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Self-Sufficiency and the Alienation of the Other in Modern Education: The Case of Emile.


Historically, the self and its relationships with others have been seen from different perspectives. In general, these perspectives fall into one of two categories: the self as an isolated entity and the self as relational (Willett, Anderson, & Meyers, 2015). The first approach focuses on the individualistic aspect of the self, namely on the self as a free, rational, and autonomous agent (Kant, 2012), and on the self as a calculating homo economicus (Bentham, 1879). The relational view, on the other hand, sees the self within its social relations and emphasizes that the self does not exist outside these relations (Dewey, 1916; Buber, 1996; Noddings, 1984). One major critique of the first approach is its neglect of the role of the Other in creating the self. In this approach, the critique goes, the Other disappears and the self appears alienated. On the other hand, the relational understanding of the self has been critiqued for losing the primary role of the self. In this approach, it has been argued, the self disappears. A Hegelian expression of this dilemma between the self and the other states,

the sense of the self needs to be affirmed by the other, and yet a response from the other that is non-confirming or unempathic can lead at best to a sense of depletion or at worst to shattering of the self. This results in a defensive quest for an illusory self-sufficiency which is in conflict with the opposite wish to surrender the self to the other, to merge, to become enslaved. (Modell, 1984, p. 131)

For educators, this discussion leads to the following practical questions: How can education prepare students to be free individuals without alienating them, and how can education prepare students for their social life without sacrificing their own identities?

In this article, I discuss one major modern answer to these questions: Rousseau's naturalistic approach to education. Though Rousseau's educational philosophy has been debated among scholars for a long time, still more discussion is needed about the role of the Other in his philosophy. Feminists have discussed women's education in Emile, focusing on Sophie's education and how sexist that education is or is not. However, there has been relatively little focus on the idea of otherness and the kind of self/other relationships that we might find in a philosophy that puts self-sufficiency as its central principle. Blits (1991) discusses how Rousseau's paradoxical educational project rests on the idea of depersonalizing the self in order to return the self to its natural status. While the mechanism of creating the self will be one main focus for this paper, more focus will be devoted to the Other and its role in arguing against the primacy of the self in the self/other relationship debate.

Rousseau's Proposal

Rousseau's educational approach is considered to be a major foundation for modern progressive education (Bloom, 1979; Davis, 2004; Frank, 2011, Parry, 2011; Katz, 2013). The main link between Rousseau's educational philosophy and modern education is the primacy/centrality of the child. My main aim here is to question the effect of this centrality on the child/other relationship focusing on the case of Emile. To do that I use Martin Buber's distinction between I-Thou and I-It relationships as a framework that focuses on the role of the other in relationships. I analyze the main relationships in Emile's life focusing on how he relates to others. I argue that the centrality of the self minimizes the chances to meet others as others or to be more precise, it makes education less welcoming to the otherness of others. Hopefully this analysis helps us rethink modern education, especially its primacy of the child/self in education. Here is one example taken from modern education: Maria Montessori (1995) writes:
   Education is not something which a teacher does, but that it is a
   natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It
   is not acquired by listening to words, but in the virtue of
   experiences in which the child acts on the environment. The
   teacher's task is not to talk, but to prepare and arrange series of
   motives of cultural activity in a special environment made for the
   child. (p.8)

I ask what kind of student/teacher relationships we get in such a framework where the teacher does not educate and does not talk to her student. Emile is a good case for contemplating such an issue.

At the very beginning of his book Emile (1762), Jean- Jacques Rousseau states "Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Author of Nature; but everything degenerates in the hands of man" (1762/2003, p. 1). The basic thesis of the book is that Emile should be educated 'negatively' by his direct experience with the natural world around him in order to be self-sufficient. The role of his tutor, Rousseau himself, is to facilitate that experience with minimum intervention. Since Emile's tutor is highly involved in his education, it might be more accurate to call Rousseau's education 'protective' or 'defensive' rather than 'negative' (Parry, 2011). Emile can be divided into two major parts. The first part, I-III, is dedicated to raising a natural child who cares only about himself. Books IV-V, on the other hand, are devoted to raising a social and moral person in relations with others (Bloom, 1979).

