Copyright © 2005 José Cossa
The philosophy of education proposed by Rousseau is evidence of mysteries in human life that have been subject of concern and investigation by a variety of people, i.e., educators, philosophers, etc., to this day. The views are characterized by a philosophical dichotomy of the role of nature and nurture in the education of humans, and a dichotomy of worldviews presented by the idealistic and the realistic perspectives. In attempting to resolve these dichotomies (in my observation), Rousseau proposed that education be divided into three parts and attributed prominence to nature as the educator of mankind.
From a Christian standpoint, which advocates for the perfection of God and all that God has created, I agree with Rousseau’s statement that all things originating from God are good, but disagree that all things degenerate as they get to man’s hands. Rousseau contradicts his latter claim by introducing the possibility of mentoring or advising Emile. If all things degenerate in the hands of mankind, then no human is able to mentor another, even if such mentoring is by means of surrendering the child to his own natural instincts – how can anyone, in whose hands all things degenerate, be able to subdue his own evil propensity to dominate another or impose one’s own will on another? This contradiction reflects a conflict between what really is and what Rousseau wishes it should be, i.e., the real and the ideal; and, the contradiction is manifest in his swinging between the two worldviews. His own maxim, “the true man wants only what he can get, and does only what pleases him” (p. 167) reflect the ultimate ideal and a conflict with his initial assumption that mankind is naturally corrupt (p. 163).
On a positive tone, Rousseau has advanced a valuable contribution to education by calling to our attention the distinction and yet mutual role of nature and nurture in one’s educational process from childhood to adulthood. Education to manhood (or womanhood) is foundational to education for citizenship for one understands better his social role if he understands what really matters to him/her as a human being – I would tie this process and philosophy to Jesus maxim, “love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31).