internally created rather than dependent on the esteem of others) of the human self.As for the emergence of the social virtues, I am not yet convinced that the experience of common vulnerability is enough to promote compassion as such. I think it is enough to promote a respect for boundaries and property but to go further and pose an actual humanitarian concern is I think excessive
A questionnaire sent via email to amontessoriinstructor, a homeschool instructor, and a former homeschooled student
Responses- A Visual Representation
A Summary of Answers
Moderately to very controlled curriculumTeacher very responsive/observant to needs of pupilObedience requiredPeriodic to rare intervention/helpModerate, variable interest but high motivation to problem solve independentlyVery respectful and concerned for othersCertain of knowledge in the sense of performance, not objective validityAsked questions periodically/ often
On theQuestion of Relevance“Aseach child is individually planned for, their existing knowledge is a key factor in what is planned for that child. What skills that would benefit that child individually are very much taken into account.”“Allfocus and knowledge when learning can be related to me personally, even when it should appear otherwise.”On the Question of Certainty“Wealways worked toward mastery rather than covering a certain volume ofmaterial.”“Thechildren become very certain and confident in the information learned because once an activity has been introduced they can work on it as much as they wish and gradually become increasingly confident in it, if they are struggling, they will be given more help so that they can become confident in the activity and their abilities.”“Ineed to make a distinction between being confidant that one has learned the information well and confidant in the objective validity of that information which has been well learned. As a student, I was very certain and confident in the former (that I had learned the information well and would be highly capable of testing or acting on that subject matter), but depending on the information, I may or may not have been blindly confident in the former (the unquestioned truth of what was presented).”
On the Question of Compassion“I have always been a people-oriented person. It is both a great strength and a great weakness to this day how much I will drop anything and everything when the well-being of my friends (or even strangers) is at stake. Nothing is more important to me, and I know this is a result of both nature and nurture, because my parents (and therefore teachers) are the same way.”“Eachchild is different, some are very concerned about others and try to take care of them, others are more individually orientated. I would say that there are more of the former than the latterthough.”“Mostchildren are very respectful of the possessions of others as they each take a work rug or table mat to work on so they have their own individual work space, the other children know that this is not theirs and do not touch it. Personal possessions are usually well respected too, they know to ask the permission of the child who owns it to touch or play with it.”On the Question of Reliance“Anintriguing consequence of home schooling is the knowledge that if you want to learn something, you can. If that something is astrophysics, it may be in your best interest to seek out an academic expert to clarify some things for you, but for the most part, you become aware that in the Information Age you can pick up a book or an instructional video and put your mind to it and learn to know or do almost anything. It’s often overwhelming. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond all measure. We are not held back by the things we can’t do, but by the vast sea of what we can do.”
For a purist, certain elements of Rousseau’s theory are decidedly absent frommontessori/homeschool education; namely, his radical notion of self-sufficiency. Students are not governed by necessity but by conventional standards regarding what should be taught. Students must rely on external, unverified “experts” instead of on personal experience. That said, the role of the tutor was largely in accordance with Rousseau’s ideas of responsiveness and observation.
My Regrets(a Melodramatic and Overstated Title)
Larger pool of subjectsMore specific questionsStudy the “unschooled” homeschoolers/instructors and observe the finished products in person
Is a pure conception of self-sufficiency even viable within the confines of society?Would such autonomy act as a hindrance for an individual wishing to integrate himself into society?Would such autonomy lead to extremism instead of the tolerance which comes with intellectual distance?