Rousseau and his Contribution to Naturalistic Educational Philosophy

JOHN JACQUES ROUSSEAU (Naturalism) (1712-1778)
                Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born June 28, 1712 in Geneva and died July 2, 1778 in Ermenonville, France. He was one of the most important philosophers of the French enlightenment. He was born in a poor house of a watch maker he was not educated properly he received informal education by his father at home. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to an engraver. However, Rousseau left Geneva at 16, wandering from place to place, finally moving to Paris in 1742. He earned his living during this period, working as everything from footman to assistant to an ambassador.

The Revolution: A novel from prehistoric times

In 1735 he worked as a tutor to the two sons of M. De Malby in Lyon. This job developed his interest in education and he was motivated to prepare his first treatise, called “project for the Education of M. De Sainte- Maria”. Sainte- Maria paid a great attention towards the early social training, being the elder of the two boys.  In 1742 he moved to Paris. There he became a close friend of David Diderot, who was to commission him to write articles on music for the French Encyclopedia. Through the sponsorship of a number of society women he became the personal secretary to the French ambassador to Venice - a position from which he was quickly fired for not having the ability to put up with a boss whom he viewed as stupid and arrogant.

During his stay in Paris’ in 1750 a competition was held by the academy of Dijon he got an opportunity to participate in an essay competition. The topic of the essay was “Has the restoration of the arts and sciences contributed to the purifications of the morals”. He began his literal fame and anti social-bias by this opportunity. Themes of these essays were: that human are by nature good and it is society's institutions that corrupt them. The essay earned him considerable fame and he reacted against it. He seems to have fallen out with a number of his friends and the (high-society) people with whom he was expected to mix. This was a period of reappraisal.

On a visit to Geneva Jean-Jacques Rousseau reconverted to Calvinism (and gained Gene van citizenship). He attributed the existing operations and corruption of the society to the advancement of civilization and that good people are made unhappy and corrupted by their experiences in society. He viewed society as "artificial" and "corrupt" and that the furthering of society results in the continuing unhappiness of man. In 1753 he wrote his second book “The Origin of Inequality among Men” here again he discussed about the cause of dissimilarity among men is the civilization.

     Rousseau's essay, "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" (1750), argued that the advancement of art and science had not been beneficial to mankind. He proposed that the progress of knowledge had made governments more powerful, and crushed individual liberty. He concluded that material progress had actually undermined the possibility of sincere friendship, replacing it with jealousy, fear and suspicion.  He wrote that the decline and fall of ancient people coincided with the growth and knowledge among them. The days of their poverty, simplicity and ignorance were also the days of their strength, their happiness and their innocence. However he believed that Education is a necessary evil. ‘The Social Contract” and “Emile” came up in 1762.
                 Rousseau's most important work is "The Social Contract" describes the relationship of man with society. Contrary to his earlier work, Rousseau claimed that the state of nature is brutish condition without law or morality, and that there are good men only a result of society's presence. In the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men. Because he can be more successful facing threats by joining with other men, he has the impetus to do so. He joins together with his fellow men to form the collective human presence known as "society." "The Social Contract" is the "compact" agreed to among men that sets the conditions for membership in society. The book Emile is based on a boy and how the sophisticated society of Europe came into being. Emile is the theme of the latter and discussed former and imaginary description of the education of a boy. (Khalid, 1974 & Grimsley, 1973)

          Aims and Objective of Education
                 Rousseau was the leader of the Naturalistic Movement. Rousseau’s philosophy was based on the principle that everything is good when it comes from God’s hand but due to its influence of the society it steadily degenerates.  He emphasized that traditional and formal education was manmade and therefore undesirable and he was against this educational system. He believes that education is the development of the child’s inner disposition and it is certainly not about imparting information or seeking knowledge. He also said that the first and the most important part of education, precisely that which the entire world neglects is that of preparing a child to receive education.

