Educational Legacies of the French Enlightenment:
| Categories |
| article tab|
| study tab|
Metropolitan College of New York
One unexpected consequence of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act is that today’s educational methods and purposes are under closer scrutiny than at any time since the 1960s. Local constituencies and classroom teachers are calling into question the Act’s instructional methods and curricular goals, state legislatures are bristling under the pressure of federal control over educational funding, and issues of educational quality and equity have moved onto the talking points lists of several presidential candidates. However, as is often the case in American discourse, the historical frame for the recent public concern about education is generally quite narrow. Many of us tend to view all educational issues only from the perspective of the educational milieu within which we ourselves were taught, thus limiting the depth of our historical awareness to one generation. Even in academic contexts there is little awareness of the historical roots of some of our most taken-for-granted assumptions about education: overshadowed by the more "practical" courses that institutional accreditation requires, many courses in educational philosophy or the "foundations" of education now go no further back in history than to the inclusion debates of the 1960s or at best to the ideas of John Dewey.
The main aim of the present essay is to help broaden the perspectives on contemporary educational concerns by exploring the seminal ideas of three Enlightenment philosophers – Condillac, Condorcet, and Rousseau. Condillac’s systematic argument that knowledge is derived from sense impressions and that thus the child’s whole environment can be seen as educative, Condorcet’s bold assertion that all children have a right to be educated regardless of their ability to pay, and Rousseau’s iconoclastic view that education can be used to counter social pressures—these ideas have become so deeply embedded in our daily discourse that we have lost track of their original formulations. The primary purpose of this essay is to re-examine the historical contributions of these three thinkers to today’s educational debates in order to deepen and enrich our understanding of the issues they raise.
My topic is also informed by a desire to affirm the depth, complexity, and breadth of Enlightenment thought. As is well known, much of the "critical" edge of postmodern critical theory in the last three decades has been directed at the rationalist, programmatic, and controlling energies of the Enlightenment, including its visions of educational mastery and progress. More recently, however, particularly among educators, the more heterodox and liberating aspects of the Enlightenment seem to be gaining in attention and recognition. The following essay aims to be part of that effort.
A final intention of the present essay is to pinpoint as clearly as possible the uniqueness of Rousseau’s stance on education in the context of the Enlightenment. In this area much has been written, but thus far no Rousseau scholar has to my knowledge specifically compared Rousseau and Condorcet, which may be understandable given their differences, nor Rousseau and Condillac, which is less understandable since the two educators were close friends. As Isabel Knight mentions in her fine book on Condillac, "The whole story of the relationship between the ideas of Condillac and those of Rousseau has not yet been told." Hence a final aim of what follows is to tell that story. But Condillac comes first.
Toys that Teach
Go into any toy store today, and in the section devoted to babies and young toddlers you will see a vast array of brightly colored objects. Plastic balls with bells inside, teething rattles in different shapes, stacking cups and sorting boxes, plush animals that make noises when squeezed—nearly everything on display is explicitly aimed at stimulating the child’s senses. Among the most popular first books for young children is the classic Pat the Bunny which encourages the young child not only to reach out and touch the bunny’s fluffy cotton back and daddy’s scratchy beard (represented by piece of black sandpaper in the book) but to smell the flowers in mommy’s bouquet (made by scented padding hidden between the pages). The use of physical objects to foster learning is not limited to the child’s early years. In elementary math classes teachers use colored rods and other "manipulatives" to teach basic numerical concepts; in secondary school children learn science by dissecting worms and gain an understanding of literature by watching videos of the classics. That children’s intelligence can be developed through the exercise of their sense organs has become a commonplace in today’s consumer culture.
It was not always so. European children prior to the 18th century were not without toys—the depictions of children from ancient times up through the middle ages and Renaissance often show them playing with a ball, a hoop, or a doll—but toys generally were seen to have a diversionary rather than a pedagogical role in children’s lives. Indeed, the teachings of the Catholic church generally stressed the need to counter the influence of the senses, which were part of the burden of original sin. The idea that cognitive development actually begins with sense experience goes back only to Locke in the 17th century and becomes manifest in the 20th century through the popular influence of Maria Montessori. The story of Condillac’s role in that evolution will be the focus of what follows. As will be seen, the history of the idea of toys that teach includes the networking skills of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an unknown 18th century woman scholar, and the education of a feral child who was discovered in the south of France in 1799. But all of this must be prefaced by a brief look at the educational context within which Locke and his Enlightenment followers were writing.
In 18th century France, at least until 1762, education was under the control of the Jesuits, which meant that the Ratio Studiorum, written in 1599, provided the curricular guidelines for the schools. Drill in Greek and Latin in the elementary years and three years studying Aristotelian philosophy were the norm. The pedagogical assumptions that dominated this system can be seen in Condillac’s critique of the educational orthodoxies of his time. In an excerpt from his Dictionnaire des synonymes written when he was acting as a tutor to the young Duke of Parma, Condillac hits hard at the scholasticism that still pervaded educational practice. "The child’s memory is burdened with things he is kept from understanding," Condillac observes. He "learns by heart the old copy books dragged in the dust of the school" then enters the world "a dull blockhead, unless nature has been stronger than education." These criticisms here are consistent with Condillac’s more philosophical critique of the arbitrary abstractions of pre-Enlightenment thought. In his Treatise on Systems he takes aim at the scholastic method of beginning all inquiry with abstractions. The idea that you can begin any investigation with general principles "engraved" in our souls by God, and then deduce from these innate principles knowledge of the world, goes against common sense and our own experience, he argues. "Some of these [general] principles lead nowhere, and . . . others lead only to error. However, there you have the whole art of abstract systems."
