Item description for Emile: Extraits (Petits Classiques Larousse) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau...
Our inner conflicts are caused by these contradictions. Drawn this way by nature and that way by man, compelled to yield to both forces, we make a compromise and reach neither goal. We go through life, struggling and hesitating, and die before we have found peace, useless alike to ourselves and to others.
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Emile by Jean-Jaque Rousseau Nov 23, 2007
This is an interesting text that has continued to influence education since its original publication in 1762. This particular edition is nice, because of its size and being paperback, it is easily toted around. The introduction by P.D. Jimack is interesting and well written, helping the reader to have some perspective before reading the text.
I have always been of a mind to enjoy reading the works of "anti-academics." Often, this takes the form of perusing a library shelf, picking a few titles, unceremoniously discarding those which do not arouse my interest in the first few pages, and following up on the bibliography of those that do. That is how I discovered the writing of John Holt, and if memory serves me correctly it was through his bibliography that I discovered such authors as George Dennison, Paul Goodman, and James Herndon. However, that study left me rather disappointed because of the almost historical place their works seemed to assume. My first year away at college after being home schooled my entire life Holt was like finding Atlantis, then realizing its antiquity. I treasured the sentiments, but was disillusioned into inaction. Last semester a frame of melancholy sent me on another one of those errands through library shelves, and thus was born my discovery of John Taylor Gatto. The greatest joy was in realizing that he was a contemporary author. After reading "Dumbing us Down," I was searching for other books of his online and ran across johntaylorgatto.com. This site included a partially published version of his book "The Underground History of American Education." I was hooked... apparently so were others, as getting hold of a library copy to supplement the online portions took some patience. This book had so much theory, so many facts, Gatto could write the moving experience-based narratives of Holt and associates, but there wasn't time because he had so much MORE to tell! Anyway, one book which he mentioned was Emile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As I had never read any Rousseau, and had an independent desire to know something of classical philosophies, I decided to read "Emile".
First and foremost, Emile is a work on education - in the ideal. I say this as a grammatical parallelism to the expression "in the abstract," because I wish to emphasize how abstract an idealization always is. Therefore, you really cannot take anything he says quite seriously. I read the EVERYMAN version, and they include a bit of historical context, author's biography, etc. Between that and the text itself, you get the feeling that the book was written in the spirit of "If I had it to do over again..." The truth is that Rousseau was the biological father of five, but the active father of none. Yet, regret can house a wealth of wisdom, let it not be too harshly scorned, only let us realize that every prescription is untried.
Having said that, "Emile" is an early advocacy of home schooling. Emile is the pupil, Rousseau is the surrogate father. Gatto, however, did not seem to be giving a very positive recommendation of the work. I think Gatto was primarily alarmed at the contrived nature of Emile's education. That is a point well worth considering and one upon which I am not yet free of indecision. But the sentiment of Rousseau's aims I could not call anything other than praiseworthy. In the first part I think he tends to get carried away with analogies in the proper care of an infant. But always in view is the idea of making Emile self-reliant. In this respect, it would not be at all practicable a method for the parents of more than one child, nor for those who did not have the money or leisure to carry out the method in contrived solitude.
However, in promoting independence it does seem strange how utterly dependent Emile is in regards to his tutor. Also, how his age is always taken into consideration, as if experience judged by the experienced (before the pupil is even a real person) had sovereign right to dictate what was and wasn't natural. Furthermore, although Rousseau professes to have a plan for acquainting Emile with other men, the workings of society, and eventually woman, once again we should remember that his method is untried. Even so, Rousseau is always quick to point out that his pupil is a specific case, that each pupil would be different and that the main goal of a tutor should be to observe and know his pupil rather than to teach any specific material.
The book is subdivided into five books, the last of which is almost a romance novel. Emile has more-or-less an arranged marriage, though he does not know it. If we grant that Rousseau could be capable of pre-picking a girl to Emile's liking, it is a rather enchanting tale, a treatment of courtship in the classic sense of the word. I even think he does a reasonable job of portraying the girl's feelings - although he seems quite insensitive to her embarrassments, a quality I hope he does not expect Emile to share. Oh, and her father has a deplorably cruel sense of humor!