 Rousseau says that education comes to us by nature, man and things. Here he is regarding nature as equal to endowment. According to nature is repeatedly interpreted to the development of a child. The naturalistic hierarchy of educational objectives represents a complete reversal of traditional purposes of the school, chiefly, perfecting of man’s highest powers via study of literature, philosophy, and classics. (Rusk, R.R., 1956 & Khalid, 1974).
Rousseau said that a child is born good, free from all sins. After the influence of society he learns evil. In Christian era a child is born with mortal sin and therefore he was treated harshly. Rousseau focused on that period of a child where he develops different stages and builds his character.        (Khalid, 1974).
According to Rousseau as cited in Khalid, 1974, “Childhood has its place in the sequence of human life; the man must be treated as man and the child as a child”. He emphasized that a child has different capacity of learning and he builds his character gradually. He should be treated differently, not like adult humans and being a learner he should be given enough space to learn and grow on his own because in the end he is the result of the society. People are always looking for an adult in the society without even knowing what a child is. Rousseau was the first one to give childhood its rightful place. He felt the need of education according to the demands of a child. (Khalid, 1974)

                  Rousseau concept of education was also Naturalism. As a philosophy of education it was developed in the 18th century and was based on the assumption that nature represents the wholeness of reality. It was a concept that firmly believes that ultimate reality lies in the nature of the matter. Matter is considered to be supreme and mind is the functioning of the brain that is made up of matter. Nature, itself, is a total system that contains and explains all existence including human beings and human nature. The whole universe is governed by laws of nature and they are changeable. It’s through our sense that we are able to get the real knowledge. The senses works like real gateways of knowledge and exploration is the method that helps in studying nature.
            We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education.
         ~Jean Jacques Rousseau
               Education must conform to the natural processes of growth and mental development. This root principle, already touched upon, stems from a concern to understand the nature of the child and follows from naturalism’s conception of the pupil. It is the makeup of the learner that determines the character of the learning process, not the designs of teachers of the learner or there simply will be no learning. (Grimsley, R. 1969) 
      Rousseau focused that Education should be pleasurable; for children they should have a good time when they are learning. This readiness for specific kinds of activity is evidenced by their interest. Consequently, interest in a subject and interest in ways of doing things are guides to parents and teachers, both as to subjects of study and methods of teaching for which children have a natural readiness at any given stage of development. (Grimsley, R. 1969) 

                  One of the most influential book on political theory is and Emile in May 1762, a classic statement of education. The 'heretical' discussion of religion in Emile caused Rousseau problems with the Church in France. The book was burned in a number of places. Within a month Rousseau had to leave France for Switzerland - but was unable to go to Geneva after his citizenship was revoked as a result of the passion over the book. He ended up in Berne. In 1766 Jean-Jacques Rousseau went to England (first to Chiswick then Wootton Hall near Ashbourne in Derbyshire, and later to Hume's house in Buckingham Street, London) at the invitation of David Hume. True to form he fell out with Hume, accusing him of disloyalty (not fairly!) and displaying all the symptoms of paranoia.

In 1767 he returned to France under a false name (Renou), although he had to wait until to 1770 to return officially. A condition of his return was his agreement not to publish his work. He continued writing, completing his Confessions and beginning private readings of it in 1770. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was banned from doing this by the police in 1771 following complaints by former friends such as Diderot and Madame d'Epinay who featured in the work. The book was eventually published after his death in 1782. (Rusk, R.R., 1956)
                      Emile is an imaginary description on the education of a boy named Emile possessed ordinary intellectual abilities. The aim of Emile education was to prepare him for life. Although Emile was selected among rich boys, Rousseau made an apology for the selection of the boy was rich and not poor. Rousseau justifies his choice by saying that it is the ordinary people that had to be educated and their education alone can serve as a pattern for the education as their fellow being. In Emile Rousseau discussed about three different phases of education; the natural or negative, the social or moral, the civic or politician. (Khalid, 1974)
                      Rousseau's gift to later generations is extraordinarily rich - and problematic. Émile was the most influential work on education after Plato's Republic, The Reveries played a significant role in the development of romantic naturalism; and The Social Contract has provided radicals and revolutionaries with key themes since it was published. Yet Rousseau can be presented at the same time as deeply individualist, and as controlling and pandering to popularist totalitarianism. In psychology he looked to stage theory and essentialist notions concerning the sexes (both of which continue to plague us) yet did bring out the significance of difference and of the impact of the environment. In life he was difficult he was difficult to be around, and had problems relating to others, yet he gave glimpses of a rare connectedness. (Herbart, J.F.1902).
  Meaning of naturalism:
Naturalism means belief in Nature. It advocates return to Nature. According to W.E. Hocking, “Naturalism is a type of metaphysics which takes Nature as the whole of reality”. The philosophy of Naturalism excludes whatever is supernatural or other worldly. Even human life is a part of the scheme of nature. This philosophy believes that “everything comes from nature and returns to nature.”

