Philosophy 222: Education and Autonomy

Prof. Patrick Frierson


Office Hours (Olin East 124): 2:30-5 PM Tuesday, 1:30-3 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 journal entries and a substantial final project.




There are lots of other books that would be great to read together as a class.  We could read Locke’s Treatise On Education or Dewey’s Democracy and Education or Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  There are lots of anthologies with short selections from other texts (both classics and contemporary articles) in the philosophy of education.  The last time I taught this course, we read Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew Crawford.  If any of you would particularly like to read an important work in the philosophy of education that relates to the topic of education and autonomy, you should read it!  But if you want to discuss that book with the whole class, you should take advantage of the “Presentation” option below to introduce it to the class, or you should let me know, and if there’s a better way to incorporate it into the regular class schedule, I’ll make the necessary adjustments.  If neither of these options works, I’ll find a time to meet with whoever reads the book and we can have a little reading group to supplement the course.



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 at any time about any or all of these assignments, so that requirements may be modified to best meet your learning needs.  I’m also planning to experiment with Piazza ( for this course, which should provide a way for you to give anonymous feedback over the course of the semester.  (Any students who have experience with piazza are particularly welcome to let me know how I can use this tool more effectively to enhance student learning…this is my first time trying it out!)


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.  This is a reading intensive course.  Throughout, I will do my best to guide you towards the most relevant passages, but you should not limit your reading to what I tell you to “focus” on.  There is a lot of rich material in this class, and you are likely to be drawn to and inspired by things that are not what I am drawn to and inspired by.  The reason we are reading this stuff together is so that we can all profit from each other’s perspectives.  (Otherwise, I’d just write a book, and you’d just read it.)  So be prepared to spend a lot of time reading for this class.  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.  If you would particularly like quizzes, let me know and I’ll designed quizzes for each class.


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 Student Engagement Center:

·         The Storytime Project, Mackenzie Palmer is the student intern for this program and she can be reached at

·         The Whitman Mentor Program, Rina Wulfing and Leslie Rodriguez are the student interns for this program and they can be reached at

·         The Green Park BiLingual Program (300 level proficiency in Spanish required), Elissa Picozzi is the student intern for this program and she can be reached at (they currently do not have a website because they are new)

·         College Coaches, Nate Higby is the student intern for this program and he can be reached at

·         Tutoring with the Academic Fun Club at Valle Lindo Homes (previously Homework Help at Farm Labor Homes), contact Mariela Rosas at (300 level Spanish proficiency preferred)

·         For science based outreach and involvement in the schools, please contact Heidi Chapin, Science Outreach Coordinator.  She can be reached at  She would be happy to help as well.

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 Abby Juhasz ( or Susan Prudente ( at the Student Engagement Center.  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.  THE DEADLINE TO APPLY FOR SERVICE OPPORTUNITIES IS FRIDAY, JANUARY 23.  YOU MUST APPLY BY THEN IN ORDER TO PASS THIS COMPONENT OF THE COURSE.


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 it’s 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 do some new writing.  Sometimes, I would expect this writing to be little more than a couple of paragraphs.  At other times, I 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 entry, 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.  When you submit your final journal, you should clearly indicate the 4000+ word portion(s) of it that you intend to fulfill this requirement.

Book Review or Presentation (15%). 

Book Review Option: 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 initial review, assume that you are Rousseau and review the book.  (This review can be modelled on a popular book review format such as the New York Review of Books, a philosophical book review format such as those at, or a rigorous and sustained version of an Amazon book review.  Whatever format you choose, however, the review should be philosophically engaging and substantive, not a mere summary of 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 product/book review in the second half of the semester.  For this, you should choose a different book (or toy, or game, or other product) 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.  There is no strict length requirement for this, but I would expect most reviews (including meta-reviews) to be 1500-2000 words in length.


Presentation Option:  At regular intervals throughout the semester, you will have the opportunity to give presentations on alternative educational theories and/or criticisms of the educational theories we are discussing as a class.  These presentations can be scheduled at mutually agreeable dates, but I’ve reserved the following classes during which I’m planning to leave room for at least one presentation: Feb. 12, March 10, March 12, April 7, 9, 21, 30, and May 5, 7, and 12.  I can work with you to find a good topic, or you can go out and find your own.  Many of these dates involve short readings from additional theorists (e.g. Friere on March 7), and you are particularly encouraged to present on that theorist on that day.  In any case, before putting together your presentation, you should talk to me about what you plan to do.


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 conception and death.)  The primary justification must involve a 1500-3500 word essay showing how the toy relates to 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.  The last time I taught this class, it included an optional rock-climbing component.  The provides an opportunity to learn a skill together that is not part of the “conventional” academic curriculum.  If you are interested in pursuing this option for this semester, I’d need at least six students to commit and then I’ll try to line up a private instructor and some deal with the OPP for equipment.  There may be a small fee, which will be waived for students who have financial need.  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.


Knitting towards autonomy.  Alternatively (or in addition), this class may include an optional knitting component.  If folks are interested, I’ll try to put together some knitting seminars at my home (or at school, but I have a fireplace at home).


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). 

Kant’s whole Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals is available, with commentary essays, here; and, in an older translation, here.

An old translation of his On Education is available here.  (For the best recent translation of the Groundwork, get this.

For the best of On Education, you’ll have buy this book.)



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

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

In class, we are likely to focus on the condition of human beings in the state of nature and then the series of steps that take humans from that state through increasing levels of “enlightenment and errors”. 

As you read, think about what, if any, implications this vision of humanity would have for the education of children.

Submit journal by noon on Friday to

You MUST include in your journal a description of the service project you will undertake this semester, the name and number of your supervisor, and the steps you have taken to secure your position.



