Jean-Jacques Rousseau(Philosopher, 1712 - 1778)

By Alison, Jerilee, and Jennette

" We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason.

All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man's estate, is the gift of education."-Jean-Jacques Rousseau

About Rousseau:

.....Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher during the Enlightenment period in France, was born in Geneva Switzerland in 1712, and was "orphaned", so to speak, as his mother passed away only hours after his birth and his father abandoned him at the young age of seven. Rousseau was than sent to live with his maternal uncle, who enrolled him into a strict religious school, which began his "basis of hatred towards authority".
.....In 1745, while living in a hotel in France, Jean-Jacques Rousseau earned a living as a music teacher and met the mother of his five children, Thérèse Lavasseur. The couple were never officially married, but stayed together until Rousseau's death, while their children were sent to “foundling homes” which Voltaire argued to be the process of “dumping them on the doorstep of the orphanage”; however Rousseau believed that his children would benefit from being brought up within the institution, as they did not have to put up with the negative influences of “high society”(
.....“Rousseau rose to intellectual prominence in 1750 upon winning first prize in an essay contest in France". His winning essay, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, provided the idea that society was evil as "he chastised scholars for pursuing knowledge for fame instead of social progress". Rousseau's, The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality provided the idea that humans are inherently good by nature, however, are influenced by society as "people were made unhappy and were corrupted by their society" ( He viewed society as "artificial and corrupt and that the furthering of society resulted in the continuing unhappiness of man. Rousseau’s praise of nature is a theme that continues throughout his later works as well, the most significant of which include his comprehensive work on the philosophy of education, the Emile" (
In the preface of
Emile, found on Google books, Jean-Jacques Rousseau states that "we know nothing of childhood; and with our mistaken notions the further we advance the further we go astray. The wisest writer's devote themselves to what a man ought to know, without asking what a child is capable of learning. They are always looking for a man in the child, without considering what he is before he becomes a man".

Émile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau


....."Echoing his disdain for contemporary culture and politics in The Social Contract, Rousseau begins Émile by declaring: "God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil." Society held man hostage in artificial institutions and traditions, thereby corrupting the natural goodness of human nature. This proclamation contradicted the notion of original sin, widely accepted in eighteenth-century Europe. It implied that a complete social revolution–not mere pedagogical reform–was necessary to replace the artificial social mores of the bourgeoisie with a new class of natural, self-reliant citizens. In accordance with John Locke's empirical epistemology, moreover, Rousseau believed that children were born ignorant, dependent, impressionable, without rational thought, and gained all knowledge through direct contact with the physical world.
.....As a result, Rousseau removed his fictional pupil, Émile, from his family and placed him in rural isolation. The first three stages of a child's development (infancy, boyhood, and pre-adolescence) required a kind of "negative" education. Protected from the artificial and pernicious influences of contemporary society, Émile would not develop unrealistic ambitions and feelings of jealousy or superiority with regard to other men (amour propre). In such a way, the tutor would encourage the child's physical development, shield him from social and religious institutions, prevent the formation of bad habits and prejudices, and preserve his natural inclination of self-interest (amour de soi).
.....Educated free from the manipulations and desires of others up to this point, Rousseau wanted Émile to remain ignorant of social duty and only to understand what was possible or impossible in the physical world. In such a way, his student would learn to obey the immutable laws of nature. For instance, if Émile were to break the window to his room, he would face the consequences of sleeping with a cold draft. If Émile were to ignore his astronomy lesson, he would endure the panic of losing his way in the woods at night. Through this kind of trial and error, the child would gradually develop reason, adapt to different situations, and become an autonomous man".
(Information from:

Rousseau's View on Education and Child Rearing

The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young child by making him reason! This beginning at the end; this is making an instrument of a result. If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated.” –Rousseau, Emile.

