Philosophy 222: Education and Autonomy

Prof. Patrick Frierson


Office Hours: 11-12 AM Tuesday, 1-3 PM Wednesday, and by appointment


This course focuses on a particular issue in the philosophy of education: how to both respect and cultivate the autonomy of one’s students.  Drawing primarily on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Maria Montessori, we will explore autonomy-based approaches to education, from raising infants through developing mature adults.  The course will require at least one hour a week of teaching-oriented service in the community, as well as regular papers and a substantial final project.





The purpose of all of these requirements is to get you to think carefully about the questions we are discussing in class, the readings we are doing, and the experiences you are having. 

My goal is to avoid busy-work while promoting real learning.  Since this class is a collaborative endeavor, I need your help in discerning what is working and what is not, so feel free to provide feedback about any or all of these assignments over the course of the semester, so that requirements may be modified to best meet your learning needs.


Class Participation.  (Not any particular %, but final grade could be substantially affected.)  In order to do well in classroom discussions, you must come to each class having read and reread the material assigned for that day.  On your first reading, you should be trying to get the main points of the reading, and you should also be highlighting passages of particular importance that you will spend substantial time working through on your rereading.  You should come to class with a general sense of most important points from the reading, some possible implications, and an assessment.  You should also ensure that any questions and confusions you have about the reading are as clearly formulated as possible.  “I didn’t get it” is not a good response to a reading.  “I can’t figure out why Rousseau engages in such and such an activity with Emile on p. X, since he doesn’t seem to defend it and it seems to contradict his claim on Y that Z” is a great question/confusion.  I will feel free to call on any of you by name to pose questions/problems, summarize the main point, or assess the reading.  (If the thought of this scares you to death, let me know.  I will still call on you, but I will work more with you to make it a less terrifying experience.)


Occasional Quizzes.  If I feel that these are necessary or would be helpful for the class, I’ll give occasional quizzes on the readings for each seminar meeting, and, like participation, these could substantially affect your final grade.


Service (10%).  All students will be required to participate in some form of service to the community that involves either education or the service of children in one form or another.  This service should amount to at least one hour per week.  It can be either paid or unpaid.  Some service opportunities that I recommend are the following (links to all of these can be found at Whitman’s Center for Community Service:


·         The Story Time Project: A reading program for pre-school through third grade children.  Volunteers travel (by foot, car, or bike) to local schools and read to the children and lead discussions.  This program is based in the Center for Community Service at Whitman.

·         Whitman Mentor Program: A school-based mentoring program in which volunteers are matched up with elementary or middle school students in cooperation with the schools’ teachers and Intervention Specialists.  Students meet their mentees once or twice a week during the lunch hour.

·         Tutoring 6th Graders

·         Farm Labor Camp Homework Helpers (bilingual Spanish speakers preferred)


Unless you are already involved in a service activity that you enjoy and think would work well with the class, I very strongly recommend that you talk to Lina Menard ( at the Center for Community Service at Whitman.  She can work with you individually to find the best service opportunity for you.  If you are not already involved in a service activity, you should set up a meeting with her before the next class.


I may confer with the supervisor at your community service location in order to assess how well you have participated in this component of the course.  I will also use your own self-reports of your service, as recorded in your journal. 


If you show up for your service opportunity late more than once or miss your service at all, you cannot get higher than a B for this portion of the course, unless you provide to both me and your supervisor a note from a physician (or equivalent) saying that you were incapable of serving.  Except under truly extraordinary circumstances, this notification must be provided at least 48 hours prior to your scheduled service.  If you show up late 3 times or miss more than once, you cannot get higher than a C.  If you show up late or miss more often than that, you will Fail this portion of the course.


Journal (45%).  Over the course of the semester, you will be expected to keep a journal.  You should email me your journal – or hand it in if its only available in hard copy – on the dates listed below.  The content of the journal is somewhat open-ended, but it must include at least the following:

·         A weekly reflection on your service.  You should describe interesting or important events that occurred in the context of your service.  When appropriate you should use your experiences to help you interpret or critique the readings or vice versa.  You should also talk about what seems to be going well and what seems to be going poorly in your service experiences.

·         Regular reflections on the readings.  For each day that we have a new reading, you should be doing some new writing.  Sometimes, I would expect this writing to be little more than a couple of paragraphs.  At other times, I would hope that it would amount to a short paper.