It was precisely Locke’s demonstration of a way to get beyond "the uselessness of abstract systems" that inspired Enlightenment thinkers to become optimistic about new possibilities for educational progress. Locke’s manual for educators, entitled Some Thoughts concerning Education (1693), was of interest to 18th century thinkers like Condillac and Rousseau, who had tutored children of the aristocracy. But it was Locke’s earlier work, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding that caused a sea change in the way that education was viewed. In Chapter 2 of Book I entitled "No innate principles in the mind" Locke takes issue with the prevailing scholastic epistemology: "It is an established Opinion amongst some Men, That there are in the Understanding certain innate Principles; some primary Notions, . . . Characters, as it were stamped upon the Mind of Man, which the Soul receives in its very first Being; and brings into the World with it." The purpose of his present work, Locke asserts, is to show "how Men, barely by the Use of their natural Faculties, may attain to all the Knowledge they have, without the help of any innate Impressions; and may arrive at Certainty, without any such Original Notions or Principles."
Locke supports his case against innate ideas first by making the point that there are no universal principles, either speculative or practical, on which all men can agree. He then points out that "if we will attentively consider new born Children, we shall have little Reason to think that they bring many Ideas into the World with them. . . especially of Ideas answering the Terms which make up those universal Propositions that are esteemed innate Principles." This prepares the way for his main assertion that "experience" is the source of all of human understanding.
Let us then suppose the Mind to be, as we say, white Paper, void of all Characters, Without any Ideas; How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store, which the busy and boundless fancy of Man has painted on it, with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of Reason and Knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from Experience; In that, all our Knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives it self.
In elaborating on what he means by "experience" Locke suggests that the source of human understanding is first and foremost sense experience but that a mental faculty he terms "reflection" is responsible for combining the data of our sense perceptions to produce more complex and abstract ideas. "Our Observation employ'd either about external, sensible Objects; or about the internal Operations of our Minds, perceived and reflected on by our selves, is that, which supplies our Understandings with all the materials of thinking." "These two" (i.e. sensation and reflection), he states, "are the Fountains of Knowledge, from whence all the Ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring."
Like other gifted thinkers who came of age towards the middle of the 18th century, Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, was deeply taken with Locke’s radically new propositions about the origin of human knowledge. As a child Condillac had been a slow starter who did not learn to read until the age of 12—a fact that Rousseau would later comment on in arguing that parents should not be too quick to assess their child’s intelligence at an early age. Condillac was conventionally educated near Grenoble by a local curé and then in Lyon (where he lived after the death of his father with his older brother, Jean Bonnot de Mably,), by the Jesuits. He completed his formal education by studying theology at the Sorbonne, but soon thereafter became dissatisfied with his limited learning and began re-educating himself by reading the great philosophers of the 17th century. As Knight points out, Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding had been translated into French in 1700, and "Condillac seized upon it eagerly, adopting Locke’s empiricism as the basis for his own philosophy."
Condillac saw immediately both the strengths and the weaknesses of Locke’s work, and by 1746 had drafted his own Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge. The title alone indicates the degree to which Condillac was self-consciously working in the shadow of Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding. But the slight differences in the wording of the two titles suggest that while indebted to Locke, Condillac was striking out on his own. By including "Origin" in his title, Condillac shows that his aim is to lay out more precisely than Locke how cognition develops; the word also suggests that he will be positing just one source of cognition, not two as Locke had done by allowing for both sensation and reflection. Condillac’s aim was thus to clarify, extend, and deepen the sensationist epistemological theory that Locke, in Condillac’s view, had pursued only "sporadically."
Condillac’s primary concern was to rid Locke’s theory of its suggested dualism by insisting that all knowledge can be derived uniquely from sense impressions and that what Locke had called "reflection" is derived from those original impressions. He takes the reader through a step-by-step analysis of how this occurs, beginning with the perceptions that result from the action of external objects on the senses: "A little attention reveals that perceptions of light, color, solidity, and other sensations are more than sufficient to yield all the ideas we commonly have of objects." At this point "it is certain that this first level of knowledge must have a range coextensive with the variety of sensations we experience," an idea that undoubtedly lies behind much of today’s advertising for toys that teach.
From here Condillac sets forth the argument that the mind is aware of all of its perceptions—even if some of our perceptions are pushed aside by others—and he calls the feeling that gives the mind its awareness "consciousness." (Interestingly, in his discussion of the ways that some perceptions become "forgotten" by consciousness Condillac comes quite close to what Freud would later call the "subconscious.") Perceptions that relate "more to our temperament, emotions, and general state" tend to "strike us with greater force" and attract our attention; if such perceptions recur, consciousness represents them as "belonging to us" and they take the form of "reminiscence."
Condillac builds upon these concepts, arguing that perceptions are preserved in the mind even in the absence of the objects that occasioned them. The "bonds" (or what would today probably be referred to as "associations") formed between such perceptions ultimately give rise to more complex operations such as imagination, contemplation, and memory. Here he emphasizes that our individual needs determine what we happen to attend to, and hence our perceptions too "are like a series of fundamental ideas to which we relate everything we know." He uses the metaphor of a "chain" to describe these cognitive linkages:
Connected with a need is the idea of something that will satisfy it, and this idea is connected with the place where the thing is found; to this place is connected the idea of persons that we have seen there; to the idea of these persons, the ideas of our past pleasures or pains and several others.
As is evident from passages such as this one, the psychology of modern advertising has its roots in the associationist psychology that Condillac and others derived from Locke.
