Rousseau and Dewey on Education

While reading Experience and Education, I couldn’t help but notice how Dewey’s discussion of education directly connects to Rousseau’s discussion of raising a child. This comparison first became clear when Dewey began discussing the negative qualities and the consequences of habit formation when he stated, that some “experience[s]” may “generate” “habits,” which he suggests creates the “inability to control future experiences,” a similar stance to Rousseau (26).As Rousseau suggests in Emile, habits are bad because when you establish a habit, it inhibits your ability to respond naturally to certain circumstances, so when you are taken out of your normal environment, you can’t properly react, an argument similar to Dewey’s, that those habits will inhibit your “control” in “future experiences.” Similar to Rousseau, Dewey also suggests that by parents, or in this case simply educators, forcing their students or kids to learn or read in a certain fashion, the kids are “rendered callous to ideas,” they “associate the learning process with ennui and boredom,” and they “associate books with dull drudgery” (27). Based on these connections, Dewey also suggests a more experiential learning, very similar to the way Rousseau suggests raising a child.

Dewey further suggests that “the quality of the present experience influences the way in which the principle applies,” i.e., when one spoils a child, “the effect of over-indulging a child is a continuing one” in that it that when that child grows up he or she will be demanding and will get angry whenever people don’t immediately respond to his or her demands (37). This is very similar to Rousseau’s idea of not responding to a child when it cries, but rather waiting for the child to stop crying and bringing the child to what it wants as opposed to bringing the desired object to the child.

Apart from one author discussing these issues in the context of an educational institute and the other in the context of raising a child, I found that the primary difference between the two pieces is that Rousseau provides different ways to solve these problems (like the baby example), while Dewey does not. Do you think Dewey would agree with Rousseau’s methods for solving these problems? How could Rousseau’s methods be applied to the classroom? How do you think Dewey would solve these problems presented? Where do you think the line is drawn between too much influence from the educator?

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