Naturalism in education:
Naturalism appeared on the educational scene as a revolt against formalism and stereotyped system of education. In the words of Adams, “naturalism is a term loosely applied in educational theory, to systems of training that are not dependent on schools and books but on the manipulation of the actual life of the educand.”  Education is a process of development of naturalistic life. According to Ross, ‘Education is merely the fostering of natural development and true education takes place when the nature, power and inclinations of the child are allowed to develop freely with a minimum of guidance.” Aristotle, Comte, Bacon, Rousseau, Herbert Spencer, Tagore and Sir T.P. Nunn are among those who thought of education along naturalistic philosophy.  Rousseau was perhaps one of the most prominent naturalists whoever wrote on education.
Principle underlying Naturalistic Education
i.                     Natural Setting: The essence of naturalistic philosophy of education lies in providing natural environment to the child. It is in this setting that proper development of the child can take place.
ii.                   Child –Centeredness: Naturalism gives central position to the child. Accordingly, the teacher should understand child psychology and guide the educand according to his needs and attitudes. Children should be treated as children and not as miniature adults.
iii.                  Maximum freedom to the child: Freedom is the watchword of naturalistic education. It is through freedom that the child-growth takes a natural direction. Children should have a free choice of activities to gain first-hand experiences.
iv.                 Happiness and Healthy Mood: Happiness and healthy mood go hand in hand. Happy childhood is an essential factor in healthy growth. Naturalism believes that education should generate happiness and healthy mood for the growing child.
v.                   Senses – the Gateways of Knowledge: Senses are the gateways of knowledge. For effective learning, adequate sensory exper3inces should be provided to the child.
vi.                 Instincts – the basis of education: Naturalistic education regards instincts as the basis of all education. The teacher should fully exploit child’s instincts and try to modify this behavior. It is through education that the child’s animal behavior should be transformed into human behavior.
Naturalism and Aims of Education
The following maybe regarded as the aims of education planned in accordance with naturalistic philosophy:
i.                     Self Expression: Self expression, not self realization is an important aim of naturalistic education.
ii.                   Self-Preservation: Education should help the child in self-preservation. It includes self health along with healthy environment.
iii.                  Fullest Development: Naturalism believes that the chief aim of education is the fullest development of the child.
iv.                 Survival of the individual: Naturalism believes that the fittest alone should survive. Education must equip the child to struggle to exist.
v.                   Economic Efficiency: Naturalism believes that education should be geared to the fulfillment of economic needs of the child.
vi.                 Sublimation of instincts: Education should aim at the redirection and sublimation of child’s instincts.
vii.                Maintenance of Social and political relations: Naturalist educators believe through education the rate of development should increase so that social and political justice is maintained.
viii.              Adjustment with Surrounding: Education should enable an individual to live in harmony with his surroundings. This alone will ensure his health and happiness.
ix.                 Autonomous development of individuality: Education regards the autonomous development of individuality as an important goal of education Rousseau as well as T.P. Nunn are the main exponents of this view.
x.                   Enjoyment of Leisure: It occupies an important place in the scheme of education. As such pleasure of leisure should be the lasting experience.

