20 June 2015

Naturalism as Philosophy of Education

Rousseau concept of education was also Naturalism. As a philosophy of education it was developed in the 18th century and was based on the assumption that nature represents the wholeness of reality.
It was a concept that firmly believes that ultimate reality lies in the nature of the matter. Matter is considered to be supreme and mind is the functioning of the brain that is made up of matter. Nature, itself, is a total system that contains and explains all existence including human beings and human nature. The whole universe is governed by laws of nature and they are changeable. It’s through our sense that we are able to get the real knowledge. The senses works like real gateways of knowledge and exploration is the method that helps in studying nature.

We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education.
    ~Jean Jacques Rousseau

  Education must conform to the natural processes of growth and mental development. This root principle, already touched upon, stems from a concern to understand the nature of the child and follows from naturalism’s conception of the pupil. It is the makeup of the learner that determines the character of the learning process, not the designs of teachers of the learner or there simply will be no learning. (Grimsley, R. 1969) 

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Meaning of Naturalism:

Naturalism means belief in Nature. It advocates return to Nature. According to W.E. Hocking, “Naturalism is a type of metaphysics which takes Nature as the whole of reality”. The philosophy of Naturalism excludes whatever is supernatural or other worldly. Even human life is a part of the scheme of nature. This philosophy believes that “everything comes from nature and returns to nature.”

Naturalism in education:

Naturalism appeared on the educational scene as a revolt against formalism and stereotyped system of education. In the words of Adams, “naturalism is a term loosely applied in educational theory, to systems of training that are not dependent on schools and books but on the manipulation of the actual life of the educand.”  Education is a process of development of naturalistic life. According to Ross, ‘Education is merely the fostering of natural development and true education takes place when the nature, power and inclinations of the child are allowed to develop freely with a minimum of guidance.” Aristotle, Comte, Bacon, Rousseau, Herbert Spencer, Tagore and Sir T.P. Nunn are among those who thought of education along naturalistic philosophy.  Rousseau was perhaps one of the most prominent naturalists whoever wrote on education.

Principle underlying Naturalistic Education

i. Natural Setting: The essence of naturalistic philosophy of education lies in providing natural environment to the child. It is in this setting that proper development of the child can take place.

ii.   Child –Centeredness: Naturalism gives central position to the child. Accordingly, the teacher should understand child psychology and guide the educand according to his needs and attitudes. Children should be treated as children and not as miniature adults.

iii.  Maximum freedom to the child: Freedom is the watchword of naturalistic education. It is through freedom that the child-growth takes a natural direction. Children should have a free choice of activities to gain first-hand experiences.

iv. Happiness and Healthy Mood: Happiness and healthy mood go hand in hand. Happy childhood is an essential factor in healthy growth. Naturalism believes that education should generate happiness and healthy mood for the growing child.

v.   Senses – the Gateways of Knowledge: Senses are the gateways of knowledge. For effective learning, adequate sensory exper3inces should be provided to the child.

vi. Instincts – the basis of education: Naturalistic education regards instincts as the basis of all education. The teacher should fully exploit child’s instincts and try to modify this behavior. It is through education that the child’s animal behavior should be transformed into human behavior.

Naturalism and Aims of Education

The following maybe regarded as the aims of education planned in accordance with naturalistic philosophy:

i. Self Expression: Self expression, not self realization is an important aim of naturalistic education.

ii.   Self-Preservation: Education should help the child in self-preservation. It includes self health along with healthy environment.

iii.  Fullest Development: Naturalism believes that the chief aim of education is the fullest development of the child.

iv. Survival of the individual: Naturalism believes that the fittest alone should survive. Education must equip the child to struggle to exist.

v.   Economic Efficiency: Naturalism believes that education should be geared to the fulfillment of economic needs of the child.

vi. Sublimation of instincts: Education should aim at the redirection and sublimation of child’s instincts.

vii. Maintenance of Social and political relations: Naturalist educators believe through education the rate of development should increase so that social and political justice is maintained.

viii. Adjustment with Surrounding: Education should enable an individual to live in harmony with his surroundings. This alone will ensure his health and happiness.

ix. Autonomous development of individuality: Education regards the autonomous development of individuality as an important goal of education Rousseau as well as T.P. Nunn are the main exponents of this view.

x.   Enjoyment of Leisure: It occupies an important place in the scheme of education. As such pleasure of leisure should be the lasting experience.

