Monday, April 13, 2009

Revival of Rousseau

"But when mothers deign to nurse their own children, then morals will reform themselves, natural feeling will revive in every heart, the state will be repopulated"

"It is only in our father's home that we learn to love our own, and a woman whose mother did not educate her herself will not be willing to educate her own children."

"There is no more charming picture than that of family life..."

What do homeschooling and Rousseau have in common?
Much in many ways.

Rousseau endorsed homeschooling as the ideal system of education.

Read that line again.

The quotes above are from Rousseau himself--the infamous whipping boy of the Religious Right. Yet how could such statements flow from the pen of Rousseau? While we have been rightfully castigating him as the grandfather of socialism and like ills, we never slowed down to actually examine his entire system of thought--a system that has been revived again.

His worldview is based on the inborn (natural) innocence and free-will of man. It is nurture not nature that enslaves man's will and corrupts his innocence. And it is the institutions of man (especially the rich) that hold natural man back. He said as much in his little-known book on education, Emile.

In this idealistic work, the fictitious young boy, Emile, is trained at home in the countryside, far away from the evil influences of the mass of men. The mother is to nurse the child and the father is supposed to teach the son. But Rousseau allows, in this instance, for a tutor-father to replace the stereotypical father who laments his lack of ability and time.

Now, it is certain that many scholars connect Rousseau with Statism, but Rousseau was not always considered consistent with his own thought. If society is the problem and all men are born in society, then what? Either embrace (control) all of society or flee (escape) society. In fact, in a letter to a friend, he admits that Emile is "a philosophical work on this principle advanced by the author in other writings that man is naturally good." (M.h.siddiqui, 83). Emile is an ideal.

The contrast of nature and nurture arises yet again--of good nature and bad nurture. And therein lies the contemporary revival of Rousseau. Both the Left and the Right embrace elements of Rousseau. The left either through monopolistic public education or idealistic anarchy and unschooling and the Right...What of the Right? Although it is certainly the case that many Christian homeschoolers do not buy whole-hog the thinking of Rousseau, it may well be they embrace more of him than they realize.

Consider parents who fearfully isolate their children from society (and publicly state as much). Many are but echoing Rousseau:

"Watch over him from the moment he comes into the world. As soon as he is born take possession of him and do not leave him till he is a man; you will never succeed otherwise. Just as the real nurse is the mother, the real teacher is the father...He will be better educated by a sensible though limited father than by the cleverest teacher in the world" [book 1, paragraph 71].

Or consider Rousseau again:

"A young man is led astray in the first place neither by temperament nor by the senses, but by popular is not nature that corrupts them but example...[so] I am dealing only with home training. Take a young man carefully educated in his father's country house, and examine him when he reaches Paris and makes his entrance into society; you will find him thinking clearly about honest matters, and you will find his will as wholesome as his reason. You will find scorn of vice and disgust for debauchery" (Emile, emphasis added).

The educational claims trumpeted in some circles sound eerily Rousseauian. However, the most disturbing is the religious overlap of Rousseau and some Christians: both believe in original innocence and free will. That is, in Rousseau's language, "man is naturally good."

Here is the real culprit. It is not the similarity of methods as such but the fundamental beliefs that support the methods. As much as the public schools are scorned by many conservative Christians, such a system was once inundated with God-talk, prayer and Bible. Once those were taken out, many Christians fled. It was not schooling as such that was the culprit but that the method was shifted into a context of unbelief.

Many Christians--even Christian homeschoolers--in my experience endorse the innocence of babies and the free-will of man. Ask yourself: when a child dies in infancy why should he or she enter heaven? Many answer, "because they are innocent" but they answer wrongly. By birth--by nature--man is a sinner (Ps. 51:5; Eph. 2:2). Ask yourself: can man exercise his free-will and seek after God? Many answer, "yes!" but they answer wrongly. Man's will is bound in sin and iniquity and none seek after God (Rom. 3:11, 12).

Original sin is thrown out while free-will is retained.

In such a world, the Holy Spirit is not needed to regenerate man's mind and free his will. What is needed is a new environment, either of the home or of society. What is needed is a new method, for the churches or for the families.

That is the American religion. That is the revival of Rousseau.


Bill said...


I couldn't find your quote in the link to footnote #74...

Did I miss something?


polymathis said...


You missed nothing. I misnamed the paragraph. I made the reference more clear now.

thank you!