According to naturalism, curriculum should be divided into two levels. At the first level, nly such subjects sjould be included as weill help the child in training his senses. At the sdcond level, education should incude such subjects which have linkage wth hysical and natural environments. In general, curriculum should be based on the physchology of the child. Only such subjects should be stressed which are helpful in self-p[reservation. Study of basic sciences and past experiences of the race should aklso be included.
Rousseau has exclusively written on curriculum. He was interested in the nature of the child and his natural development. The following arrangement was suggested by him:
a.       Age-group 1 to 12: Upto 12 years of age, the child should be given negative education. He should not be deprived of his childhood freedom. It is the stage of learning by wandering. He may acquire an amount of formal education from his family.
b.      B. Age-group 12-20 years: This is the stage of training of intellect. This is acquired through formal education which is given through experience. Accordingly, the curriculum should be experienced centred. This experience is to be provided in a social setting or context. Thus experience is to be provided in a social setting or context. So curriculum is broad-based. This experience must follow some system and the other. Hence the need for text-books and also of direct experiences. Higher Stage: At the higher stage, the naturalists stand for sciences rather than for arts. They suggest that even sciences should not be taught formally in the classroom but in the field and through exploration. This suits the nature of the child also. The contents of course etc. are to be in accordance with the nature of the child – his capacities and inner tendencies.
c.       Higher Stage: At the higher stage the naturalistic stand for sciences rather than or arts. They suggest that even sciences should not be taught formally in the classroom but in the field and through exploration. This suits the nature of the child also. The contents of course etc., are to be in accordance with the nature of the child – his capacities and inner tendencies. The modern approach in terms of diversified courses is the direct outcome of this approach.
Although naturalists believe in retaining text books at a higher stage, they believe in following nature for education. As the above, curriculum suggests, just direct experience with nature can be the best method. They also advocate Playway as a method of education.
Individual is to be given unrestricted freedom and only then his harmonious development will take place. It may also be made clear that freedom is to be given in social context and not to that extent which results in disintegration of the society. The checks on the child are also to be natural. The naturalists advocate discipline by natural consequences. But there is always a danger that the child may harm himself and cause worry to the parents.
i.                     Extreme naturalists ignore teacher. They think that teacher will interfere with the development of a child.
ii.                   If, however, the teacher is to be there, let him design situations which help in the inculcation of right type of habits in the children. He is the director of activity. In doing this role as a director, the teacher should not overdo his role or overact his role.

Merits and limitations of naturalism:

Naturalism has given direct impetus to the clear formation of the psychological and scientific conception of education.
Naturalism has secured freedom for the child and has further successes in freeing the child from tyranny and rigidity, interference and strict discipline. This freedom is unprecedented. The child is now in the fore-front.
Naturalism stresses that education should engage the spontaneous self-activity of the child. Naturalism has given an impetus to new psychological methods in educations. Self- expression, follow nature, auto education, plays way, self-discipline and non- interference etc are some of the main characteristics of naturalistic education.
In short, the great strength of Naturalism is its simplicity. It does not complicate the perception of existence by using abstract concepts.


i.                     It is based on one- sided psychology. Its rules are applicable to all the children irrespective of their individual differences, capacities and temperament. It is not possible to apply all the methods of Rousseau in practical situation.
ii.                   Direct experiences cannot be provided all the time. it becomes expensive and something impossible.
iii.                  It gives no place to the spiritual values. It brings everything on the plane fo materialism. It regards human being as more of an animal being. Moreover, some of the principles envisaged by naturalism are not possible to be practiced in the existing situations. Ross rightly opines ‘it is in educational ideals, not in methods that naturalism fails to satisfy.

However, it may be clearly mentioned that naturalism has contributed a lot to give birth to progressive education. All the modern of teaching owe their origin to this school of philosophy. It has made teaching more enjoyable, useful, effective and real. ‘Naturalism is responsible for creating tone and temper for the study of sciences.’’ Anyways in the end we can say that if supplementary by some other schools of thought, naturalism can prove to be the most outstanding philosophy of education.

