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Mar 3, 2011

Emile :Rousseau

Second to Plato’s Republic, Rousseau’s Emile is the philosophical book on education which needs to be first examined that is why, as Geraint Parry cries, “In Emile, he produces an account of an education that is designed to allow persons to live an honest life even when surrounded by the pressures of a corrupt society. It shows Rousseau’s target was to present his Philosophy through this titanic creation, which messages: 

“Why we should build our happiness on the opinions of other
when we can find it in our hearts”.

Rousseau thinks, man is naturally good but the society corrupts him so the aim of education should be to make a compromise between the natural and the social selves; thus, the creator of Emile favours a “negative” education which consists in “unlearning” the artificialities of society: this education would produce a virtuous circle in which transformed human beings would live in a transformed society, which is clear from the point of Restif de la Bretone that Emile was responsible for the “provoking obstinate, insolent, impudent, arrogant generations of the terms.” On this basis, its focus is upon the individual tuition of a boy in line with the principles of “natural education”: this focus tends to be what is taken up by later commentators yet Rousseau’s concern with the individual is balanced in some of his other writings with the need for the public or national education.

Rousseau was himself was quite unsuccessful as a teacher or as a tutor so, in Emile, he tires to achieve through fiction what he could not accomplish in real life. Further, Rousseau had left all his five children in an asylum—Emile is the fictional son whom Rousseau brings up to relives his own childhood, which was otherwise full of bitterness. The emotional vigour with which he speaks of Emile is quite clear: “now it is time for real freedom; learn to be your own master; control your heart, my Emile, and will be virtuous.” The limitations of Emile as an exact model for child education are quite obvious: the bringing up on an elite child under the guidance of an “ideal” tutor is far fetched and impracticable. The education by

“nature does not consent to play the part
of schoolmistress.”

Even the experiment succeeds in Emile’s cause, it cannot be applied on a large because in actual life, things are not as easy as Rousseau makes them appear.

It is not possible to arouse an ordinary child’s interest as early as Rousseau imagined. To be, successful, his experiment requires ideal conditions, as Peter Gay puts: “it is only in real conditions that Rousseau can envisage the reconciliation on education for autonomy with an education for community.” Especially in modern times, can one hope to control a child’s environment? Even the rural region, which Rousseau favours, is no more immune to the influence of the city. Even in villages, there is unimpeded flow of images through TV and electronic gadgets. Interestingly, Rousseau shows a remarkable awareness regarding the pitfalls of his system and denied that he was writing a treatise Emile on education to be followed in practice. He wants that the adult Emile may not be what he wanted him to be, as he wrote in 1764:

“you are quite right to say that it is impossible to form an Emile. It is not
a treatise  on education. It is a rather philosophical work on the
principle that man is naturally good.”

Although, Emile cannot be followed in practice, ideas expressed in it have profound relevance even in the modern times. For instance, Rousseau’s insistence on treating the child as a child not as an adult is valid even today. The recent debate on heavy school bags was anticipated by Rousseau when called books “the curse of childhood”. He advocated a practical, natural education instead of mechanical and artificial one which forces to the child to “mature prematurely”. There are few a numerous ideas in Emile, which are of current relevance.

In spite of overt romanticism of Emile, we have to conclude that Rousseau was the “great writer on civic education after Plato” and a pioneer of “progressive” education whose vision should be seen in totally, as P.D. Jimack says, “Rousseau was in fact little concerned with remedies and reforms, the education of Emile is essentially a whole, and as such impracticable in any immediate sense.” So, we should view Emile as a philosophical work in fictional mode which throws up many ideas that can be used in the field of education reform.

In conclusion, Rousseau’s Emile is a classical statement of education but the biggest hurdle in accepting Emile as a treatise is its form which makes it a half treatise and half novel, thus it has hybrid form. The fictional nature of the work may lead one to doubt the author’s seriousness—the book is essentially utopian or romantic in nature. Emile pretends a wish fulfillment world, as P.D. Jimack observes: “we may choose to see in Emile both a substitute son and the child Rousseau would himself have liked to have been”. Let us end with the words:
Rousseau’s philosophy of education in Emile may not be practical,
but it is the education should be”

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