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).  Focus on pp. 37-43, 62-69 (especially p. 68), and 74.



Rousseau, Emile, Book II (pp. 76-163).  The most important passage is the summary/conclusion on pp. 158-163.  You might even read these pages first and then go back and read the rest; they identify what Emile is like at the age of 10-12.  We should be able to work from this passage back through Book II to identify how Rousseau cultivated this kind of kid.

More generally, some key concepts to focus on in Bk II:

·          “In what consists human…happiness?” (p. 80-1) and being “truly free” (84)

·         The two sorts of dependence (85, cf. “necessity,” p. 89, “laws of the possible” 92, cf. 100, 101)

·         “he gets his lessons from nature and not from men” (119, cf. 124)

·         “Negative” education (93, cf. 103, 107, 117, and 105 re: moral education)

·         Hurt vs. harm (p. 78, cf. 87)

·         Rejection of books! (116ff., 125)

·         Exercise of the senses (132f.).  (For a little on how to teach  math, see 145-6.)


In addition to the concepts mentioned…

Pay attention to Rousseau’s lesson on property (98-99), and think about it.  Why does Locke teach about private property, given his claims from the Discourse?

Also spend a bit of time with the fable of the Crow and Fox (pp. 113-115).  We may look at a fable or two in class together, or perhaps a children’s book.





Rousseau, Emile, Books II and III (to p. 185).  We’re going to take it relatively slowly through book III…be sure to review the material from Book II as well for this day.

Discussion Question:  To what extent does the education described so far in Emile address points made in the Discourse?  Does Rousseau’s educational method preserve as much of what is good about both society and the state of nature as possible?  How (or why not)?


Submit journal by noon on Friday to


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

Discussion Question: Given where Emile is now – having “lived satisfied, happy, and free” – what is left for Rousseau to do in terms of his education?  Why?  How do you expect Rousseau to deal with Emile beyond “his fifteenth year” (208)?




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

And E.D. Hirsch, Cultural Literacy, Preface and Chapter One

And a short selection by Jacques Maritain (“Education at the Crossroads”)



Discussion Question: Compare Hirsch, Maritain, and Rousseau.  What are the most legitimate criticisms of Rousseau raised by Hirsch and/or Maritain?  In the light of their readings, how convincing do you find Rousseau’s approach so far?  Which approach is more likely to cultivate genuine autonomy (however you understand that concept)?



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

Submit journal by 8 am on Wednesday to




You should attend at least two sessions at the Symposium and write about them in your journals.



Rousseau, Emile, Book IV, Profession of Faith of the Vicar, (pp. 266-313).  The first half of this reading (pp. 266-295) lays out the basics of Rousseau’s overall philosophy.  Also pay attention to the summary on pp. 310-13.  In addition to his philosophy in general, pay particular attention to his comments about freedom and conscience.  (Also try to figure out what role God plays in Emile’s development, and why.)

If possible, please send me (by Monday morning) 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)

Review readings/handout from Kant’s Groundwork.  (The whole Groundwork is available, with commentary essays, here; and, in an older translation, here.)

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, catch-up.



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

Optional reading by Michael Gurian.

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?


Submit journal by noon on Friday, March 6 to


Emile, Book V, pp. 357-480.

Also read selection from Amy Gutmann, Democratic Education



Book Review #1 Final Draft Due (March 11th, 9 PM)




R. S. Peters, Essays on Educators, selection.



Discussion Question: Choose one of R.S. Peters’s criticisms of Rousseau and offer a Rousseauian response, or develop an objection to Rousseau that Peters left out.







Submit Journal (Please get me your journal at some point over Spring Break, preferably as early as possible, but absolutely no later than March 24.)

Over Break, I also very strongly encourage you to get started reading the Kant!



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 (pp. 312-323 of the .pdf (pp. 249-260 in the book)), “Methodology of Ethics” from the Metaphysics of Morals (sections 49-54, pp. 179-86 of the .pdf).

Optional…read “Changing notions of the moral and of moral education,” by Nel Noddings and Michael Slote.

If folks are interested, I can share an article I’ve been working on that compares Kant and Rousseau on education….

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? 


Montessori, “The Foundations of my Pedagogy” (handout from Basic Ideas, pp. 19-39) and The Montessori Method, chapters 1 and 3 (available online)

Also read selections from Paulo Friere, Pedagogy of the Oppressed




Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, chapters 1-8.




Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, chapters 8-15.

Optional Book Review #2 Rough Draft Due.



Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, chapters 16-21.

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?



Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, chapters 22-end.

Montessori, The Montessori Method, chapters V, VI, XXI, XXII, and at least one other chapter of your choosing (available online).





No reading…Guest Montessori teacher Julie D.

Submit journals on this day for final comments.



Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, chapters 1-10 (pp. 1-57).  Focus on the first chapter.



Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, chapter 11 (pp. 50-58).

Also read short selection from Dewey, Democracy and Education;

“Culture, Subculture, Multiculturalism: Educational Options,” K. Anthony Appiah;

Martha Nussbaum, “Tagore, Dewey, and the Immanent Demise of Liberal Education”

Optional Book/Product Review #2 Final Draft Due




Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, Appendixes A and B (pp. 59-81).  Also check out this YouTube video on the Hershey Montessori (Farm) School or this related YouTube video specifically on adolescents.




Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, Appendix C: “The Functions of the University” (pp. 82-93).  Also take a look at Whitman College’s Mission Statement, available here. 

Try to write a mission statement for a Montessori University.  How does Whitman measure up to Montessori’s ideals for the University?  Which school would be better, Whitman or a hypothetical Montessori U. that cohered perfectly with Montessori’s ideals?



Let’s play with our new toys!!

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 final 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…).