K.K.Bhatai,(2004).Philosophical perspective of education.Ludiana,India: Laxmi Nagar.             
Grimsley, R. (1969) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A study in self-awareness. Cardiff, University of Wales Press.
Herbart, J.F. (1902). The Science of Education. Boston : D.C.Heath & Company.
Khalid, T. (1974). Education: An Introduction to Educational Philosophy and History. Karachi, S.M. Printers.
Rusk, R.R. (1956). Philosophical Basis of Education.University of London   , press:London.                               

Realists believe that reality exists independent of the human mind. The ultimate reality is the world of physical objects. The focus is on the body/objects. Truth is objective-what can be observed. Aristotle, a student of Plato who broke with his mentor's idealist philosophy, is called the father of both Realism and the scientific method. In this metaphysical view, the aim is to understand objective reality through "the diligent and unsparing scrutiny of all observable data." Aristotle believed that to understand an object, its ultimate form had to be understood, which does not change. For example, a rose exists whether or not a person is aware of it. A rose can exist in the mind without being physically present, but ultimately, the rose shares properties with all other roses and flowers (its form), although one rose may be red and another peach colored. Aristotle also was the first to teach logic as a formal discipline in order to be able to reason about physical events and aspects. The exercise of rational thought is viewed as the ultimate purpose for humankind. The Realist curriculum emphasizes the subject matter of the physical world, particularly science and mathematics. The teacher organizes and presents content systematically within a discipline, demonstrating use of criteria in making decisions. Teaching methods focus on mastery of facts and basic skills through demonstration and recitation. Students must also demonstrate the ability to think critically and scientifically, using observation and experimentation. Curriculum should be scientifically approached, standardized, and distinct-discipline based. Character is developed through training in the rules of conduct.


Just as Naturalism comes on the Educational scene as a protest against systems of education that have become artificial. Realism appears to be a reaction against curricula consisting of studies that have become bookish, sophisticated and a abstruse. As we have a slogan in Naturalism- ‘ Back to Nature ‘ – in Realism we have a slogan-‘ Things rather than words '.
according to Realism the external world of objects is not imaginary. It really exists, "Our experience is not independent but determines reaction to the external objects. Experiences are influenced by the external world which has real existence." (Dr. Pandey Ram Shakal : An Introduction to Major philosophies of Education, pp. 149-50 ). It is a new outlook. and this new outlook is termed as Realism.

The realistic movement in education started from the 16th century. The 16th and 17th centuries witnessed great inventions and epochal discoveries which greatly increased the store of human knowledge. They extended the horizon of human knowledge.
Education is that which makes a man happy by getting acquaintance with real circumstances of life, create capacity for struggling with adverse situation in life. Realistic education is connected with the needs of life. "  ( Dr. Chaube, S.P. and Akilesh : philosophical and Sociological; Foundation of Education , P. 171 ).
The developing realism has adopted four points in education :
 i)   Humanistic Realism,
 ii)  Social Realism,
 iii) Sense Realism, and
 iv)  Neo-Realism.

