"Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves."
What makes Rousseau's ideas relevant today?
Romantic movement, dominating the first half of the 19th century, was taken over by the technological revolution. Fascination with technology found its place in Bauhaus, while Art Nouveau gradually faded out. The end of World War II marked the turning point in technological obsession, and the beginning of critical evaluation. Rousseau's ideas found their revival in the ecological movement.
I discovered Rousseau in the midst of a cultural change, having moved from Ukraine. The world changed rapidly... locked in an LA apartment with little access to nature, I went through a time of emotional and physical isolation. This documentary project was started in a class on the history of art education with Prof. Edie Pistolesi, where I wrote a short film "Emile in the 21st Century." It challenged me with a question of bringing up kids in a contemporary society. Can Emile be even imagined in the 21st century?
The quest for truth and beauty seems to have lost itself in the postmodern world, where everything is looked upon through a prism of skepticism. The world reminds me of the journey of Alice in Wonderland, where everything is questionable, shaky and uncertain. While healthy skepticism is a necessary aspect of life, it's only the means, and not the end.
Perhaps this is why education is so critical. As we teach kids to question the world around them, is there anything else that can be instilled in young minds? I often think about the new generation of kids (including my teenage brother). They seem to be drastically different from the generation of my parents and grandparents. While appreciating the difference, I don't necessarily like all aspects of it. Something seems to be lost or missing.
The main idea of Rousseau’s "Emile, or on Education" is to bring up a self-sufficient human being. I believe this aspect of Rousseau's educational theory is still present today. The term "self-sufficient" is aligned with "able to think critically, an independent person". As the world changes, so do the means of achieving this goal.
"One thinks only of preserving one's child. That is not enough. One ought to teach him to preserve himself as a man, to bear the blows of fate, to brave opulence and poverty, to live, if he has to, in freezing Iceland or on Malta's burning rocks. [...] It is less a question of keeping him from dying than of making him live. To live is not to breathe; it is to act; it is to make use of our organs, our senses, our faculties, of all the parts of ourselves which give us the sentiment of our existence. The man who has lived the most is not he who counted the most years but he who has most felt life."
Nowadays, surviving the digital revolution may seem more important than surviving "in freezing Iceland or on Malta's burning rocks". Did we survived it or got enslaved by it? The number of kids (and adults) obsessed with video/computer games makes me question the value of technological progress.
There are two sides to every coin. We should look back in history for the lessons learned, and look into the future for applying those lessons. This is the way I perceive the goal of education.