Thursday, October 11, 2007

Response to Rousseau's Emile

Rousseau's chapter made me question how inchoate my definitions of certain philosophical terms were. There were discussions of terms such as 'morality' and 'reason' that I must be defining differently than Rousseau..or maybe we just disagree in principle.

It seems to me that, while I don't have many disagreements with some of the methods mentioned, there was stressed a strong and concerted effort to avoid meaningful learning where learning is just asking to be seized. It seems that his approach was to avoid getting too explicit about reason and morality based on the assumption that children totally lack these types of understanding to build on. True, some children may lack a highly complex, logical and abstract morality and sense of reason, when compared with a sane, logical adult. (Whether any of these exist in the world, I'll leave open to the individual for assessment). However, I would contend, based on personal experience, that children have developed for themselves and understanding as to the order of things in terms of reason as well as morality. By avoiding the explicit explanations thereof, I feel as though we're missing great opportunities to help them learn, learning that is made meaningful by their having challenged their own framework of beliefs.

Worst of all, I feel as though Rousseau was terribly contradictory on these points of reason and morality at certain places throughout the chapter.

Of all the things that rubbed me the wrong way, so to speak, there were two that stood out which challenged ideals integral to my understanding of children and of learning. He suggests that we prevent, without explanation, certain actions in which the child may engage that we deem harbingers of negative consequences. His point is that we should avoid commanding children, a point with which I could not agree more. However, I don't like the idea that we shouldn't ever verbalize, after the child has avoided any certain action, the reasons that their choice was a good or bad one, whatever the case may be. I believe that this is a missed opportunity to help them develop their understanding of the world.

The only other specific piece of the text that made me cringe was his contention that 'at so early an age, while the heart is still insensible, children ought to be led to imitate' virtuous actions. Insensible, eh? He seems to contradict the idea of imitation as being meaningful elsewhere in the chapter.

Overall, I think would go for many of the methods employed by Rousseau, in a certain type environment. Yet, I think in avoiding explanation on the grounds that there is a lack of ability to grasp, we are letting wonderful bits of learning go by, which greatly lessens the impact of the sensory exploration that the child is engaging in. I am also curious to know if Rousseau thought this method of learning to be applicable to girls as well as boys. If not, I'd be interested in a comparison.

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