It is important to notice that Rousseau has a specific conception of nature that does not include men. He distinguishes natural elements as follows: "The internal development of our faculties and organs is the education of nature; the use which we learn to make of this development is the education of men; while the acquisition of personal experience from the objects that affect us is the education of things" (p. 2). Thus, man has three teachers--Nature, things, and men--and the student must encounter these teachers in precisely this order. By nature and things, he seems to mean "the world of matter and of physical forces, personified as an intelligent and infallible guide from which is carefully excluded all the modifications of matter and force which have been made by human art" (Psyne, 2003, p.1). The main distinction here between nature and men is the distinction between necessity and whims. Nature acts in accordance to its deterministic laws whereas men's actions are governed by their arbitrary wills. Since nature is not within our power, it must regulate the teaching of things and men. Thus, for Rousseau, "when education becomes an art, it is almost impossible for it to succeed" (p. 38). Naturalistic education is a strong education because the laws of nature govern it. When these laws and the nature of the child are known, we can then predict, to a high degree, the results of our education.

Since the natural liberty and growth of the child are the aim of education, unnatural liberty has to be repressed. Here is where the principle behind Rousseau's, supposedly unnoticed, manipulation of Emile appears. He writes, "employ force with children and reason with men. Such is the natural order" (p. 91). Also, "never assume to have any authority over him. Let him know only that he is weak and that you are strong, that by his condition and yours he is necessarily at your mercy" (p. 91). Teaching, then, is the art of "governing without precepts and doing everything by doing nothing" (p. 119). Actually, the only condition that Rousseau demands to be Emile's teacher is that "he [Emile] ought to honor his parents, but he ought to obey only me" (p. 53). To facilitate such authority, Rousseau takes Emile to the countryside for "in a village, a governor will be much more the master of the objects he wants to present to the child" (p. 95).

Emile's communication with other people is very limited. Reading books, which is another way to communicate with and relate to the Other, is discouraged. At the age of twelve, Rousseau plans, "Emile will hardly know what a book is" (p. 116). Emile's written communication will be limited to short notes from relatives. The first book Emile will read, sometime between the ages of twelve and fifteen, is the book that "provides the most felicitous treatise on natural education" (p. 184). It is Robinson Crusoe, a novel by Daniel Defoe published in 1719. The main character in the book is Robinson Crusoe who is "in his island, alone, deprived of the assistance of his kind and the instruments of all the arts, providing nevertheless for his subsistence, for his preservation, and even procuring for himself a kind of well-being" (Rousseau, 1979, p. 184). Rousseau realizes that being on an isolated island is not the right condition for a man as a social being, but thinking as an isolated man is the best way to appreciate all the others. This isolated man works in accordance with the first law of nature, which is "the care of preserving oneself' (p. 193).

From the age of fifteen to twenty, Emile is introduced to society and to moral education. He needs a companion, and hence the journey of looking for a wife starts. Sophie will be Emile's future companion. After this brief overview of Rousseau's educational program, I turn to Martin Buber's famous distinction between two basic relations I-Thou and I-It.

Buber's I-Thou and I-It Relationships

In this section I introduce Martin Buber's main idea of analyzing and classifying human relationships and how the other fits in them. According to Buber, there are two kinds of relation that humans engage in, the I-Thou relation and the I-It relation. The first relation exists between humans who see others as full human beings. The second exists between people who engage in instrumental relations. Dialogue, according to Buber must be an I-Thou relation. That is, dialogue, as Buber argues, requires whole presence of at least two people. The I-Thou relation guarantees this condition, whereas in the I-It we lose that presence. Buber (1970) differentiates between the two relations:
   I perceive something. I am sensible of something. I imagine
   something. I will something. I feel something. I think something.
   The life of human beings does not consist of all this and the like
   alone. This and the like together establish the realm of It. But
   the realm of Thou has a different basis. When Thou is spoken, the
   speaker has no thing for his object. For where there is a thing
   there is another thing. Every It is bounded by others; It exists
   only through being bounded by others. But when Thou is spoken,
   there is nothing. Thou has no bounds. When Thou is spoken, the
   speaker has no thing; he has indeed nothing. But he takes his stand
   in relation. (p. 4)