i) Humanistic Realism in education
Humanistic realism is the reaction against the emphasise on form and style of the old classical literature. It has great regard for the ancient literature but it emphasizes the study of content and ideas in the ancient classical literature to understand one's present social life and environment. The aim is not to study the form and style of old literature to have mastery over it. The study of old literature is a means to understand the practical life. History, Geography, Kautilyas Arthashastra are the subjects and books should be studied for this purpose. Erasmus (1446-1537 ), Rabelais (1483-1553), John Milston (1608-1674) were the supporters of this faculty.
ii) Social Realism in education
 Social Realism in education is the reaction against a type of education that produces scholars and professional men to the neglect of the man of affairs i.e. practice. Education should not produce men who are unfit in social life. The purpose of education, according to social realists, is to prepare the practical man of the world. Michael de Montaigue (1533-1592) was the main supporter of this faculty.
iii) The sense Realism in education
The sense realism in education emphasizes the training of the senses. Senses are the gateways of knowledge and learning takes place the operation of the senses. According to sense-realists nature is the treasure house of all knowledge and this knowledge can be obtained through the training of the senses.
The sense-realists emphasized the three things :
a)      Application of inductive method formulated by Bacon in order to organize and simplify the instructional process.
b)     To replace instruction in Latin by the instruction in Vernacular, and
c)      To substitute new scientific and social studies in place of the studies in language and literature. Richard Mulcaster (1531-1611), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Ratke (1571 to 1635) and Comenius  (1592-1670) were the supporters of this faculty.
iv) Neo-Realism in education
Neo-Realism is really a philosophical thought. It appears the methods and results of modern development in physics. They do not consider the scientific principles everlasting while they express the changeability in them. They support the education of art with the science and analytical system of education with the humananistic feelings. They consider living and un living all objective to be organs and the development of organs is the main objective and all round development of the objects is the main characteristic of education. Bertrand Russel and whitehead were the supporters of this faculty.

"Realists do not believe in general and common aims of education. According to them aims are specific to each individual and his perspectives." (Seetharamu, A.S. : philosophies of Education, p.74). And each one has different  perspectives. The aim of education should be to teach truth rather than beauty, to understand the present practical life.
The purpose of education, according to social realists, is to prepare the practical man of the world.
The science realists expressed that the education should be conducted on universal basis. Greater stress should be laid upon the observation of nature and the education of science.
Neo-realists aim at developing all round development of the objects with the development of their organs.

Dr. Pande, Ram Shakal  1982: An Introduction to Major philosophies of Education,: Agra, Vinod Pustak Mandir,
Dr. Chaube, S. P. Akhilesh 1981: Philosophical and Sociological Foundation of Education, : Agra Vinod Pustak Mandir , Agra
.Seetharamu, A. S. 1989  : Philosophies of Education,: New Delhi, S. B. Nangia, for Ashish Publishing House, 8/81 , Punjabi Bagh, New

Idealism idolizes mind and soul.
Idealism is a popular philosophy of life represented by such thinkers of past and present of Socrates, Plato, Berkley,Fechte, Hagel, kart, Spinoza, gentile, Guru Nanak, Tagore Gandhi, Vivekanda and Radhakrishan. To an idealist, the very essence of man’s being is his spiritual nature.
          Idealism is a philosophical position which adheres to the view that nothing exist except an idea in the mind of man, the mind of god, or in super or super-natural realm.
According to D.M. Dutta, Idealism holds that ultimate reality is spiritual.
Following are the chief assention of idealism:-
·        The ultimate reality is mental or spiritual in nature.
·        The material world is mortal and changing.
·        On this basis, body is false and mortal, soul is true, is immortal.
·        Man is essentially a spiritual being and his spirituality alone distinguishes him from animals.
·        Man is a free agent.
·        Values are pre-existing, ultimate and unchanging.
·        The knowledge of spiritual reality, Brahman Gayan, is the highest knowledge.
·        Development of personality means achievements of perfection.

          It has far –reaching implications for education and the educator. Man’s nature is spiritual divine. He can realize this only through education.
          Idealism touches every aspect of education as:-
          Idealism believes that man has two natures-original and spiritual. The aim of education is to convert the original nature into spiritual nature and to make him a man in the true sense of the word. A man can become man by education only.
          The educand has to be provided with suitable environment and conditions that will be conducive to the realization of his self.
          Thus the aim may be stated as under:-
a)      The major aim of education as contained in idealism is importance to self-realization and development of personality.
b)      Education according to idealism should be based on the teaching of universal truth.
c)      Education must contribute to the development of culture, enlarging the boundaries of spiritual realm.
d)       Idealistic education emphasizes character-building and character formation.