In spelling out the steps in the origins of human knowledge that he believed were insufficiently developed in Locke’s Essay, Condillac gives close attention to the development of language. His theory of language cannot be examined here, but it is interesting to note that both Diderot and Rousseau produced work on the origin of languages at approximately the same time that Condillac did—Diderot published his Lettre sur les aveugles in 1749 and Rousseau drafted the beginning of an Essay on the Origin of Languages in1753. Their overlapping interests are not surprising, since we know from Rousseau’s Confessions that the three newcomers to Paris dined regularly together at the Hôtel du Panier Fleuri near the Palais-royal. (Rousseau had met Diderot through his work on the Encyclopedie; he had first met Condillac in Lyon while tutoring the sons of Condillac’s brother, M. de Mably—a job Rousseau later acknowledged he failed at miserably.) Indeed, it was Rousseau’s friendship with Diderot that led to the publication of Condillac’s Essay. Rousseau describes the connection as follows:
I was also connected with the Abbé de Condillac, who like myself, was a nobody in literature, but who was made to become what he is today. [H]e sometimes came to dine with me tête-à-téte Dutch treat. At that time he was working on the Essay on the Origin of Human Knowledge, which is his first work. When it was finished the difficulty was to find a book dealer who wanted to take it on. . . . [for] metaphysics—at that time very little in fashion—did not offer a very attractive subject. I spoke to Diderot about Condillac and his work; I had them become acquainted. . . Diderot engaged the book dealer Durand to take the Abbé’s manuscript, and from his first book this great metaphysician had, and almost as a favor, a hundred écus that he perhaps would not have found without me.
Although Condillac’s Essay provides the most compelling exposition of his sensationist philosophy, it is his Treatise on Sensations, written in 1754 that is most commonly anthologized and most significant in terms of the history of ideas. In the Treatise Condillac uses the thought experiment of a "statue man" to show systematically how the progressive awakening of each of the five sense organs can eventually bring to life and full consciousness a body that was originally without any thought or ideas.
As with his Essay, Condillac’s Treatise seems to have benefited from the outreach of close friends, but this time the help came not from a soon-to-be well-known philosopher but from a woman friend whose identity has thus far disappeared from history. In a "Dedication to the Countess of Vasse" at the beginning of the Treatise Condillac’s prose becomes effusive as he acknowledges the help of a mutual friend of the Countess, a Mademoiselle Ferrand, who had recently died but whom he fully credits for both the inspiration and the fine points of the Treatise: "Its sharpest insights are due to the soundness of her mind and to the liveliness of her imagination," he begins. Indeed it was she who "felt the necessity of considering our senses separately, of distinguishing precisely the ideas that we owe to each, and of observing how they instruct and help each other." The Dedication proceeds in first person plural to discuss how "[w]e imagined a statue . . . ," [w]e believed we ought to begin with the sense of smell, . . ." and then reiterates, "Mademoiselle Ferrand enlightened me on the principles, plan, and finest details." But Condillac is quick to assert her modesty in this undertaking: "She did not realize she was becoming an author. . . . If she had taken up her pen herself, this work would be a better proof of her talents. But her delicacy did not allow her even to think of it."
With intriguing questions about its authorship in mind, a reader today might pick up the Treatise on Sensations and expect an interesting read. But given that the book’s main point is to show that the senses of smell, hearing, taste, and sight by themselves give no real concept of any object that the mind can attend to, and that only as they are combined with each other and with the sense of touch can the senses yield any valid knowledge about the external world—points that Condillac’s concise préces at beginning of the book summarize perfectly well—the step-by-step exposition of how each sense organ of the "statue man" operates on its own and then in combination with others becomes somewhat tedious for modern readers to wade through.
In the 18th century, however, Condillac’s thought experiment with the "statue man" had a great influence, not only on Rousseau ---whose Emile includes a number of interesting parallels with Condillac’s work, as we will shortly see—but on Jean-Marc Itard whose work with the Wild Boy of Aveyron was a major inspiration for Maria Montessori, particularly her development of the didactic materials that exemplify the use of sensory education today. Much of the recent scholarship on Condillac focuses on his linguistic theory and on his brief writings on commerce (not surprising given the preoccupations of our times), but in the early and mid 20th century Condillac’s role in the history of educational thought was widely recognized. The two most comprehensive treatments of Condillac’s role in the intellectual trajectory that begins with Locke are William Boyd’s short survey entitled From Locke to Montessori published in 1914 and Harlan Lane’s monograph on The Wild Boy of Aveyron published in 1979.
As both Boyd and Lane make clear, Condillac’s influence on contemporary educational practices came by way of his influence on the education of deaf children and on the doctor who undertook the education of a feral child in 1800. In the fall of 1799 a naked and disheveled pre-adolescent boy was discovered in the woods of Aveyron in the south of France. Apparently abandoned since early childhood, the child resembled an animal more than a human being. Furtive and unmanageable, the creature ran on all fours, used his sense of smell more than his sight or hearing, and preferred a diet of acorns, roots, and raw chestnuts to refined food, sweets, or delicacies.
"The Wild Boy of Aveyron" was captured and brought to Paris where he caused an overnight sensation to a generation raised on the revolutionary ideas about "natural man" put forth by Rousseau. Professional observers immediately disagreed (and cognitive psychologists continue to disagree today) about whether the child’s behavior was the result of an organic disability or his recent experience, and whether or not he could be educated. In a classic Enlightenment experiment, the charge of the boy’s education was given to Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a physician at the newly established Institution for Deaf-Mutes whose own work with the deaf had drawn heavily on Condillac’s writings. As Itard states in his report, ""We are indebted to the works of Locke and Condillac for a just estimation of the powerful influence that the isolated and simultaneous action of our senses exerts upon the formation and development of our ideas. . . . These were the principles I followed, when . . . I devoted all my attention to the exercise and individual development of young Victor’s sense organs." Itard took the boy into his home and for the next five years devoted his life to trying to make the wild boy into a civilized man.
