Sunday, July 12, 2009

La Chalotais and His 1763 Essay on National Education



Currently being read is the titular article on national education put forward by Louis-Rene de Caradeuc de la Chalotais in 1763. I have found it to be so far a fascinating read with some surprisingly modern ideas. It makes one realize just how progressive people could be in the eighteenth century. The author of the book in which it is contained makes mention of the fact that in 1843 a comparative study was made by a french official, which determined that there were actually fewer and less effective scholastic institutions (primary through university level) after the Revolution of 1789, than prior to it. Certainly those who were educated by the previous system don't necessarily seem to have been enamored of it; and one of La Chalotais chief complaints is that the proponderance of ecclesiastically-sponsored institutions were mainly concerned with the edification of the soul rather than the enlightenment of the mind, and therefore produced people with either highly-specialized or insufficient educations, who then went on to teach others, badly.

One wonders, of course, after such scathing criticism how he and others like Rousseau and Voltaire managed to become so enlightened as to critique these institutions. Then again, many of them procured their educations in various cities amongst many countries. He makes surprising mention of the differences between the educational psychology of adults and children, and also of the need for variety and the importance of an understanding of health and the benefits of physical exercise for children who will carry these habits forward with them in life.

While not actually excluding girls from his treatise, one does get the impression from the few specific mentions made of them that La Chalotais is mainly interested in the education of males, though he does state that while many of the subjects are suggested for girls as well, that they should in addition study those womanly virtues such as sewing, embroidery, and music.

Finally, the most interesting assertion so far, has been that children should be taught in ways that naturally excite their curiosity, and that education should, as far as is possible, be a hands-on experience involving movement, experimentation, models, and the lessons best learned from being wrong. The very idea that children learn as much from failure as success is, to my mind, very new, so I was pleased to see him express it. Nothing though has been more pleasant to me than to find that he believed children to form the most lasting impressions from their own experience, and that to this end they should not only study the stars and that which is far from their own daily comprehension, but also that some things, like literature and writing were best if left to them to articulate from their own lives. That writing down their own experience of a play or festival would be more beneficial than copying Plutarch's observations, is novel indeed.

For more information on the author of these statements himself I refer you to the link above which will take you to the Wikipedia article, whose statements I largely condone according to my own research.

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