“Of the Education of Children” by Michel de Montaigne (1580-1595)

Michel de Montaigne = Bruce Springsteen

Michel de Montaigne = Bruce Springsteen

Montaigne is asked by Madame Diane de Foix, on what the best way of educating a child is. He starts off saying he doesn’t know and then goes on for many pages on the best sort of education.

It’s very difficult to read into what a child’s natural talents are and how to cultivate them. However, nature may make it impossible to teach some children certain things because they don’t have the natural capacity for the subject.

A tutor must have a stronger emphasis on good morals and understanding than on pure booklearning. Also, he can’t give the student more than he can handle. The best is to establish the student’s sense of perception and teach him how to figure things out for himself.

There should be an equal amount of exchange between the teacher and the student. The tutor must monitor the student’s progress and make adjustments according to the student’s changing needs as he grows.

Avoid pure regurgitation of facts and check for understanding along the way. The kid must be able to look at something from many different angles. If learning becomes too difficult without results, the student will grow a distate for learning altogther.

He should be made to examine everything and not just take someone’s word on the matter based on authority. If he does this, his mind will become cemented and he’ll feel like he knows everything. He’ll learn to stop looking which will make him stop finding.

Real learning and wisdom come from taking what you’ve read and taken in and combining them to form your own thoughts. You shouldn’t put out a list of everything you’ve read out on display. What’s really important is the thoughts that these books have given birth to. Understanding improves perception and that perception will benefit everything you do and all the future learning you will do.

Travelling and studying away from home is very important. The world is where everything happens and locking a kid away in a room trivializes the knowledge because he’ll never experience it first hand and never be able to use it right away.

However, it’s important for kids to be removed from the smothering affection of the parents. They will get too dependent and therefore unable to work or experience more unpleasant but absolutely necessary things in life. In order for a tutor’s authority to become complete, the child must be removed from the parents so as not to create a conflict in authority between the two.

In general, people focus too much on their own thoughts, knowledge and desires and not enough on what others have to offer. In order to do that, we have to have instilled in us a sense of modesty and penchant for silence in order to listen. Arguments should be chosen and constructed with subtlety, care, brevity and pertinence. However, the truth should be held in the highest regard, so much so that you should yield to it whenever you’re in the wrong.

Giving a student favor and advantage will ultimately hinder his ability to fight through situations in life which will give him no favors, if not a disadvantage. Reason and virtue should be inherent in everything in the child’s words, thoughts and actions. There are snakes everywhere, so you will have to have your wits about you in every situation you find yourself. You should be pleasant so as to encourage the right people liking you and being on your side and also not to give people a reason to dislike you.

Studying history is important because the past has so many lessons to teach us about how to act now. There are so many people throughout history whose example we should follow or not follow. Learning about their lives and circumstances can give us valuable insight into our own times and people today.

Going out into the world with the knowledge and wisdom the child has gained along the way will not only give him the sense of accomplishment but also the ability to put that wisdom and knowledge to good use.

The liberal arts are good for providing real ways of learning how to live our lives and examples of how to do so or how not to do so. This sense of morality will be coupled with the ability to use logic and understanding of the physical world. With mastery of the physical world and morality, there’s very little that can stop him. Also, physical exercise is not to be neglected because he will need a healthy body for his healthy mind. This includes both mental and physical moderation to preserve himself.

Staying away from idle chatter and bullshit is important. Conversations don’t necessarily have to be serious and intense but something other than pure entertainment should be taken away from them. All the conversations that have happened and are happening right now should give the reader or listener some sort of ability to learn how to live his life better through other people’s thoughts and experiences. This means he will have to go out and talk to people in the world. He’ll probably have to learn other languages to find people with a dramatically different disposition and learn from them.

It’s important to introduce an element of fun into learning in order to keep his interest and to allow him to learn in different ways. This includes physical activity, games and laughter. This will not only engage him but more him more well-rounded. Indulging children is bad but making them prisoners in a jail called “school” is even worse. Beating them and berating them is not going to make them want to learn.

Keeping the knowledge of ignorance and the hunger for more understanding and wisdom will keep a student engaged in philosophy forever because he will be curious to know things that he’s sure he doesn’t know. That allows him to remain humble yet wanting to know more. Focus on rhetoric and sophistication will teach the kid to pull the wool over people’s eyes instead of getting into real conversation with some real purpose to it. Words are nice and pretty but actions mean so much more.

Montaigne’s father had a decent amount of money and put him in the care of a German tutor who taught him everything in Latin. They traveled around a lot learning everywhere they went. He spoke it all the time and wasn’t able to speak French until he was about 6. The teacher didn’t have an extremely regimented system of learning but made sure that something was going to be learned. He told many people about this later on and it became a hit with many others looking to educate their kids. This form of schooling made him want to learn more and more and eventually become wiser and wiser and live a happier life.

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