          Idealism believes that goal of human life is exaltation of man’s personality. Education has to achieve this aim. The curriculum must reflect the capitalized knowledge and experience of the rare. So it must primarily consist of ‘humanities’ or ‘cultural studies’. Hence such subjects as history, geography, languages, fine arts, morality, religion, sciences, mathematics and others should be included in the curriculum.
          Idealism has exercised more influence on the aims and objects of education than on the methods of teaching. It speaks of general nature of teaching methods. Idealism is not much concerned with the choice of methods so as long it essential objectives are fulfilled, which is enrichment or personality of the public. Idealism lays stress on instruction, activity and experience. The word ‘instruction’ implies sympathetic guidance by the teacher.
          According to idealism, there can be no teaching without a teacher. The immature learner can never be able to perfect his personality, unless there is someone to teach him the methods of becoming perfect. Thus the teacher is necessary for advising, directing, and even controlling the conduct of the pupil in order that he may be able to ensure the perfection of his personality. The pupil is as much a necessity for the teacher as the teacher for the pupil.
          Idealist likes to give freedom to children. But that will be a qualified freedom. It implies responsibility. It be regulated and guided freedom. Idealism believes in inner discipline. It advocates cultivation of higher values of life through moral and religious instruction. It requires the teacher to present good examples because the child considers the teacher to be an ideal person to emulate by his pupils.

          Following are the merits.
·        Idealism emphasizes complete development of human personality.
·        Important position is given to a teacher in educative process.
·        It lays stress on self-realization.
·        Leads to freedom of mind
·        Educational institutions become places for learning and creating values like truth, beauty and goodness.

·        It neglects child’s psychology nature.
·        No significant contribution to method.
·        Too much importance is given to the teacher and children become dependent.
·        It sets unobtainable goals.
·        It under-rates the study of science and technology.
·        It does not take note of individual differences and special abilities of pupils.

                                                 “Pragmatism in education”
John Dewy (1859-1952)
American pragmatism represents an activist development of Kant and Hegel’s idealism. As a theory of mutable truth, pragmatism claims that ideas are true insofar as they are useful in a specific situation -- what works today in one case may not work tomorrow in another case. The standard of moral truth is expediency. Ethical ideas are accepted as long as they continue to work. According to John Dewey’s (1859-1952) social pragmatism, what is true is that which works for a society (not for an individual) through the promotion of the public good. Dewey advocates a relativistic, secularized form of altruism that calls for sacrificing oneself to attain the ends of the People. In this view society, rather than the individual, passes moral judgment. Social policies are measured by their consequences instead of by abstract principles of what is right or just. There are no facts, no set rules of logic, no objectivity, and no certainty. There are only policies and proposals for social actions that must be treated as working hypotheses. The experience of consequences will indicate the need to keep or alter the original hypotheses.

For pragmatists -- knowledge of the world is impossible to separate from actions upon it. There is no reality out there -- both facts and values are products of men interacting with an environment and shaping it to their wills. Society, for Dewey, is something free men create out of their intellects and imaginations. An advocate of social malleability, he speaks of men reconstructing what they have experienced in order to impose a particular character on it, thereby bringing an explicit reality into being. Men are free to choose their own way of thinking and to create whatever reality they want to embrace. However, a man’s mind is conditioned by the collective thinking of other people. The mind is thus a social phenomenon -- truth is what works for the group.

It is participation in the common life of democratic society that realizes the freedom of the individual and produces growth in him and in society. Democracy expresses the consensus of the collective -- society is a moral organism with a “general will.” Each man is to do his duty by adapting himself to the ever-changing views of the group.

Men simply act. They usually do not and need not reflect before acting. The goal of thought is merely to reconstruct the situation in order to solve the problem. If the proposal, when implemented, resolves the issue, then the idea is pragmatically true. Truth cannot be known in advance of action. One must first act and then think. Only then can reality be determined.