Victor, as the boy was named (because "O" was one of the first sounds he happened to respond to) never learned how to speak but did make some progress in communication, as is documented in the careful report that Itard wrote about his experiment. Beyond its value as a fascinating story in its own right, (as evidenced by the success of François Truffaut’s film, The Wild Child), Itard’s account of his work with Victor has an important place in the history of educational thought. Just as Itard’s methods of reaching the wild child through his sense experience was inspired directly by Locke and Locke’s Enlightenment popularizer Condillac, in turn, Itard’s student, Edouard Séguin, had a deep influence on Maria Montessori. As she states at one point, "The pedagogic writings of Itard are most interesting and minute descriptions of educational efforts and experiences, and anyone reading them today must admit that they were practically the first attempts at experimental psychology." Although Itard had eventually specialized in the treatment of the deaf-mutes and Séguin had focused on the sensory-training of children with severe mental disabilities, Montessori (whose first teaching experience was with such children) came to believe that the educational methods she had learned directly from Séguin and indirectly from Itard "contained principles more rational than those in use" with normal children, and that "similar methods applied to normal children would develop or set free their personality in a marvelous and surprising way. . . Guided by the work of these two men," she writes, "I had manufactured a great variety of didactic material."
Itard’s contribution to the intellectual trajectory from Locke to Montessori is most clearly evident in some of the highly tactile teaching materials that Itard invented to help Victor communicate through the written word. Among these were geometric shapes that Itard cut out of wood to match similar shapes drawn on a board, and the carefully cut out letters of the alphabet that Victor first learned to place in order on a tray divided into sections for each letter. (The crowning achievement of the wild child’s education was when he was able to use the wooded alphabet letters to spell out "LAIT" as a way of communicating his desire for a glass of milk.) These wooden letters are clearly the material ancestors of the brightly-colored plastic magnetic letters that are found on the refrigerator doors of families with young children today, and variations on Itard’s matching geometric shapes can be found not only in Montessori classrooms but in pre-school and kindergarten classrooms across the industrialized world. As Harlan Lane points out at the end of his study of Itard’s work, contemporary pedagogical practices such as developing children’s manual control before teaching them writing, the use of letter cutouts and the grouping of letters according to contrasts and analogies, the strategy of teaching writing before reading, and of pairing the written names of objects with the objects themselves— "all of these were first employed with the wild boy of Aveyron." As one of the main inspirations for that effort, Condillac remains one of the main "tributaries of this mainstream in modern education."
Leaving No Child (or Adult) Behind
In the last chapter of her book on Condillac, Isabelle Knight writes compellingly about Condillac’s essential conservatism. Not only was his fundamental empiricism often compromised by a reluctance to challenge long-held religious beliefs, but in general, as his writings on history make clear, he held fast to a traditional political faith that the monarchy was the best possible institution for the governance of France and that political change was a bad idea.
The same cannot be said of Condorcet to whom we now turn. Born in 1743, a generation after Condillac, Condorcet was more inclined to question the political and religious orthodoxies of his time. (Their political differences perhaps explain why Condillac was said to have "detested" Condorcet and why, at the end of his life, Condillac believed that it was a cup of hot cocoa he drank at Condorcet’s house that caused an illness that eventually became fatal.) As a mathematician who placed faith in a calculus of probabilities to make voting more rational, as a social scientist who believed that freedom of trade would alleviate poverty, and as a public servant who pushed for the civic equality of women and for an end to slavery, Condorcet in many ways represents the cutting edge of Enlightenment reform. He was close friends with the mathematician d’Alembert, the philosophe Voltaire, and the economist Turgot; and Condorcet’s wife, Sophie de Grouchy, was an early feminist who later translated writings by Adam Smith and Tom Paine into French. Today most of the scholarly interest in Condorcet focuses on his work in probability theory (indeed there is a method of run-off voting named after him), but my focus here is on his contributions to education.
As suggested above, few periods of modern history have recorded as much optimism about what humanity might become as the 18th century Enlightenment, and few periods have been as rich in speculation about education. Condorcet’s writings effectively bring together both the essence of Enlightenment optimism and one important educational theme of the time—popular education—the precursor to current efforts to "leave no child behind." To fully appreciate the connection between this democratic egalitarian ideal and the educational legacies of the Enlightenment we must preface our examination of Condorcet's educational proposals with a brief look at his Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind—a work drafted by Condorcet towards the end of his life while he was hiding from the Jacobins at the height of the French Revolution.
The Sketch traces the progress of the human mind by means of a hypothetical "intellectual history" of the human race from its primitive origins, up through the invention of printing, to the French Revolution and beyond. The purpose of the outline is to show that the human mind is in fact perfectible. Condorcet's starting point for such a claim is the epistemological assumption, originated by Locke in the 17th century, that human knowledge is grounded in sense perceptions of the physical world. "Man is born with the ability to receive sensations; to perceive them and to distinguish between the various simple sensations of which they are composed, to remember . . . and combine them," he says. Following Locke and Condillac, Condorcet goes on to state that "these sensations are attended to by pleasure and pain" and asserts further that they are thereby the source of the human being’s moral choices. Such sense-experience thus becomes "the foundation of those general truths, which, . . . determine the necessary and immutable laws of justice and injustice . . . A third basic assumption underlying Condorcet's Sketch is that the progress of a given group or society "is indeed no more than the sum of that development realized in a large number of individuals joined together in society.