The basic notion of Buber's philosophy of dialogue is that human beings exist always in relations. Any search for understanding human beings outside the realm of their relations is, thus, misguided. This is not a transcendental or a priori assumption that Buber makes but a mere observation of human beings' experiences. Dialogue for Buber happens in the space of "the between." Kramer and Gawlick (2003) distinguish between the two relations as follows:
Two primal life stands

I-It relations                       I-Thou relationships
Never spoken with the Whole Being    Spoken with the Whole Being
Experiencing/using/knowing           Event/happening
In space and time                    Spaceless/Timeless
One-sided: singular                  Two-sided: mutual
Controlling                          Yielding
Subject-object duality               Interhuman betweenness

Now, I turn to Emile to analyze four of the relationships that Emile engages in using Buber's framework.

Emile and Jean-Jacques

In this section, I analyze Emile's relationship with his tutor/governor, Jean-Jacques. Little Emile, an imagined five-year-old orphan, is taken to the countryside to live alone with his tutor, Jean-Jacques, who states "I do not want others to ruin my work" (p. 55). Emile's setting is male dominated, with no mother or any other female relationship. Finzi (2005) notices that the death of the mother and the dismissal of her previous relationship to Emile in thinking about Emile is a sign of rejecting "any female genealogy" (in Bock &James, 2005, p. 121). According to Rousseau the ideal teacher should be as similar as possible to his student "I would want him to be a child himself if it were possible" (p. 51). Under the principle that nature is good and others are corrupt, Jean-Jacques aims to be part of nature and limit his otherness. He seeks to be another who is not other. Emile and his tutor are together all the time and Emile to obey him as he obeys the natural laws. The teacher presents a natural will so Emile does not feel that he is obeying a foreign will. Jean-Jacques is depersonalized. It is also essential for this depersonalization process that both the teacher and the student share the same destiny in life. The moment they recognize their strangeness, "each sets up his own little separate system: and both, engrossed by the time when they will no longer be together, stay only reluctantly" (p. 53).

The teacher must not work against the goal of the student's self-sufficiency. This needs a trick. Rousseau wants a teacher who does everything without appearing to do anything. Jean-Jacques will says to his student, "you are my property, my child, my work" (p. 323) and wants his student to be self-sufficient at the same time. The natural teacher is Rousseau's solution to this paradox. For Rousseau, dependence on nature is compatible with freedom. Freedom is a moral phenomenon that only can be threatened by others' wills. The teacher then becomes a natural force. That is to say, his teaching methods and practices must be: internal (i.e., consistent with inner development), objective (i.e., with no distinguishable will), deterministic, and necessary.

Because Rousseau believes that children are not moral beings, Emile's relationship with his teacher, Jean-Jacques, strives to be consistent with nature, and as far as possible from social communication. Thus, both the teacher and the student have to be depersonalized. As a third person, I see this relationship as an I-It relationship. Jean-Jacques has total control over Emile's education. He keeps referring to Emile's goals and aims but it is not clear what these goals and aims are. Rousseau's answer is that Emile's goals are natural goals. However, we also know that Emile's conditions are not natural. He is completely cut off from his natural relationships, such as his relationships with family and friends. Rousseau is imagining a different kind of nature; an idealized nature (Milligan, 2002) where Emile gets idealized too.

According to Okin (1979), Rousseau refers to three natural stages: First, the original state of nature where human beings lived isolated, nomadic lives, totally devoid of contact or cooperation except for the momentary and chance encounters that satisfied their sexual impulses" (p. 369); Second, the golden age where human beings lived self-sufficient, virtually isolated, and rural lives; Third the corrupt stage which started with the establishment of private property. Emile lives in the second period. Emile's education is part of the plan to return to that stage. The return to that stage is an aim of Rousseau's, but we have no reason to believe that it is Emile's aim too.