Value judgments are to be made according to desires based on feelings. The test of one’s desire is its congruity with the majority of other men’s wishes, feelings, and values at that time. These, of course, can be examined and abandoned in a future context. Value judgments are instrumental, never completed, and therefore are corrigible. In the end it is feeling, for the pragmatist, that is paramount.

Dewey is primarily concerned with the democratic ideal and its realization in every sphere of life. He advocates education as a way to reconstruct children according to the pragmatist vision of man. Child-centered, rather than subject-centered, education treats the student as an acting being and therefore is focused on discrete, experiential projects. Dewey dismisses as irrelevant the teaching of fundamental knowledge such as reading, writing, math, and science. Both the educator and the students are to be flexible and tentative. The purpose of a school is to foster social consciousness. The child is to be taught to transcend the assimilation of truths and facts by learning to serve and adapt to others and to comply with the directives of their representatives. A disdain for reason and knowledge is thus combined with the practice of altruism (otherism) and collectivism.

Like Marx, Dewey comprehended and appreciated the conflictual essence of the Hegelian dialectic. Dewey stressed the clash in the education process between the child and the curriculum and between the potential and talent of the student and the structure of an outmoded school system. The traditional curriculum, loaded down with formal subjects, was unsuited to the child’s active and immediate experience. Dewey saw children as alienated from their academic work because of a contradiction between the interests of the school and the real interests of the students. There was an incongruity between the values, goals, and means embodied in the experience of a mature adult and those of an undeveloped, immature being. The teaching of abstract, general principles, and eternal and external truths was beyond a child’s understanding and a barrier to the authentic growth and development of the child.

Dewey’s new school would become a vehicle for the de-alienation and socialization of the child. The school would be an embryonic socialist community in which the progress of the student could only be justified by his relation to the group. Dewey’s activity method and manual training could produce a collective occupational spirit in the school.

Dewey, like Marx, was convinced that thought is a collective activity in which the individual simply acts as a cell in the social body. For Dewey, the individual is only a conduit conveying the group’s influence, and a person's beliefs derive from others through tradition, education, and the environment. Dewey’s notion that thought is collective, along with his enmity toward human reason and individual responsibility, led to his advocacy of collectivist economic planning. For Dewey, cognition is an activity of the group or society as a whole and innovations are the products of collective science and technology, rather than the creations of individual thinkers and doers.

John Dewey’s progressive model of active learning promoted a revolt against abstract learning and attempted to make education an effective tool for integrating culture and vocation. Dewey was responsible for developing a philosophical approach to education called “experimentalism” which saw education as the basis for democracy. His goal was to turn public schools into indoctrination centers to develop a socialized population that could adapt to an egalitarian state operated by intellectual elite. Disavowing the role of the individual mind in achieving technological and social progress, Dewey promoted the group, rather than the teacher, as the main source of social control in the schools. Denying the ideas of universal principles, natural law, and natural rights, Dewey emphasized social values and taught that life adjustment is more important than academic skills.

Dewey explained that the subject matter and moral lessons in the traditional curricula were meant to teach and inspire, but were irrelevant to the students’ immediate action experiences. The contradiction between the students’ real interests and those of the traditional school alienated students from their schoolwork. School-age children were caught between the opposing forces of immature, undeveloped beings and the values, meanings, and aims of subject matter constructed by a mature adult. Dewey believed that students’ energy, talent, and potential could not be realized within the structure of an archaic school system.

Dewey and other members of the Progressive movement wanted a predictable method for providing a common culture and of instilling Americans with democratic values. As a result, by the end of the nineteenth century, a centrally controlled, monopolistic, comprehensive, and bureaucratic public education system was deemed to be essential for America’s future.


Hi! I'm doing a dissertation on naturalism and Rousssoe and would really appreciate of you could email me because I have some questions. Also, have you published any of your articles so that I could cite them in my paper? I would appreciate an answer. Thanks, Dorota
Saanvi singh said…
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Isaac Mutiria said…
I appreciate for the information please can i get Rousseau's contribution in development during 18th century

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