That human reasoning faculties are developed through the action of external objects; that moral choices are based on what is pleasurable and useful; and that there is an identity between the extension of self-development and social development—these three philosophical assumptions form the foundation on which Condorcet's educational hopes were based, and it is these assumptions which offered Enlightenment thinkers the grounds for their general optimism. For if the individual mind is seen as a tabula rasa, free from all innate ideas and "original" sins, there is but a short step to the view that, given the proper circumstances, the human mind can, by a mere process of accumulation, become infinitely developed and "enlightened." Education need no longer concern itself with counteracting the evil in children: it may henceforth focus on knowledge of the physical world and the concomitant development of the ability to understand one's own true self-interest. And if society, like the individual, is considered to be free of all transcendent qualities and is therefore merely an aggregate of the individual minds that comprise it, then the education of more and more individuals will automatically bring about the development of society as a whole. From Condillac and Condorcet to 19th century English educators and Horace Mann in the USA, hopes for popular education were stimulated by notions such as these. Indeed, for most thinkers in the progressist tradition, the word "perfectibility" was synonymous with "educability", and "enlightenment" meant "education". It is in Condorcet's proposals for education that the democratic egalitarian implications of such notions took their most definitive form.
Condorcet began writing about education as soon as it became evident that the upheavals caused by the French Revolution (particularly the breach with the Church) were making the old educational order obsolete. In a series of articles on "Public Instruction" that he published in a journal called the Bibliothèque de l’homme public (The Library of Public Man). Condorcet spelled out educational views that would later be presented in a formal proposal to the government. Salient among the ideas that he drafted in these articles were that education is a right, not a privilege; that without education a person is doomed to dependency on others and thus cannot be truly free or equal; and that it is the duty of society to offer to "each and every man the means of acquiring an education commensurate with his mental capacities and the time he can devote to his instruction." Condorcet’s firm belief in the right of women to be educated alongside of men is particularly striking: although he includes utilitarian reasons for the education of women (so that they can better foster the education of children and so that men "can share with their wives in the reading necessary to keep up their [i.e. men’s] knowledge"), he also makes it clear that women have an absolute right, by virtue of being free and equal human beings, to become educated. Embedded in his arguments is the example of women in Italy who have "fulfilled with distinction the duties of professors in the most elevated sciences" –an example that might be worth inserting into current debates about the role of women in the science departments of competitive universities today.<rev>Condorcet, in Baker, ed., 137.</ref>
The Report on the General Organization of Public Instruction which Condorcet proposed to the French Revolutionary Legislative Assembly in 1792 strikes one even now as providing an extremely liberal view of the extension of education. At each level of Condorcet's five-tier system, there is the insistence that the instruction should be free of charge, secular, and open to all those desiring self-improvement. Condorcet's belief that "education should be universal . . . That is to say that it should be within the reach of all classes of citizens" led him well beyond the proposals of Thomas Jefferson, another Enlightenment optimist. For while Jefferson's proposed educational system represented a strict hierarchy of progressively demanding educational standards (stipulating that only a select number of free-tuition children could move on to the next level),  Condorcet's proposal encouraged infinite expansion of even the higher echelons of the system. Furthermore, there is the bold proposal in Condorcet's report that at each grade the educational resources be open to non-students. At the lower levels there is the provision that the village schoolmaster should deliver a lecture on Sundays for citizens of all ages: and at the higher levels seats are to be reserved in each classroom for those who "while not being regular students, and consequently, not subject to the questions or the work demanded of the class, might wish to follow a course of instruction or be present at a few lessons." The purpose of these proposals was to counter all semblances of elitism or inequality. Condorcet believed, as Horace Mann would suggest nearly a century later, that "the natural order creates in society no other inequalities than those of wealth and education, and by extending education the effects of both of these causes of inequality will be lessened."
On the day that Condorcet’s Report was to be acted upon by the French Legislative Assembly, war with Austria was declared, and the Report was set aside. Mounting tensions soon led to the dissolution of the Assembly and the ascendancy of the Jacobin party. Condorcet’s sympathies had been with the Girondists, so by the summer of 1793 his life was in danger. He was taken in by a close friend who tried to protect him, but not wanting her to be implicated, he left his hiding place and was discovered by a hostile band of anti-aristocrats. He was later found dead in the prison in which they had left him; to this day it is unclear whether his death was a murder or a suicide.
Condorcet’s writings on education survived, however, and by end of the 19th century free public instruction for male and female children would be the norm in most of Europe and the United States. As one of his contemporary admirers states at the end of a fine analysis of his role during the revolution,
Although Condorcet’s [educational proposals were] controversial in the political events of the revolutionary period, the value of his basic educational ideas has survived intact, above and beyond the particular historical moment in which they were formulated. The principles of a national, multi-leveled educational system, free and available to everyone without distinction of class, sex, race, or religion . . . were to remain down to the present the highest goals of an authentically democratic school.