However, from Jean-Jacques' and perhaps Emile's perspectives the relationship is an It-It relationship. That is, Jean-Jacques believes that he is acting under no personal force. In a way, he is a thing that just happens to be more developed than Emile. To be an I is to be special and different and to be another who relates to others by virtue of his otherness. The I in Rousseau's picture is Nature or the Author of Nature, as he refers to it sometimes. Kaufmann (1970) describes those whose interests dominate their lives as hardly having an I at all. Jean-Jacques, the teacher, is dominated by the interest to be natural. His way to be natural is to not be an I, and to relinquish any other will that is not consistent with nature or the general will.

Emile and Robert the Gardener

Emile's meeting with Robert the gardener is part of his educational plan. When Emile turns twelve, the plan is for Jean-Jacques to introduce him to some social concepts. Social relations are organized on the ideas of duties and rights and since children are by nature self-preserving, they first need to learn their rights before learning their duties. Also, because persons defend themselves, children need no special education to learn their personal right to be protected. However, things do not defend themselves, which makes it important to learn the idea of property. To this end a meeting between Emile and Robert the gardener is arranged. Rousseau starts working with Emile to grow beans and take care of them every day. Emile invests his efforts and time in this project, and feels that he owns it. One day, his little farm is destroyed and, after a short investigation, he finds out that Robert the gardener is the one who did it. Emile and Jean-Jacques talk to Robert to complain about what he did, but surprisingly he complains too because he was using the land before they started their plantation. In this way, Rousseau concludes, Emile learns what is his and what belongs to others and hence respects the right of private property. After this lesson, Robert the gardener disappears from Emile's life.

Emile's relationship with Robert the gardener is a clear I-It relationship. That is, the existence of Robert is understood within Jean-Jacques' plan to teach Emile a lesson. In other words, Robert appears in Emile's life as a mere means to understand the concept of private property, and the right of the first occupant by labor. However, not all I-It relationships are problematic. Some of them are just part of the human condition that necessities people to engage in short and limited relationships. The relationship with the cashier on a road trip is a one example of such a relationship. They become problematic, though, when the possibility to move from the I-It relationship to an I-Thou relationship is limited or prohibited. In general, we know that Rousseau thinks that Emile should not have any social relationships before he is driven by his natural sexual desire to do so. Robert the gardener's story is designed to serve this purpose. Robert appears to be only concerned about himself. He shows no interest in showing nice feelings to the young man, Emile. When Emile expressed the fact that he has no garden, Robert replies, "what do I care? If you ruin mine, I won't let you go around in it anymore, for, you see, I do not want to waste my effort" (p. 99). With this sharp response to young Emile, Robert the gardener is serving Rousseau's goal to show that Robert is expressing a natural law, which by definition has to be necessary. Thus, according to the plan, Emile will think that there is no otherwise in this situation because Robert is acting according to the law of nature. If Robert cannot do otherwise, then Emile has no choice but to accept Robert's response as natural without anger or any negative feelings.

We know that Robert the gardener could have done otherwise. He could have chosen not to destroy Emile's beans and talked to him first about it. He could have been a communist and denied the concept private property in general, etc. The issue here is not that Rousseau is selective; rather it is that his argument rests on the denial of any other possible alternative to Robert the gardener's attitude. The problem with the Emile-Robert relationship is not that it is an I-It relationship, but that it is designed to have no possibility for moving to an I-Thou relationship.

Emile and the Magician

In book III which is devoted to Emile's education between the ages of twelve and fifteen, Jean-Jacques realizes Emile's need to learn the foundations of science. At this age, humans are able to progress from their mere concern about themselves to an interest in nature around them. This should be understood as an extension of their personal experiences, and hence their education must be practical through direct experiences. The science that Emile needs to know is the order of nature. That is, "the chain by which each particular object attracts another and always shows the one that follows" (p. 172).

