Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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What were Rousseau's views on education and the influence of nature versus nurture?

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Rousseau believed that contemporary society had a corrupting effect on individuals who were originally born good. In the Social Contract, the French philosopher argues that nature created humans free, but that social dynamics created hierarchies which subjugated the weakest: "l'homme est né libre et partout il est dans le fers".

Rousseau wanted to replace this mechanism which favors social relationships based on exploitation with a new social contract which ensured that every citizen is protected by the community. In Emile, Rousseau specifically focuses on the importance of education to form good citizens. The treaty states the inherent goodness of human beings and stresses that the principles of education should be developed in accordance with nature.

Therefore, Rousseau states that the intellectual education of the child should be adapted to his/her effective skills at a given age. It should also be organized in such a way as to make the child the effective protagonist of his/her own education. For example, until the age of 12, Rousseau prescribed that educators addressed themselves to the senses and sensory perceptions of the child.

With this appeal to experience, Rousseau hopes to show that the child can play an active part in his/her education. Because of his assumption that individuals are born good and corrupted by civilization, Rousseau argues that education should not alter the natural/primitive state of the child's character.

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