top of page

Rescuing Rousseau:  Part 2 – Travel to Learn

Jean-Jacques Rousseau would not have a student sitting in a class room for hours on end. He would have the student labor and travel.

I agree. When our children were growing up they were responsible for completing school work in the mornings. In the afternoon, they each managed their own business. Our daughter did wedding photography and our son managed a poop scoop service. Both are still self employed today while in college. Sarah Delanie Photography / Scoop Up the Poop .

Just as important was travel. We had the good fortune to spend time in over 20 countries together and it was an incredible education.

You may think travel is a luxury - it is not. Anyone can travel. The distance in miles is not what means the's the distance in culture that matters.

My parents took me across America. I learned how to relax in a field eating boiled peanuts and how to move through the silverware properly at the nicest restaurants in New York City. I was introduced to fine museums and hiking back mountain trails. I learned to converse with successful business men and chat it up with general store clerks. We ate in the homes of wealthy white men and sat and ate on the floors with poor African American women. Travel taught me countless lessons, and softened my heart to people different than me.

We can rescue Rousseau with his demand that children travel.

Rousseau states we must not read travel books and watch travel shows or listen to the tales of those that traveled. If we want to learn, we must go ourselves.

"It is too much to have to wade through at the same time the prejudices of authors and our own in order to arrive at the truth. I have spent my life in reading books of travel, and I have never found two of them which gave me the same idea of the same people."

One of our great issues in the U.S. is the divide between people who live so close to each other. Yet many have not traveled simply to the other side of the tracks.

"I hold it for an incontestable maxim, that whoever has seen but one people, instead of knowing men, knows only those with whom he has lived. Here then is still another way of stating the same question of travels. Is it sufficient for a well-educated man to know only his own countrymen, or is it important for him to know men in general? There no longer remains dispute or doubt on this point. Observe how the solution of a difficult question sometimes depends on the manner of stating it," writes Rousseau.

One of the greatest excursions I ever took was to the South Side of Chicago as a teenager. I and several other teens from our church went to be a part of a service on a Saturday afternoon. I was a middle class white kid sitting in a Bible study with people of many colors, drug users, prostitutes, and the homeless. My world was expanded in two hours. I could no longer coldly respond to the homeless and the down and out for I had shared time with them and broke bread with them.

As Rousseau said, "But in order to study men, must we make the tour of the whole earth? Must we go to Japan to observe Europeans? In order to know the species, must we know all the individuals? No: there are men who resemble one another so closely that it is not worth the trouble to study them separately."

We can travel near or far and learn, but we must travel.

"There is a great difference between traveling to see the country and traveling to see the people. The first object is always that of the curious, while the other is only incidental for them. It ought to be the very opposite for one who wishes to philosophize," states Rousseau.

Pull your child from the classroom and stroll into a pub in England. They'll learn more about getting along with their mates in but an hour at the corner table.

Walk along a trail in Yosemite with your child and offer granola bars to a German couple. Your child's mind will expand as their accent penetrates their interest in the world.

Go to the country and stop at a local cafe. Ask, "How are you?" to the oldest person in the room and they'll gain wisdom and patience.

"Whoever returns from a tour of the world is, on his return, what he will be for the rest of his life." - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

bottom of page