Jean-Jacques and his pupil Emile have a scientific experience in which they learn the work of a magnet and its ability to attract other objects. Thus, when they visit the fair and watch the magician doing his act in which he attracts a waxed duck floating in water with a piece of bread, they are able to deduce his methods of trickery after a brief experiment. Emile feels pride because he was knowledgeable enough not to be fooled by the magician. The next day the fair's manager arranges for Emile to do the trick himself for an even bigger crowd. The magician, however, uses his experience to prevent Emile's trick from working. Emile is not able to move the duck, whereas the magician is able to do so. Emile and Jean-Jacques escape the crowd and leave for their home. The next day, the magician knocks on the door complaining first about Emile and Jean-Jacques' conduct and then explains to Emile that he had positioned a little boy under the table to move the duck as the magician wished regardless of the force of the magnet.

The lesson in this tale is twofold. First, there is a scientific lesson about the law of causality and second, the moral lesson that pride is evil. What concerns us here, though, is Emile's relationship with the magician. The magician appears to be another. Actually, this is Emile's first experience of another as other (Schaeffer, 2002). The magician does something new. He seems to possess different powers, and he challenges people's current knowledge. The magician appears to be free from the necessity of natural law. However, the magician's otherness disappears very quickly when Emile discovers his tricks. Emile wants to be a magician himself after discovering the secret of magic. This is a clear sign that the otherness of magician disappears. At first, the magician seems able to do otherwise, but Emile's knowledge of the natural sciences reduces the magician's otherness to sameness. That is to say, the magician's tricks become well known and compatible with Emile's scientific knowledge. Emile's move to act as a magician seems to result from his desire to appear as other to people, to be seen as the one who is able to do otherwise. He does not believe that he can do so because he knows the tricks, but, nevertheless, he is attracted to the idea of otherness. Rousseau crafts the story very carefully so that this attraction to be seen as different leads only to pain and failure. Jean-Jacques blames himself even for even opening the opportunity for otherness. Rousseau writes, "everything must be foreseen, and everything must be foreseen very far ahead of time" (p. 175).

Emile and Sophie

The Emile-Sophie relationship, and Rousseau's view of women in general, has been debated in the literature (Wexler, 1967; Christenson, 1972; Okin, 1979; Kennedy, 2012; Fonteyne et al., 2015). Many researchers have pointed out the sexist aspects of Rousseau's views of women. He thinks women are big children, and inferior to men in their abilities to understand moral issues. This view of women has an effect on the Emile-Sophie relationship. Rousseau, who has been progressive throughout the whole book, turns out to be quite retrograde in his thinking about women in the fifth chapter. But, if my analysis above is convincing, we should not be surprised about the Emile-Sophie relationship. Emile has been educated to be singularly concerned first and foremost about himself throughout all of his relationships with others. His relationships with Robert the gardener, the magician, and his tutor Jean-Jacques, have been, at best, I-It relationships. Sophie, as another, should not be an exception.

Sophie starts as an idea in Jean-Jacques' imagination. Emile needs to be with another human being because he cannot satisfy his sexual needs by himself. Rousseau is looking for certain qualities in the person to whom Emile will attach himself. Rousseau states "it is unimportant whether the object I depict for him is imaginary," (p. 329). The imaginary Sophie is educationally preferable to any other real woman because "by providing the imaginary object, I am the master of comparisons, and I easily prevent my young man from having illusions about real objects" (p. 329). Even though Emile already has a natural attraction to women, Jean-Jacques wants him to be attracted to a specific kind of woman that he will present to him. The image is important because "if he takes pleasure in the image, he will soon hope that it has an origin" (p. 329). The search for the real Sophie will be driven by the image Jean-Jacques created. In Paris, where they look for Sophie, there is no possibility for a surprising or a different woman. That would be a failure.

