Children as Inherently... Good


Among the competing philosophies characterizing children and their education was the notion that innate internal forces were the driving forces of the development of a child. This idea rested upon the view of the child as emerging from the womb with an intrinsic goodness and with all the faculties to begin his own development. Conversely, institutions, "that barbarous method of education," sapped the individuality and curiosity of the child, defining a child within unnatural boundaries.


Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a leading proponent of the "natural" education of children and an influencer of educationers and teachers in his time. Arising in an environment which spawned the French Revolution, Rousseau was forever suspicious of the effect of institutions on the individual. 7 "All things are as good as their Creator made them, but every thing degenerates in the hands of menÉ.all our customs are nothing but subjection, confinement and restraint. Civilized man is born, lives, and dies in slavery... as long as he wears the human form, he is confined by our institutions."

However bleak a picture Rousseau painted of society, he nonetheless believed in an inherent goodness. To Rousseau, it was this pearl of goodness that Rousseau sought to protect and develop in children by shielding them from the deforming effects of societal institutions. In Emile, Rousseau writes of the importance of giving a child freedom to grow without the intrusion of adults. "Subject your child, therefore, only to a dependence on circumstances; you will then follow the order of nature in the progress of his education." This abrupt departure from the conventions of education, however, often brought harsh criticism for the more mainstream educators of his time8.

To Rousseau it was just this sort of natural independence and curiosity which was stifled in society; he felt children should learn through experience, rather than from the sterile book learning. Despite his overall disdain for books as tools of education, Rousseau very much identified his ideas with the emblem of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. As this character learned to survive and establish himself on a secluded island, so Rousseau believed that each child would survive and prosper if left alone on such a proverbial island9 Greater and truer knowledge was to be gained from an active curiosity, which stirred a child to discover on his, own. For this reason, Rousseau felt that emotional education was of foremost importance. "To endure is the first thing that a child ought to learn, and that which he will have the most need to know."