Class Notes

Foundations of Educational Thought — fourth meeting

Class began with the prompt for the next writing assignment, along with several remarks about how one might approach this prompt and the ones to follow. The final paper is a descriptive assignment using a long biography or autobiography. The purpose is to try and find the foundations of educational thought within a life, an act of self-disclosure, not only in the literature or in “theory.” 

We then moved to Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Emile. (The entire lecture can be heard here or in the post below.) The reading for the day was books one and two. I focused all my remarks on two aspects of the Emile, Rousseau’s thought, and the Romantic tradition in general: Rousseau’s religious conception of Nature (as opposed to Plato’s) and his philosophy of language. 

The first is clear: for Rousseau, unlike Plato, we begin in Enlightenment. This is what Nature is for the human person according to Rousseau: a primordial state of grace, albeit a rather brutish one. The implications of this are wide-ranging and I used the progression of Romanticism from Rousseau to Thoreau to Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. as an example. 

The second aspect is not so much a “philosophy of language” in any contemporary technical sense, but instead a sentiment towards (or against) language that Rousseau deeply harbors and consistently applies. Rousseau sees language as one of the things that lead us out of Nature, that corrupt us out of our most natural form of self-love (amour soi) into our conditioned, medicant form of self-love (amour propre). It is based on this antipathy towards language that Rousseau holds the poor above the rich in terms of their their lexical abilities and also recommends withholding reading and vocabulary from young children. I elaborated on Rousseau’s view using my own sense of the distinction between being and meaning, in that order.

The class seems to finally be settling in, for better and for worse. I think that, whether they are happy about it or not, the class has become somewhat used to me and my style of teaching. Next week we will talk in much more detail about the many claims Rousseau makes about just about everything related to human ecology.


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