Jean Jacques Rousseau And The Enlightenment

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Jean Jacques Rousseau and the Enlightenment

Who was?

  • He was born on June 28, 1712 in Geneva (Switzerland), and died on July 2 in 1778 in France. He was born in the century of illustration.
  • He lived his first years in Geneva. At 42 he was living in different places in France and in 1754 he returned to Geneva where he wrote some of his most important works until 1767 who returned to France where he died.
  • He was a writer, philosopher, pedagogue, musician and precursor of the new school.
  • It stands out for two of his best known works and that have had more impact (1962):
  1. "El Emilio", who talks about education.
  2. "The social contract", which seeks the foundations that is based on an egalitarian society for men.


Rousseau thought that women should receive an education other than that of the man only because of being a woman, in this special education the woman had to be prepared for marriage and her duties as a housewife. According to Rousseau, man must be educated to intervene in the political sphere, for the use of reason, unlike the woman. In short, Rousseau’s thought was somewhat misogynist.

The sociocultural movement par excellence at the time of Rousseau is the Enlightenment.

What contributed?

For Rousseau, there are three fundamental features that characterize natural man: self – esteem, love of neighbor and freedom.

The pedagogical proposal according to Rousseau is useful for the child since, he prepares physically and mentally for adult life, as well as the natural process of the child of the child must not be hindered.

Rousseau is the founder and the greatest representative of pedagogical naturalism, ”the child is born good and it is society who corrupts him” (Rousseau, cited in Maura 2014) and therefore we must educate the nature of the child.

The author emphasizes that it is useless to conveto learn. Rousseau wrote a pedagogical novel, "Emilio", aimed at exposing her educational criteria, divided into five parts that accompany the child’s development, from birth to marriage and paternity. His work the Emilio represents the man of nature, Emilio is not an individualized hero, but is the abstraction of human nature, since it represents the alternative of constitution of man.

The stages in which the "Emilio" is divided are:

  • First stage: Based on childhood (0-2 years): At this stage it is given importance to the care and protection of the mother.
  • Second stage: (2-12 years) This stage is based on childhood, the child learns to speak, express and not be afraid.
  • Third stage: First Adolescence (12-15 years): At this stage you learn to solve your problems through your own experience.
  • Fourth stage: Adolescence (15-20 years): At this stage you are prepared to enter society and relate to the elderly.
  • Fifth stage: At this stage, observations on women’s education are formulated.


He says that a child’s first educator must be the mother and not the "loves" whom he used to give himself to the child for his care. For Rousseau, the educator is the one who enables learning opportunities, allows free contact with things, separates it from all the notions of social relationships that exceed his ability, he does not seek to teach him something but wakes up the ambitionAnd need for learning, teaches you methods for your future, guides you to meet your needs, makes you see that you learn more by reading or writing, allows you to exercise your body, senses, spirit and reason, make a lover thinker andSensitive, who learns to judge by himself with firm judgments, teaches him society without coming into contact with her, prepares him to learn experiences of the world around him.

The educator’s role is given great importance since the child is the subject of education and must be educated with the stages of its natural development.

Stresses the activity and participation of students by carrying out tasks that provide experience. From different situations, children get this experience, which causes the desire to learn. These learning must be focused on something that is beneficial for your life in the future. Rousseau is not against memorization, but he thinks it is to give him something already done, therefore learning through experience will be easier when remembering it, since they are situations that have lived.

Rousseau also says that no kind of punishment must be introduced to children, because this will not make the child understand why he has done so. The teacher should not give the child’s answers in advance, but has to let it be the child himself, through his own experience who discovers things.

Pedagogical methods

One of the pedagogical methods according to Rousseau’s work "Emilio" is negative education, which is based on not teaching directly, moves away from error and the child must learn from experience and reason, therefore, the child does not learn what he does not understand.

Another pedagogical method is naturalism: this method was against existing pedagogy, which changed the nature of children and manipulated their personality through education. Therefore, naturalism consisted of educating children respecting their own nature and promoting learning through experience itself.

Main ideas

  • Educate the child’s own nature, without using books but, using their own senses.
  • Foster the autonomy of the child, through their own experiences.
  • Within this education that Rousseau proposes, the evaluation is autonomous, students receive their qualifications according to their effort and what they learn from within.
  • The resources and materials that Rousseau uses are planning, organization, management and control. For Rousseau it was important to encourage learning through game and fun, always respecting the child’s nature. Slow learning is preferable than doing things against the child’s own nature and will, so that it can decide for himself and consider what is right and what is wrong.

That is Rousseau today

The validity of his thinking today: the influence of Rousseau’s ideas is based on the teaching-learning process, which is currently related to training in competences. Competency training tries to apply knowledge to real life, through learning that is not memoristic or repetitive. This training aims.

The current school has the following ideas from Rousseau: the importance of nature and negative education. The main pedagogues prior to Rousseau are:

  1. Voltaire: Think that you have to fight mistakes, but on the other hand it recognizes the cultural and scientific triumph that man has conquered, unlike Rousseau, who thinks that man is good by nature and it is society who corrupts him.
  2. Locke: cares about people’s freedom, and Rousseau gives him more importance to ending the inequality between men.
  3. Enoio: says: "The universal idea of learning and teaching all things, we should not and can take it from another part other than the teaching of nature" – (Magna didactics, 1657). Therefore he shares the idea of naturalism, just like Rousseau.
  4. The main later pedagogues are:
  5. Pestalozzi: He said that freedom must be a condition for education, gave importance to the development of the child and the game as a learning center. And Rousseau said that the child should be in contact with nature and experiment with her.
  6. Froebel: This author based on Rousseau’s pedagogical laws said that the child must be in contact with nature and experiment with her, and also said that the child is good by nature.
  7. Montessori: This author highlights the child’s freedom, learning through experience and that all children are good, ideas that he shared with Rousseau.  

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