·         Reflections on other forms of learning you are engaged in this semester, including other classes, the Climbing component if applicable, the knitting component if applicable, etc.

·         Throughout the course of the semester, I have included “Discussion Questions” in the syllabus, and I may add additional ones over the course of the semester.  For each discussion question, you should write at least a paragraph long response in your journal.  For at least one over the course of the semester, you should write at least a 1000 word polished response.  By “polished” I mean that it should not be your initial draft journal entries, but a response that you have revised into a well-organized, clear and concise, elegant essay.

·         Replies to comments.  I will write comments in your journals, and you should reply to at least some of these comments.

·         By the end of the semester, your journal should include at least 4000 words (about 12+ pages) of polished papers of at least 1000 words (3+ pages) each.  This can include one or more polished responses to discussion questions, and the form of this 4000 words could be a single coherent 4000 word essay, or 2-4 shorter essays.

Book Review (15%).  During our reading of Rousseau, you should read a popular book that discusses either education or the raising of children.  Some books that you might read include Positive Discipline (Jane Nelson), Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care (by Dr. Spock), Caring for your Baby and Young Child (by the American Academy of Pediatrians), Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (Weissbluth), Unconditional Parenting (Alfie Kohn), etc.  You can also just browse the Parenting sections of your local bookstore (or online bookseller).  You should write a review of that book from a Rousseauian perspective, and then a meta-review from your own perspective.  For the review, assume that you are Rousseau and review the book.  For the meta-review, you should assess Rousseau’s criticisms and endorsements of the book.  In places where they agree, are they right? In places where they don’t, whose approach to children do you find more realistic, more appealing, etc.  Whose approach does a better job of educating (towards) autonomy?  I have also included an optional book review in the second half of the semester.  For this, you should choose a different book and examine it from Montessori’s perspective, and/or from the perspective on education and autonomy that you have developed over the course the semester.


Final Project (30%).  For your final project, you must design either a “toy” (i.e., something for children to work with) or a “game” (something for children to do) and write a justification of the educational value of the toy/game. (“Children” here can refer to any learner between birth and death.)  The primary justification must involve a 1500-3500 word essay showing how the toy fits in with the educational philosophies of Rousseau, Kant, and Montessori.  You should also provide a catalog description of no more than 200 words that both describes the toy/game and briefly states its educational value. (For a pretty intense version of a Montessori-inspired game, click here.)


Other Projects (??%).  Throughout the course of the semester, you are strongly encouraged to propose – as individuals or as a group – other assignments that you think would serve your educational goals for this course.  Subject to my approval, I will be glad to incorporate these assignments into the course, and to adjust the portion of the grade due to other assignments accordingly.  Make this course your own!



Climbing towards autonomy.  Thanks to a general grant from the President, this class includes an optional “climbing” component.  Students who decide to sign up for this component of the class will get free climbing instruction and the free use of climbing gear (at Whitman’s climbing wall) for the semester.  (Usually, this instruction/equipment would cost you over $100, so this is a pretty good deal.)  Those who choose to participate will meet once a week for up to two hours at the climbing wall.  For the first three weeks, there will be climbing instructors available to lead clinics on climbing.  For the rest of the semester, one (student) climbing instructor will be available to give continued instruction if necessary, but we’ll be doing a lot of independent climbing and sharing tips, etc. Those who participate in this component of the class will be expected to discuss their experiences as learners in their journals, and we will share some of those experiences as a class.  The climbing instruction and group climbs (with me and a climbing instructor) will take place on Tuesdays from 4:30-6:30 at the climbing wall, starting January 25.  (The first session, on January 25, will not start until 5:05.)


Knitting towards autonomy.  Thanks to the generosity of my colleague Michelle Jenkins, this class includes an optional knitting component.  Students who decide to sign up for this component will be invited to at least two knitting seminars at my home, where Prof. Jenkins will help us learn how to knit.  Students are also very strongly encouraged to attend the regular Monday evening meetings of the Knit Whit Club, and there will be other regular opportunities for knitting together as a class.  (Knitters will also be welcome as spectators to our climbing towards autonomy sessions.)


Any student is invited to participate in either, or both, of these activities, but they are genuinely optional.

No student is required to participate in either of these activities, and your grades will not be directly affected by participation in either activity. 