...but on the whole, it is a good read for anyone interested in the history of educational philosophy.
The Educator's Gospel! Oct 28, 2004
Reading Rousseau is best done before reading anything about Rousseau. This singularly original thinker has been so often maligned and misunderstood that any potential reader is usually scared off. Having heard the ugly rumors (Jean-Jacques as the the 'father of totalitarianism'), I must admit that I approached this work with some trepidation. What I found instead, was a delightful and penetrating look into the craft of educating.
Divided into five books, Rousseau accompanied his mythical Emile from the nursery to the wedding chapel, chronicling every step of the way as his pupil's sagacious tutor. Rousseau proved himself a psychologist of the first order laying open the vagaries of the child's (and possibly, every 'romantic's'!) mind. With his almost biblical use of parable and metaphor, Rousseau underscores his central theme of humanity's intrinsic nobility. This innate 'goodness' should not be educated out of the child, nor left to its own devices. Instead, Rousseau argues that it must be nurtured into fruition. Be too strict, and you murder the spirit; be too lenient, and you create a tyrant. Rousseau lays out a doctrine of wisdom, kindness, and truth. Make the child 'feel' his/her errors and he/she will err no more. With aphoristic brilliance, Jean-Jacques provides a blueprint for correct child-rearing and for a wise education. 'Reverse the usual practice and you will almost always do right...You instill vice by forbidding it...To control the child one must often control oneself.'
Jimack's translation gives the English reader a taste of just how refreshing and enlightening the original French text must be. Each sentence rolls off the page with a natural elegance and effortlessness as if it were a leaf falling to the forest floor, paving the reader's way with the bricks of a very practical wisdom. Written in the spirit of the Enlightenment, that most optimistic of times when humanity felt she had re-entered the Garden of Eden, 'Emile' does have its difficulties for the modern reader. The book's treatise on faith, 'Thoughts of a Savoyard Vicar,' fails to thoroughly examine all aspects of why we believe what we believe, while Book Five, where the grown Emile meets his partner-to-be, Sophy, amuses and often frustrates the reader with Rousseau's thinly disguised chauvinism. Rousseau held to a view distinctly unpopular nowadays; sexual roles are set by nature and best left undisturbed.
Yet, despite such anachronisms, 'Emile' is still the best educator's handbook around. It is the tree from which all modern educational theory has grown. Nurture nature and your pupils will blossom!
A pivotal personality in education! Nov 1, 2001
This work by Jean Jacques Rousseau probably represents the single greatest work in defining what we would call education today. I am a Francophone living in Northern Ontario and so I have read just the french version, but barring that I believe that Rousseau was ahead of his time. His simple theory of education was the floor from which many other pedagogues would follow(Pestalozzi, Montessori, Itard, Séguin, among others). His theory of child development established him in all fairness, as the first psychologist of all time.
'The punishment is the natural consequence of the error' Such a novel concept for a time so tumultuous. One other statement is the following' You must begin by first knowing your children, because on the whole you do not'. Rousseau passions me and I believe him to be the reason why education turned towards the children rather than the teachers.
To conclude, I can say most assuredly that Rousseau, with his avant-garde tactics, awoke the world to the concept of an education centered around the child. If you lose the child, you lose the concept of education.
A must read Jul 20, 2000
Rousseau's "Emile" is a must read for everybody who is interested in education. The book may be more than 200 years old, but many of its insights could come up in any brand new treatise about modern methods of teaching.
"Emile" is the fictitious account of the ideal education of a boy. (Maybe it was Rousseau's way of dealing with his own failures as a father.) Rousseau believes that education must be to blame for the deplorable state of the world, as "Everything is good that the Lord has made, it only degenerates in the hands of man." So Rousseau rejects the drill and cruelty of the schools of his times, he opts for freedom and learning by doing. Much of this is utopian, of course, but in one of his brilliant remarks Rousseau claims that "saying: Suggest something that can be done, is like saying: suggest what we have been doing all along."
This is one of the most brilliant books I have ever read. If you read just one book about education, make it this one, even if you are not prepared to agree with Rousseau.