Selections from the Essays of Montaigne

Montaigne's influence on psychology

Though not a scientist, Montaigne made observations on topics in psychology.[32] In his essays, he developed and explained his observations of these topics. His thoughts and ideas covered topics such as thought, motivation, fear, happiness, child education, experience, and human action. Montaigne’s ideas have had an impact on psychology and are a part of psychology’s rich history.

Child education

Child education was among the psychological topics that he wrote about.[32] His essays On the Education of Children, On Pedantry, and On Experience explain the views he had on child education.[33]:61:62:70 Some of his views on child education are still relevant today.[34]

Montaigne’s views on the education of children were opposed to the common educational practices of his day.[33]:63:67He found fault with both what was taught and how it was taught.[33]:62 Much of the education during Montaigne’s time was focused on the reading of the classics and learning through books.[33]:67Montaigne disagreed with learning strictly through books. He believed it was necessary to educate children in a variety of ways. He also disagreed with the way information was being presented to students. It was being presented in a way that encouraged students to take the information that was taught to them as absolute truth. Students were denied the chance to question the information. Therefore, students could not truly learn. Montaigne believed that to truly learn, a student had to take the information and make it their own.

At the foundation Montaigne believed that the selection of a good tutor was important for the student to become well educated.[33]:66 Education by a tutor was to be done at the pace of the student.[33]:67He believed that a tutor should be in dialogue with the student, letting the student speak first. The tutor should also allow for discussions and debates to be had. Through this dialogue, it was meant to create an environment in which students would teach themselves. They would be able to realize their mistakes and make corrections to them as necessary.

Individualized learning was also integral to his theory of child education. He argued that the student combines information he already knows with what is learned, and forms a unique perspective on the newly learned information.[35]:356 Montaigne also thought that tutors should encourage a student’s natural curiosity and allow them to question things.[33]:68He postulated that successful students were those who were encouraged to question new information and study it for themselves, rather than simply accepting what they had heard from the authorities on any given topic. Montaigne believed that a child’s curiosity could serve as an important teaching tool when the child is allowed to explore the things that they are curious about.

Experience was also a key element to learning for Montaigne. Tutors needed to teach students through experience rather than through the mere memorization of knowledge often practised in book learning.[33]:62:67He argued that students would become passive adults; blindly obeying and lacking the ability to think on their own.[35]:354 Nothing of importance would be retained and no abilities would be learned.[33]:62 He believed that learning through experience was superior to learning through the use of books.[34] For this reason he encouraged tutors to educate their students through practice, travel, and human interaction. In doing so, he argued that students would become active learners, who could claim knowledge for themselves.

Montaigne’s views on child education continue to have an influence in the present. Variations of Montaigne’s ideas on education are incorporated into modern learning in some ways. He argued against the popular way of teaching in his day, encouraging individualized learning. He believed in the importance of experience over book learning and memorization. Ultimately, Montaigne postulated that the point of education was to teach a student how to have a successful life by practising an active and socially interactive lifestyle.[35]:355

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