Rousseau assigns a very minor place to the teacher in the educative process. He is not called an instructor but only a guide. His main responsibility is to motivate the child to learn.
This he can achieve by exploiting the innate tendencies of the child. He must possess a profound understanding of the child’s nature and be able to control his emotional reactions. He is not to impose any rules of control upon the child. He is to allow him perfect freedom and guide him properly.
Rousseau’s Theory of Negative Education
As we have already stated, Rousseau believed that everything is good as it comes from the Author of Nature. Everything degenerates in the hands of man. By saying so, he meant that child is good; but it is society that makes him bad.
So he advocated that first education should be purely negative. The child should not be taught the principles of truth and virtue but guarded against vice and error.
In his own words, “I call a positive education one that tends to form the mind prematurely and to instruct the child in the duties that belong to man. I call a negative education on that tends to perfect the organs that are the instruments of knowledge and endeavors to protect the way for reason, by the proper exercise of the senses.”
The chief characteristics of his theory of Negative Education:
(a) No Time Saving
According to Rousseau, in childhood no time should be saved. It should rather be lost. Let the child run, jump and play all day long. In all these activities he will have a continuous reconstruction of experience which is nothing but education, pure and simple.
Time lost on play and recreational activities in childhood, is not lost but profitably gained. Childhood is not the time for intellectual pursuits.
(b) No Book Learning
Rousseau says, “I hate books because they are a curse to children. They teach us to talk only that which we do not know. Instead of making the child stick to his books, I keep him busy in the workshop; his hands will work to the profit of his mind.”
Rousseau felt that ready-made material found in books, was of little advantage. Let’ children gain knowledge by their own efforts and through different types of experience.
(c) No Habit Formation
In his own words, “The only habit which the child should be allowed to form is to contract no habit at all.” Young children should not be made slaves of rigid habits. They should be left free in all their activities. If any habits are to be formed in childhood, let them form natural habits.
(d) No Social Education
In Rousseau’s time, society was corrupt to the core. So he wanted children to be isolated from such a society and to educate them in the midst of nature till their power of reasoning and judgment is perfected, with which they are in a position to protect themselves from the evils of society.
(e) No Direct Moral Education
Rousseau is not in favor of direct teaching of morals. Let the child be left free to act and learn what is right and wrong, by the consequences of his own actions. He says, “Much more harm than good is done by your ceaseless preaching and moralizing.” He further says, “Inflict on the child no sort of punishment and never make him ask your pardon. As there is no moral quality in his actions, he can do nothing wrong.
(f) No Formal Discipline
Rousseau is in favor of free and positive discipline for children. Let the children suffer natural consequences of their own actions without the intervention of human beings to protect or punish and in this way they will set themselves right. If a child breaks a window pane, let him sit in the cold wind that gushes in, as a result of his folly. If he climbs a tree, let him fall down and learn not to do so again.
(g) No Sticking to Traditional Procedure of Education
Rousseau was greatly disgusted with the prevailing social, political, economic, religious and educational conditions in his country. So he said, “Follow the reverse of the current practice and you will almost do right.” He challenged the traditional procedure of education saying; give me a child of twelve who knows nothing at all.
At fifteen will restore him to you, knowing as much as those who have been under instruction from infancy, with the difference that your scholar only knows things by hearts, while mine knows how to use his knowledge.
“It will, thus, be clear from his theory of Negative Education that many of its principles have been accepted by the modern educators. No doubt, at times, Rousseau went to the extreme. But it was natural and he had to eradicate wrong social practices like a reformer by focusing public attention to those practices.
His play- and-activity principles in a child’s education, his free and positive discipline, his advice against formal book-learning and his principle of no direct moral instructions of children have all been incorporated in modern educational theory and practice. However, it is his theory of natural consequences which is not acceptable and dependable at all times.