Timeline of Readings and other Assignments








Selections from Kant (I’ll hand these out in class)

You should show up on the first day of class having read Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, particularly attentive to his discussion of autonomy.  You must also provide, on or before the first day of class, a statement of your intended service activity (what it is, where and when it meets, etc) for the semester and the contact information for your supervisor.



Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, Entire (But don’t read the Dedicatory Letter.)

For some notes on the background to this work, click here.

Submit journal by noon on Friday to



Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, entire (including Dedicatory letter)

Discussion Question:

In the light of the Discourse on Inequality, how should children be educated?



Rousseau, Emile, Preface and Book I (pp. 33-74)



Rousseau, Emile, Book II (pp. 76-163)




Rousseau, Emile, Books II and III (to p. 185)

Submit journal by noon on Friday to


Rousseau, Emile, Book III (to p. 208)




Rousseau, Emile, Book III (to p. 208)




Rousseau, Emile, Book IV (to p. 266)

Submit journal by 8 am on Wednesday to



Rousseau, Emile, Book IV, Profession of Faith of the Vicar, (pp. 266-313)

If possible, please send me (by Wednesday afternoon) a question or comment on the Profession of Faith.  I’ll use these to figure out what to focus on in class.



Rousseau, Emile, Book IV, cont. (to end of Book IV, p. 355)

Discussion Question: What differences, if any, are there between the autonomy in which Kant is interested and the sort of self-governance enabled by the education described in Emile.  Are there aspects of Emile’s education that Kant could not endorse?  Is the end result something that Kant would endorse?



Rousseau, Emile, Book IV, cont. (to end of Book IV, p. 355)

Discussion Question: Is there a difference between boys and girls (and between men and women) that should make a difference for pedagogy?



Rousseau, Emile, Book V, pp. 357-406

Book Review #1 First Draft Due.

Discussion Question: Is there a difference between boys and girls (and between men and women) that should make a difference for pedagogy?



Rousseau, Emile, Book V, pp. 357-480

Submit journal by noon on Friday to


Catch up

Book Review #1 Final Draft Due (March 9th, 9 PM)

Discussion Question: Choose one difference in the educational methods of Kant and Rousseau and use that difference to discuss whether and to what extent each’s educational methods reflect their ideals of human excellence? 



Catch up





Submit Journal (Please get me your journal at some point over Spring Break, preferably as early as possible.)



Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Preface and Sections I and II; and On Education, entire.




Kant, On Education, entire, “Methodology of Pure Practical Reason” from the Critique of Practical Reason, “Methodology of Ethics” from the Metaphysics of Morals, and selections from other writings.



Montessori Reader, pp. 6-7, 25-77, 271-282.

Optional: “The Foundations of my Pedagogy” (Basic Ideas, pp. 19-39)



Montessori Reader, pp. 359-436. (Optional: Basic Ideas, pp. 39-46.)

Discussion Question: Focusing on one key aspect of Montessori’s pedagogy, answer the question: Does Montessori satisfy (or improve on, or fall short of) Kant’s “wish that Rousseau had shown how schools could arise from” Emile?

Submit journal by noon on Friday to



Undergraduate Conference




Montessori Reader, pp. 437-490.  (Optional: Basic Ideas, pp. 58-65.)

Optional Book Review #2 Rough Draft Due (preferably as early in this week as possible).



Montessori Reader, pp. 491-536.



Montessori Reader, 537-597. (Optional: Basic Ideas, pp. 89-113.)

Submit journals on this day (or at least, by Monday morning) for final comments.



Montessori Reader, pp. 25-91, 250-265, 272-284. (Optional: Basic Ideas, pp. 67-70, 75-89.)

Optional Book Review #2 Final Draft Due



Montessori Reader, pp. 92-170, 285-320.



Montessori Reader, pp. 171-250, 266-270, 321-358.

Project Draft (including write-up) is due by 9 am on Monday morning (except physical stuff, which is due in class).



Shop Class as Soul Craft, pp. 1-160.


Shop Class as Soul Craft, pp. 161-210.

Final versions of projects due.

Final drafts of journals due.



Date for this class’s final exam.

We will not have a final exam, but . . .

This is the due date for the toy/game justification essays. This is also the final date on which any work for the class will be accepted.  I will not give extensions beyond this date (though I hope that by this time, you will also want to continue working on the material from this class through the summer…).