Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)
Swiss-born philosopher, author, political scientist, musicologist and one of the most influential minds in the so-called Age of Enlightenment. In the field of education, his novel Emile, ou l’Education (1762) was one of the most influential documents in 18th- and 19th-century education, offering a new theory of education based on the principles of natural child development and the futility of attempting to treat children as small adults. In the novel, the boy Emile learns by experience and natural observation, using his senses to acquire new
knowledge and acquiring new skills as he becomes developmentally ready.
In 1775, the pioneer Swiss educator JOHANN HEINRICH PESTALOZZI attempted to apply the educational techniques of Emile on his estate, where he opened a school for poor children, who would ordinarily have gone uneducated. After five years of experimenting with “Emilian” educational methods, he closed the school for lack of funds. Apparently he had enjoyed relatively little progress in educating the children, but he later applied his methods successfully in a well-endowed school he founded for wealthier children. Pestalozzian methods, derived in part from Rousseau’s Emile, became the foundation of modern elementary education in Europe, England and the United States. Ironically, as insightful as Rousseau was to the educational needs of his fictional Emile, he abandoned his own children, leaving them to grow up in orphanages.