.....Rousseau’s philosophy of education is not concerned with particular techniques of imparting information and concepts, but rather with developing the pupil’s character and moral sense, so that he may learn to practice self-mastery and remain virtuous even in the unnatural and imperfect society in which will have to live. The hypothetical boy, Émile, is to be raised in the countryside, which, Rousseau believes, is a more natural and healthy environment than the city, under the guardianship of a tutor who will guide him through various learning experiences arranged by the tutor. Today we would call this the disciplinary method of "logical consequences", since like modern psychologists, Rousseau felt that children learn right and wrong through experiencing the consequences of their acts rather than through physical punishment. The tutor will make sure than no harm results to Émile through his learning experiences.
Rousseau was one of the first to advocate developmentally appropriate education; and his description of the stages of child development mirrors his conception of the evolution of culture. He divides childhood into stages: the first is to the age of about 12, when children are guided by their emotions and impulses. During the second stage, from 12 to about 16, reason starts to develop; and finally the third stage, from the age of 16 onwards, when the child develops into an adult. Rousseau recommends that the young adult should learn a manual skill such as carpentry, which requires creativity and thought, will keep him out of trouble, and will supply a fallback means of making a living in the event of a change of fortune. (The most illustrious aristocratic youth to have been educated this way may have been Louis XVI, whose parents had him learn the skill of locksmithing, though he was beheaded before he had a chance to use it.) The sixteen-year old is also ready to have a companion of the opposite sex.
.....Although his ideas foreshadowed modern ones in many ways, in one way they do not: Rousseau was a believer in the moral superiority of the patriarchal family on the antique Roman model. Sophie, the young woman Émile is destined to marry, as a representative of ideal womanhood, is educated to be governed by her husband while Émile, as representative of the ideal man, is educated to be self-governing. This is not an accidental feature of Rousseau's educational and political philosophy; it is essential to his account of the distinction between private, personal relations and the public world of political relations. The private sphere as Rousseau imagines it depends on the subordination of women, in order for both it and the public political sphere (upon which it depends) to function as Rousseau imagines it could and should. Rousseau anticipated the modern idea of the bourgeois nuclear family, with the mother at home taking responsibility for the household and for childcare and early education.
Feminists, beginning in the late eighteenth century with
Mary Wollstonecraft in 1792 have criticized Rousseau for his confinement of women to the domestic sphere—unless women were domesticated and constrained by modesty and shame, he feared "men would be tyrannized by women... For, given the ease with which women arouse men's senses... men would finally be their victims...." His contemporaries saw it differently.
.....Rousseau made a point on insisting that mothers should breastfeed their children instead of consigning them to wet nurses, and mothers listened. ‘We all said it,’ the great naturalist Buffon remarked, ‘but M. Rousseau alone commanded it and made himself obeyed.’ Long after his death, women held him in high esteem on this score. [[çois_Marmontel|Marmontel]] describes a near disaster his infant son suffered when given to a wet nurse who starved him, and said that his wife could never accept his constant denigration of Rousseau; she felt infinite gratitude for his persuading women to nurse their infants, and for taking care to make the first stage of life happy. "One must forgive something," she said, "in one who has taught us to be mothers."
Rousseau's detractors have blamed him for everything they do not like in what they call modern "child-centered" education. John Darling's 1994 book Child-Centered Education and its Critics argues that the history of modern
educational theory is a series of footnotes to Rousseau, a development he regards as bad. Good or bad, the theories of educators such as Rousseau's near contemporaries Pestalozzi, [[élaïde_de_Bourbon-Penthièvre|Mme de Genliss]], and later, Maria Montessori, and Dewey, which have directly influenced modern educational practices do have significant points in common with those of Rousseau. (

Understanding Rousseau's Perspective

.....Rousseau was considered to be of a 'Romantic' perspective. While it is difficult to define this perspective, Romanticism can be described as to "favour the concrete over the abstract, variety over uniformity, the infinite over the finite, nature over culture...freedom over constraint, rules and limitations." This perspective also celebrates uniqueness and creativity in individuals and focuses closely upon the community instead of the nation as a whole. "Rousseau argued that the momentum for learning was provided by the growth of the person (nature) - and that what the educator needed to do was to facilitate opportunities for learning." (

A summary of some key elements found in Rousseau's writings

  • Children do not equal adults; they are naturally good and innocent.
  • People develop in stages. Education should be created to match and enhance these stages.
  • Teach to the individual's level of understanding; meet the learner's needs at each stage.
  • Children are restless. Allow them to release this natural energy. Allow a lot of hands-on, engaging activities
  • The child should not be forced to understand concepts beyond the level of their comprehension.
  • Allow students to make sense of their world. Problem solving and reasoning strengthens a student's ability to apply their knowledge.
  • Public and private education are important.

(*found at a very helpful site: )