As we make the transition from Condorcet’s ideal of free and egalitarian public schooling to the individualized, home-based model that Rousseau lays out in Emile, we should remember that given the appropriate political context, Rousseau, too, was a proponent of public schooling. When he was asked by Polish patriots in 1771 to advise them on a new constitution in the event that Poland managed to free itself from Russian rule, he included in his Considerations on the Government of Poland a whole section devoted to education. Like Condorcet, Rousseau believed that "All, being equal under the constitution of the state, ought to be educated together and in the same fashion," and he proposed a system of public education for Poland that in its scope parallels Condorcet’s vision. However unlike Condorcet, who was wary of tight state control over schooling, Rousseau believed that Polish schools should be under the control of the state and that their primary aim should be to forge a national identity: "It is education that must give souls a national formation, and direct their opinions and tastes in such a way that they will be patriotic by inclination, by passion, by necessity." In the context of a young, underdeveloped, and spread-out republic of Poland, Rousseau’s main aim for the educational system was to foster unity, pride, and patriotism.
But the political context for the pedagogical program that Rousseau describes in Emile is very different from the educational settings that are the backdrops for his own writings on Poland and for Condorcet’s later proposals during the French Revolution. Instead of a fledgling democratic republic requiring a well-informed and active citizenry, the setting one encounters in Emile is a decadent and expansionist monarchy where hypocrisy, slander, and artifice govern social life. (As he acerbically states in the opening pages of Emile, "[p]ublic institutions do not and cannot exist, for where there is no longer a homeland there can no longer be citizens.") We know from Rousseau’s political writings, that the Genevan philosopher was disdainful of the ancien régime’s political corruption and essential inequities; we know from his personal writings that, unlike Condorcet, he also felt at odds with the optimistic progressivism of mainstream Enlightenment society, particularly those elements of the society that celebrated the prospects for material progress.
Given Rousseau’s critical perspective on the changing world of 18th century France, his treatise on education is very different from what we have seen in the writings of both Condillac and Condorcet. Instead of positing education as a means of developing the child’s understanding for the sake of science and enlightenment (Condillac’s aim) or for the sake of social and political progress (Condorcet’s aim), Rousseau’s primary goal is to lay out principles for a pedagogy that nurtures the child’s resistance to the social forces that surround him. This aim can be seen in the opening paragraphs of Book I where Rousseau addresses the need for mothers to "protect the growing seedling from the impact of human opinion" and to "build a fence" around the child’s soul at an early age; it continues throughout the treatise, with the young Emile being raised at home in the countryside, far from the seductions of city life and only being introduced to "society" when he has developed the moral armor to resist it. With Rousseau we see education taking on a new role, the role of countering those aspects of modernity that the educator perceives as threatening or dangerous to basic human nature.
One way to appreciate Rousseau’s unique educational project in Emile is to compare his pedagogy with the ideas of Condillac. Rousseau refers obliquely to Condillac as being "among the greatest thinkers and the profoundest metaphysicians of his century," and their long friendship (Condillac was one friend whom Rousseau did not "cease to esteem" even at the height of his paranoia) resulted in many parallels between Condillac’s more theoretical epistemological works and Rousseau’s novelistic account of an imaginary boy’s "natural" education. The sensationist assumptions that Condillac had found in Locke can be found early on in Book I, where Rousseau’s focus is on infancy:
We are born sensitive and from our birth onwards we are affected in various ways by the objects that surround us. As soon as we have, so to speak, consciousness of our sensations, we are disposed to seek out or shun the things that cause them, at first because they are pleasant or unpleasant, then because they suit us or not, and finally because of judgments of them formed by means of the ideas of happiness and goodness which reason gives us. These tendencies gain strength and permanence as we become more sensitive and more enlightened.
One cannot help surmising at this point that in their mealtime discussions at the Panier Fleurie Rousseau and Condillac both came to the conclusion that human reason cannot be posited as a separate source of understanding, as Locke had done, but must be shown to develop organically, over time, out of sense experience. Indeed, Rousseau engages in a thought experiment somewhat similar to Condillac’s "statue man." Imagine that a child had at its birth the size and strength of a man, says Rousseau. Such a child-man "would be a perfect idiot, an automaton, a statue without motion and almost without feeling." The point here, as in Condillac’s case, is to enable to reader to appreciate the fundamental role that sense-experience has in the evolution of human cognition. Later Rousseau includes a nearly 20-page description of the sense training that will be given Emile, ranging from playing games in the dark to drawing and singing. And in Book III Condillac’s influence is again very evident, especially in Rousseau’s emphasis on the need for clarity and usefulness in the child’s education. "Remember that the spirit of my instruction is not to teach the child many things, but to let only ideas that are right and clear enter his mind." "Try to teach the child everything that is useful to his age and you will find that his time will be well filled."
While one could find even more evidence of Condillac’s ideas in Rousseau’s writings, a closer look at the context of Emile’s sensory education reveals a very different set of assumptions at work. As Knight points out, "it was not the mechanics of learning that preoccupied Rousseau; it was the purpose of learning, which was to create a moral being, not an intellectual one." Indeed what often follows the descriptions of the sensory development nurtured in the young Emile are warnings about how the process can go wrong. When discussing the first stage of sensory learning, for example, Rousseau begins in a typically sensationist mode but then states that "the recurrence of affective sensations begins to subject the child to the rule of habit." This," Rousseau warns us sternly, "is what must be prevented." Instead one should vary the child’s schedule and surroundings so that he is not dependent on any one environment. "Prepare from afar the reign of his liberty and the use of his own forces . . . by putting him in a condition of being always master of himself." Similarly, in Book II Rousseau begins with a definition of desire straight out Condillac’s Treatise ("every sentiment of pain is inseparable from the desire to get rid of it; every idea of pleasure is inseparable from the desire to enjoy it. All desire implies a privation, and all privations that one feels are painful"), but then takes the idea in a new direction, and a note of ancient Stoicism creeps in: "Our unhappiness thus consists in the disproportion between our desires and our faculties. A conscious being whose faculties were equal to his desires would be an absolutely happy being." Indeed, "true happiness consists in decreasing the excess of desires over faculties and putting power and will into a perfect equilibrium." Only then, Rousseau asserts, will the human soul "remain peaceful and that man will find himself well ordered."