We notice that, even though Emile is now twenty and has been raised naturally, he is not able to choose his own wife. Rousseau is still creating this character based on his view of women. Sophie has a good nature with a sensitive heart. She is not beautiful but she has special talents and charms that make her companionship special. She knows best "the labors of her own sex" including "cutting and sewing her dresses" (p. 394). Using her knowledge of the kitchen and the house, she is able to govern her family's house. Her mind is "agreeable without being brilliant, and solid without being profound" (p. 359). She is so nice to others that "she harms only herself (p. 396). We notice how Sophie's character is always described as being good with others or useful to others. She is "likely to forget herself," and when she is punished, "she is docile" (p. 396). Although both Emile and Sophie are pupils of nature, "she more than any other is made for him" (p. 410). Sophie is not to be found in Paris, so Jean-Jacques and Emile return to the countryside.

Due to the hospitality of a family along their way, Emile has the chance to meet a girl named Sophie. When he hears her name for the first time he falls in love with her. For Emile, at the age of twenty, "this is not only his first love but his first passion of any kind" (p. 416). Emile asks her to marry him but she is reluctant because she thinks that she is poor and he is rich and she does not know how to bridge these inequalities. However, Emile does not listen and falls more deeply in love with her. He becomes jealous and according to Rousseau, "softened by an idle life, he lets himself be governed by women" (p. 431). "The passion with which he is preoccupied no longer permits him to give himself to purely reasoned conversations as he had before" (p. 442).

Rousseau feels his whole project with Emile is failing so he encourages Emile to attach his heart only to "imperishable beauty," to let his condition limit his desire, and make his duties come before his inclinations. In short, he tells Emile, "extend the law of necessity to moral things" (446). Rousseau announces to Emile that he must leave Sophie. Emile then travels around Europe for two years to learn his civil duties and to get himself ready to be a citizen. After the trip, Emile plans to settle down near Sophie's dwelling, but Rousseau refuses to give any information about Emile's return to Sophie and the conclusion of their love. These details, he states, "might be pleasing without being useful" (p. 475). Nonetheless, he gives a happy ending of Emile and Sophie living together.

For Rousseau, Sophie is essential for Emile's educational development. Driven by his sexual dependency, his relationship with a woman is required. However, this relation must be natural, which means it has to be in accordance with what Rousseau believes to be the role of man and the role of woman. Rousseau's approach to women in this picture is a functionalist approach. That is to say, "instead of concluding that the natural potential of women is at least unknown as that of men, he defines her capacities teleologically in terms of what he perceived to be her function in a male-ruled world" (Okin, 1979, p. 407).

Emile's and Sophie's love surpasses that natural arrangement, which requires Jean-Jacques' explicit intervention to restore Emile's independence from Sophie. Jean-Jacques is willing to rejoin Emile and Sophie, but only under certain conditions. For Sophie, she has to know that "Emile has become the head of the house. It is for you to obey, just as nature wanted it" (p. 478). For Emile, he has to keep "the patriarchal and rustic life, man first life, which is the most peaceful, the most natural" (p. 474). Rousseau does not want to give more details about Sophie and Emile's life perhaps because he is not sure that they will maintain his order. Rousseau is worried that love will drive the Sophie-Emile relationship in another way; to break the natural order and open the door for otherness. In the natural order, Sophie is not another. She is a part of a well-known arrangement. I agree with Bloom (1979) who says of Emile:

It is not quite precise to say that he loves an 'other', for he will not be making himself a hostage to an alien will and thus engaging in a struggle for mastery. This woman will, to use Platonic language, participate in the idea he has of her. He will recognize in her his own highest aspirations. (emphasis added, p. 22)

The Emile-Sophie relationship is meant to be an I-It relationship or an Emile-oriented relationship, but love threatens, at least in one case, that this relationship could have the potential for something other than that. Rousseau's cure against alienation is to be independent from others and maintain self-sufficiency, but his cure, I argue, alienates Emile. To escape losing oneself in another, Rousseau alienates the self from its other by reducing the self-other relation to a mere I-It relationship.


