The purpose of Montaigne’s “Education of Children” is to lay down the philosophical groundwork for a new and innovative way of teaching children. The purpose of this new system is to foster the child’s intellectual growth as opposed to filling the child’s head with facts that he regurgitates, but does not understand. In Montaigne’s words, the education should put a child “through its paces, making it taste things, choose them, and discern them by itself” (110).
As well as encouraging intellectual growth, Montaigne also intends to promote wisdom, character and physical development as a way of education the entire person. Montaigne’s assertion is that the purpose behind education should not be for the sole aim of the increase in knowledge, but “to have become better and wiser by it” (112). The overall effect of the education should be to produce an individual that is both wise and happy; according to Montaigne the two are irreconcilably bound, as “the surest sign of wisdom is constant cheerfulness” (119).
The methods used to achieve Montaigne’s ideal education are a mixture of the ability and talent of the tutor; the individual attention paid to a student and the well-rounded nature of the curriculum. Montaigne asserts that a pupil is only as good as the skill of his tutor. The ideal tutor in Montaigne’s eyes would be one that is more wise than learned, having “a well made rather than a well filled head” (110). The tutor should not have the student repeat what is told to him, as the goal of the education is not to memorize, but rather to learn.
The tutor should be a guide in order to offer the ideas of great authors to the student and then “let him know how to make them his own” (111). Furthermore, the tutor is only responsible for one student at a time and without interference from parents. Being alone with the student allows the tutor to truly become aquatinted with the student”s aptitudes and allows for the formulation of an individual and personal education for the one pupil. The actual subjects to be learned are divided by not only the discipline of study, but also the development of physical ability, moral fiber and interpersonal skills.
The development of mind, body and spirit together leads to the transformation of a child to a well-rounded man. Montaigne believes in the training of the body as well as the mind, a typically Greek concept. The tutor, therefore, is responsible for physical training as “it is not enough to toughen his soul; we must also toughen his muscles” (113). The training of body serves a duel purpose, to ease the burdened mind by giving it something else to think about and by building up the pupil’s body in order to fight off injury and disease.
It is only after his body has been trained that the intellectual education can begin. Intellectually, Montaigne believes in beginning the students formal education with the sciences, in order to foster the understanding of the world’s natural laws. The tutor should “explain to him the meaning of logic, physics, geometry, rhetoric and the science he chooses” as a way to give him “the marrow and the subject predigested” (118). This explanation of basic scientific principles gives the student the ability to understand and interpret the passages written by famous scientists given to him by the tutor.
This assertion, that children should be allowed to recognize important information for themselves, is the cornerstone of Montaigne’s theory of education. The other subjects to be studied should be literature and philosophy, and should be taught in the same manner as the sciences. Montaigne argues against the study of grammar and classical languages, such as Greek or Latin, as he believes these to be grounded in memorization as opposed to logical thought and reasoning. Montaigne asserts that the purpose of education is to produce “not a grammarian or a logician, but a gentleman” (125).
However, despite the discourse on formal education, the actual intellectual instruction received is secondary to the child’s overall development as a person. The next part of the child’s education is argued by Montaigne to be the most important. The tutor should not only be an instructor on the matters of reason and logic, but also a moral force in the life of the student. The tutor’s job is to instill strong virtues in the child while he is still young, “instructing him in the good precepts concerning valor, prowess, magnanimity, and temperance, and the security of fearing nothing” (120).
The tutor is to teach the child moderation, civic responsibility, humility and a “honest curiosity to inquire into all things” (114). The goal of this instilling of virtues is to create an adult, “guided only by reason,” who is as capable of making wise decisions as well as being educated (114). The student, only after the competition of a great deal of education in academics and virtues, is taught a final lesson about interactions with others.
At some point in the education the pupil is expected to interact with others and put his education to use. The student is expected to visit other countries in order to interact with a diverse array of people and cultures. Through these interactions the pupil will further his own education by rubbing and polishing his “brains with the contact with those of others” (112). The informal education through experience leads the student to gain a grasp of social situations and begin to understand the way society works.
The ultimate goal in this is to have the student “put everything to use” by finding valuable education in all of those around him (114). Montaigne even goes so far as to assert that eventually “even the stupidity and weakness of others will be an education to him” (115). Overall, with the completion of the relationship between tutor and pupil the end result will be a reasoning, virtuous, educated and extremely wise individual who will be well equipped to deal with the world and who will be constantly bettering himself.
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