Rousseau veers even further from progressive epistemological assumptions when he proceeds to assert that the dynamic of true happiness spelled out above requires the limitation of the child’s imagination. "It is imagination which extends for us the measure of the possible, whether for good or bad, and consequently which excites and nourishes the desires by the hope of satisfying them," he says. But the extension of desire that imagination stimulates is illusory. The elusive objects of our imagination never satisfy us: our desires remain, and the objects—mirage-like—disappear beyond our grasp the closer we get to them. This difference that imagination creates between the real world and the imaginary world thus gives rise to "all the pains which make us truly unhappy." Emile will be given only simple objects to learn from—a stone, a glass, a ladder from the barn— common natural or household objects, never commodities that have been bought specifically for him. "Toys R Us" would get no business from Jean-Jacques.
With the suggestion that children’s long-term happiness requires limiting their exposure to objects that stimulate their imagination, Rousseau is clearly setting himself apart from the dominant assumptions of his age and ours. His critique hints at the degree to which the sensationist model can be co-opted to support the materialistic excesses of a culture of consumption. In Born to Buy, a recent study of the "commercialized child," Juliet Schor provides clear evidence of how the advertising industry (based on associationist psychologies that go back to Locke’s and Condillac’s insights) pitches its products directly at children and how children themselves are often made unhappy by the onslaught of such advertising. Schor never mentions Rousseau or Condillac in her book, but clearly their divergent paths are evident in her analysis.
A final example of Rousseau’s unique departure from the tradition set in motion by Condillac can be found at the end of Book II where Rousseau proposes an extended "course" in sense-training for the young Emile. When it comes to developing Emile’s sense of taste, Rousseau recognizes that an appreciation for food is a natural impulse but once again gives Condillac’s sensationism an anti-modernist twist. One should "preserve the child's primitive tastes as long as possible; let his food be common and simple, his palate only become familiarized with mild flavors; and let him not develop exclusive tastes." Similar to his counsel in Book I that the infant Emile should gradually be accustomed to cold baths, Rousseau’s aim here is to toughen the child up and make him less dependent on the amenities of social life; only by being indifferent to luxuries and conventions will Emile become strong and therefore free. At this point we must note that a very different aim informed Jean-Marc Itard’s training of the Wild Boy of Aveyron. As Itard’s report makes clear, he began his sense instruction by giving Victor warm baths and highly seasoned food, for he recognized that only by "sensitizing" the child and giving him new "needs" could he eventually control him.
By highlighting the differences between Rousseau’s and Itard’s uses of Condillac’s cognitive psychology, we come full circle to an appreciation of Rousseau’s uniqueness in the history of educational thought. In dialectic opposition to the modernizing contributions of Condillac and Condorcet are the anti-modernist writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Like many parents today who choose home schooling or non-schooling for their children, Rousseau demonstrates the possibilities of making education work as a domestic process of nurturing children’s resistance to the corruptive social forces that surround them.
The foregoing overview of Condillac’s, Condorcet’s and Rousseau’s contributions to contemporary educational thought enables us to recognize that ideas common to today’s educational discourse were not invented yesterday but are embedded in trajectories of intellectual history that go back to the 18th century Enlightenment. The overview can also prompt questions that we did not have before. Does Condillac’s epistemological analysis persuade us that educators should try to increase the use of hands-on learning in our schools? Or, on the contrary, might the contemporary fixation on "toys that teach" and the empiricist model it is rooted in unwittingly foster habits of gratification and consumption that lead to unhappiness in the long run? Does Condorcet’s egalitarianism provide a model for extending federal educational standards even further, into the higher echelons of the educational system? Or by attempting to "leave no child (or adult) behind" might we risk giving too much power to state institutions that claim to know what educational "progress" and "enlightenment" consist of? Finally, does Rousseau’s vision of privatized education provide an effective way of countering social pressure? Or, on the contrary, is private, "home schooling" that aims to nurture a child’s resistance to the dominant culture a dangerous option for an educational system that claims to be democratic?
Obviously questions like these cannot be answered within the purview of this paper. My aim has been to expand debate rather than to support specific educational methods or policies. In attempting to broaden and deepen our understanding of educational issues, I have suggested that a fruitful context for study is the 18th century French Enlightenment. For it is in that time and place that many of our contemporary educational ideas first took root.
- ↑ See e.g. Alyson Klein, "Governors Enter Fray Over NCLB," Education Week, 4/11/2007, Vol 26 No.32, 1-28, and Celia W. Dugger, "Three Democrats Suggest Plans for Education in Poor Nations," The New York Times, May 2, 2007, 19.
- ↑ See e.g. "Rubrics for AACEI/NCATE Elementary Standards" at http://www.udel.edu/bateman/acei/Rubrics.htm
- ↑ Randy Chafy, "Exploring the Intellectual Foundation of Technology Education: From Condorcet to Dewey" in the Journal of Technology Education, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall 1997; Geraint Parry, "Education Can Do All" in Norman Geras and Robert Wokler, eds, The Enlightenment and Modernity (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press Ltd., 2000), 25-49.