In this section I argue that although Rousseau aims to help Emile live in solitude which he sees as a happy condition, he ends up creating an alienating education. But first, we need to make the distinction between solitude and alienation clear, and then we need to examine the Emile-others relationships in light of our previous analysis. According to Koch (1994), the distinction can be made in two points. First, alienation, unlike solitude, is an unpleasant condition. Second, alienation "involves a fracture of relationship with another who is yet felt to be as part of the experience." For example, to feel alienated from your co-worker "is a way of being aware of that person, a modality of consciousness-of-other." On the other hand, Koch argues, solitude "is not any kind of consciousness-of-other, but rather a consciousness-without-other" (p. 43). I might add a third distinction that solitude seems to be a choice whereas alienation seems to be a condition. We could reconstruct the difference above to say that, unlike solitude, alienation is an unpleasant and involuntary awareness of a broken relationship with an essential other.

Emile is meant to have no essential other, to be self-sufficient and not to rely on any other as a necessary condition for happiness. However, Jean-Jacques himself is an essential, perhaps too essential, other for Emile. Emile appears to be the most insufficient person when his tutor leads/monopolizes his life even in his adulthood. Although Rousseau tries to depersonalize Jean-Jacques, the tutor, by reducing him to a mere natural force, the tutor is an essential other. The depersonalization of the tutor, as we explained earlier, problematizes the Emile-Jean-Jacques relationship. Second, it is enforced upon Emile.

Emile shows an awareness of others. That is, in most of the opportunities that Emile has to interact with others, he shows a great interest in that interaction. He is open to being influenced by Robert the gardener, the magician, and Sophie. Moreover, he shows a great openness to learn from Jean-Jacques himself. Although Rousseau sees that openness as a threat to Emile's education, Emile does not seem to be threatened by these encounters. Rousseau does not give adequate direct access to Emile's feelings except in his relationship with Sophie. For Rousseau, Emile should be happy because he is solitary and "a truly happy man is a solitary being" (p. 221). The case of Sophie challenges this account of happiness. Emile was happy to be dependent on Sophie but Jean-Jacques saw that as a false happiness. We know that Emile was in pain when he left Sophie, and that he did choose to return to her. I conclude that while Rousseau argued against the alienation of humans from their nature (Skempton, 2010), he led Emile to be alienated from his fellow human beings.

Rousseau's idea of natural education is also the premise of the modern idea of teaching as facilitating; to allow natural learning. Two important results follow: first, the relationship between teacher and student is reduced to fulfill the idea of a self-sufficient student, which alienates both the student and the teacher. Second, the role of the educational system is accepted uncritically under its naturalistic claim. The philosophical, ideological, and political assumptions behind education are unnoticed.

Moreover, we find common results with the current market model of schooling (Ravitich, 2010; Strhan, 2012). Efficiency, measurability, and governability are usually the principles that drive schooling in this kind of educational model. Universal standards and benchmarks are usually used as tools to measure the success or failure of schools. By definition universal standards are not meant to measure students' particulars. In this situation, what distinguishes students and shows their subjectivities are not acknowledged by their school. This is in alliance with Rousseau's principle of one basic nature of all children. Moreover, since this model of schooling is concerned with developing certain individual cognitive skills, it fosters a sense of self-preoccupation among students. Individual grades are what determine the student's success or failure in schools which devaluates their social contributions. Both Rousseau's and the model market end up with an antisocial educational environment. This environment is not likely to foster a good relationship between students and their schools since the whole set of school-based relationships, which are essential for a sense of belonging, is subordinated to getting grades that meet the standards. The school says to its students: be-for-yourselves, the new, the surprising, and the strange cannot be measured by our standardized tests and hence are not welcomed.


This is a research project that was supported by a grant from the research center for College of Education, Deanship of Scientific Research at King Saud University.


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Abdullah Almutairi

King Saud University
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Author:Almutairi, Abdullah
Publication:Journal of Thought
Date:Sep 22, 2018
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