Stages of Education:

According to Rousseau there are four stages in education:
 i. Infancy: When the child is at this stage, the child is not mature. Infants’ psychology is totally different from the adults. At this stage the child can be taught through normal conversation (Chandra and Sharma, 2006).

ii. Childhood: Rousseau believed that child should not be given books up till the age of twelve. The child must learn through experience. The child learns naturally through his own actions and starts developing the ability of reasoning (Chandra and Sharma, 2006).

 iii. Adolescence: At this stage the child can be taught formal education. The child is exposed to various subjects such as physical sciences, language, mathematics, social studies and music and drawing and some kind of professional training. According to Rousseau, education should be given through activities and not by books because activities give more knowledge than books (Chandra and Sharma, 2006).

 iv. Youth: At this stage special emphasis is laid on moral and religious education. Moral education can also be derived through actual experience.  Religious education can be taught through the teachings of history, mythological stories and religious stories (Chandra and Sharma, 2006).


According to naturalism, curriculum should be divided into two levels. At the first level, nly such subjects sjould be included as weill help the child in training his senses. At the sdcond level, education should incude such subjects which have linkage wth hysical and natural environments. In general, curriculum should be based on the physchology of the child. Only such subjects should be stressed which are helpful in self-p[reservation. Study of basic sciences and past experiences of the race should aklso be included.

Rousseau has exclusively written on curriculum. He was interested in the nature of the child and his natural development. The following arrangement was suggested by him:

a.  Age-group 1 to 12: Upto 12 years of age, the child should be given negative education. He should not be deprived of his childhood freedom. It is the stage of learning by wandering. He may acquire an amount of formal education from his family.

b.  Age-group 12-20 years: This is the stage of training of intellect. This is acquired through formal education which is given through experience. Accordingly, the curriculum should be experienced centred. This experience is to be provided in a social setting or context. Thus experience is to be provided in a social setting or context. So curriculum is broad-based. This experience must follow some system and the other. Hence the need for text-books and also of direct experiences. Higher Stage: At the higher stage, the naturalists stand for sciences rather than for arts. They suggest that even sciences should not be taught formally in the classroom but in the field and through exploration. This suits the nature of the child also. The contents of course etc. are to be in accordance with the nature of the child – his capacities and inner tendencies.

c.  Higher Stage: At the higher stage the naturalistic stand for sciences rather than or arts. They suggest that even sciences should not be taught formally in the classroom but in the field and through exploration. This suits the nature of the child also. The contents of course etc., are to be in accordance with the nature of the child – his capacities and inner tendencies. The modern approach in terms of diversified courses is the direct outcome of this approach.


Although naturalists believe in retaining text books at a higher stage, they believe in following nature for education. As the above, curriculum suggests, just direct experience with nature can be the best method. They also advocate Playway as a method of education.


Individual is to be given unrestricted freedom and only then his harmonious development will take place. It may also be made clear that freedom is to be given in social context and not to that extent which results in disintegration of the society. The checks on the child are also to be natural. The naturalists advocate discipline by natural consequences. But there is always a danger that the child may harm himself and cause worry to the parents.


i. Extreme naturalists ignore teacher. They think that teacher will interfere with the development of a child.
ii.   If, however, the teacher is to be there, let him design situations which help in the inculcation of right type of habits in the children. He is the director of activity. In doing this role as a director, the teacher should not overdo his role or overact his role.

Merits and limitations of Naturalism:

  • Naturalism has given direct impetus to the clear formation of the psychological and scientific conception of education.
  • Naturalism has secured freedom for the child and has further successes in freeing the child from tyranny and rigidity, interference and strict discipline. This freedom is unprecedented. The child is now in the fore-front.
  • Naturalism stresses that education should engage the spontaneous self-activity of the child. 
  • Naturalism has given an impetus to new psychological methods in educations. Self- expression, follow nature, auto education, plays way, self-discipline and non- interference etc are some of the main characteristics of naturalistic education.
  • In short, the great strength of Naturalism is its simplicity. It does not complicate the perception of existence by using abstract concepts.


i. It is based on one- sided psychology. Its rules are applicable to all the children irrespective of their individual differences, capacities and temperament. It is not possible to apply all the methods of Rousseau in practical situation.
ii.   Direct experiences cannot be provided all the time. it becomes expensive and something impossible.
iii.  It gives no place to the spiritual values. It brings everything on the plane for materialism. It regards human being as more of an animal being. Moreover, some of the principles envisaged by naturalism are not possible to be practiced in the existing situations. Ross rightly opines ‘it is in educational ideals, not in methods that naturalism fails to satisfy.

However, it may be clearly mentioned that naturalism has contributed a lot to give birth to progressive education. All the modern of teaching owe their origin to this school of philosophy. It has made teaching more enjoyable, useful, effective and real. ‘Naturalism is responsible for creating tone and temper for the study of sciences.’’ Anyways in the end we can say that if supplementary by some other schools of thought, naturalism can prove to be the most outstanding philosophy of education.