- ↑ Neil Postman, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (New York: Knopf, 1999); Robbie McClintock, "Extending the Enlightenment Vision," in The Educators’ Manifesto: Renewing the Progressive Bond with Posterity through the Social Construction of Digital Learning Communities (New York: Institute for Learning Technologies, 1999); and Parry, 25-49.
- ↑ Isabel F. Knight, The Geometric Spirit: The Abbé de Condillac and the French Enlightenment (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), 215.
- ↑ From the Dictionnaire des synonymes, in Oeuvres philosophiques de Condillac, 3, 252, cited by Knight, 198.
- ↑ Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, Philosophical Writings of Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, trans. Franklin Philip and Harlan Lane (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987), 7-8.
- ↑ John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Peter H. Nidditch, ed. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1975), Bk. I, Ch. 2, §1, 48. See also Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Part I, Chapter I, "Of Sense" (Indianapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1958), 25.
- ↑ Locke, Bk. I, Ch. 4, §2, 85.
- ↑ Locke, Bk. II, Ch. 1, §2, 104.
- ↑ Locke, Bk. II, Ch. 1, §2, 104.
- ↑ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education, Book II, ed. and trans. Grace Roosevelt, online at www.ilt.columbia.edu/publications/emile.html, §319, downloaded 5/11/07; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education, ed. and trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1978), 107
- ↑ Knight, 7-8.
- ↑ Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, Philosophical Writings, Vol. 2. Franklin Philip, trans. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1987), 426.
- ↑ Condillac, Vol. 2, 436.
- ↑ Condillac, Vol. 2, 443-44.
- ↑ Condillac, Vol. 2, 447.
- ↑ Condillac, Vol. 2, 451-52.
- ↑ Condillac, Vol. 2, 453-54.
- ↑ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, trans. Christopher Kelly; ed. Christopher Kelly, Roger D. Masters, and Peter G. Stillman in The Collected Writings of Rousseau, Vol. 5, (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1995), 291.
- ↑ Condillac, Philosophical Writings, trans. Philip, 170-72
- ↑ Condillac, Philosophical Writings, trans. Philip, 337.
- ↑ Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, The Wold Boy of Aveyron, trans. George and Muriel Humphrey (New York: Meredith, 1962), 55.
- ↑ Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method, trans. Anne Everett George (New York: Frederick A Stokes Company, 1912), p 31-35. Retrieved 04/29/2007 from http://www.digital.library.upenn.edu/women/montessori/method/method-ll.html.
- ↑ Itard, 48. See also William Boyd, From Locke to Montessori: A Critical Account of the Montessori Point of View (New York: Henry Holt, 1914), 71.
- ↑ Harlan Lane, The Wild Boy of Aveyron (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), 285.
- ↑ Knight, 287-89.
- ↑ Knight, 15.
- ↑ Keith Michael Baker, ed., Condorcet: Selected Writings (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Marrill Co., 1976), vii-xxxvii.
- ↑ Peter Gay, The Enlightenment (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969) Vol. II, 512.
- ↑ Antoine-Nicolas de Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of The Progress of the Human Mind, June Barraclough, trans. (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1955) 3.
- ↑ Condorcet, Sketch, 133-34.
- ↑ Condorcet, Sketch, 5.
- ↑ Gay, 511.
- ↑ See e.g. H.C. Barnard, Education and the French Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969) and John William Adamson, English Education, 1789-1902 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), 32.
- ↑ Condorcet, "The Nature and Purpose of Public Instruction" (1791) in Baker, ed., Condorcet: Selected Writings, 108.
- ↑ Condorcet, in Baker, ed., 136.
- ↑ F. de la Fontainerie, trans. and ed., "Condorcet and his Report on Public Instruction," in French Liberalism and Education in the Eighteenth century: The Writings of La Chalotais, Turgot, Diderot, and Condorcet on National Education (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1932), 326.
- ↑ Thomas Jefferson, "A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge," in Gerald L. Gutek, Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education: Selected Readings (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall), 87-88.
- ↑ Condorcet, "Report," 345.
- ↑ Condorcet, "Report," 353.
- ↑ Manuela Albertone, "Enlightenment and Revolutions: The Evolution of Condorcet’s Ideas on Education" in Leonora Cohen Rosenfield, ed. Condorcet Studies I, (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1984), 141.
- ↑ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Considerations on the Government of Poland, in Rousseau: Political Writings, trans. and ed. Frederick Watkins (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1953), 177.
- ↑ See e.g. "The Rights of Public Authority over Instruction are Limited," in Condorcet, "The Nature and Purpose of Public Instruction," Condorcet, Selected Writings, ed. Baker, 127.
- ↑ Rousseau, Poland, 176.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Book I, online §32; Bloom, 40.
- ↑ E.g. Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy, and Social Contract.
- ↑ E.g Rousseau’s Confessions, Dialogues, and Reveries.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Bk. I, online §12; Bloom, 37-38.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Bk. II, online §319; Bloom, 107.
- ↑ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the "History of the Preceding Writing" in Rousseau, Judge of Jean-Jacques, ed. Roger D. Masters and Christopher Kelly, The Collected Writings of Rousseau, Vo. I (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1990), 250.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Bk. I, online §21; Bloom, 39.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Book I, online §138-140; Bloom, 61.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Book III, online §581; Bloom, 171.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Book III, online §613; Bloom, 178.
- ↑ Knight, 216.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Book I, online §144-145; Bloom, 62-63.
- ↑ Condillac, Philosophical Writings, trans. Philip and Lane, 161.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Book II, online §218-19; Bloom, 80-81.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Book II, online §220-222; Bloom, 81.
- ↑ Rousseau, Emile, Book II, online §507; Bloom, 151.
- ↑ Itard, 14-22.