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Joseph Jacotot

French educator (1770-1840)

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.


Jacotot, JOSEPH, French educator, b. at Dijon, March, 1770; d. at Paris, July 30, 1840. He studied in the college of his native city, where, at the age of nineteen, he was appointed professor of classical literature. Later he filled successively the chairs of the methods of sciences (1796), ancient languages (1797), higher mathematics (1803), Roman law (1806), and pure mathematics (1809). A member of the House of Representatives during the Hundred Days, he expressed his preference for the Empire, and, at the time of the Second Restoration, his hostility to the Bourbons made it necessary for him to leave France. Going to Belgium, he taught privately at Mons and Brussels, and in 1818 was appointed professor of the French language and literature in the University of Louvain. The Revolution of 1830 allowed him to return to France. He went first to Valenciennes, and in 1838 to Paris, endeavoring to propagate his method of teaching, and working for "the intellectual emancipation" of his fellow-men. His works under the common title of "Enseignement Universel" are: "Langue maternelle" (Louvain, 1822); "Langues etrangeres" (Louvain, 1824); "Musique, Dessin et Peinture" (Louvain, 1824); "Mathematiques" (Louvain, 1828); "Droit et philosophie panecastique" (Paris, 1839). He also wrote many articles in the "Journal de l'emancipation intellectuelle", published by his two sons (1829-42), who also edited his "Melanges posthumes" (Paris, 1841). When Jacotot began to teach at Louvain, he knew neither Flemish nor Dutch, while many of his pupils could not understand French. To overcome this difficulty he gave them both the French text and the Dutch translation of Fenelon's "Telemaque". They were to memorize some sentences of the French and carefully compare them with the Dutch, every day repeating what they knew and adding a little more. After some time Jacotot was surprised at their progress, for with no other help they had mastered the rules of spelling and grammar and could apply them correctly. Encouraged by this success, Jacotot thought he had found a universal method and adapted it to all branches of knowledge.

This method rightly recognizes the necessity of the student's own efforts and mental work, and it also endeavors to apply the principle that all knowledge is so connected that to know one thing well, i.e. to know it in all its connections, supplies the key to a more perfect and extensive knowledge of other subjects also. Hence it matters little where the student begins, or what book he uses, provided he proceeds rightly. Generally, instead of starting with the first elements, Jacotot would have him begin with something complex, which the student himself would analyze into its elements—comparing these, noting their similarities and differences, and thus finding the rules for himself. Among the number of principles which sum up Jacotot's method, we may mention the following: "Know something well, and always refer everything else to that". "Everyone can be his own master". "Every-body can teach, and teach even what he does not know". More paradoxical are the two axioms which are given as the bases of the whole method: "All men are of equal intelligence", that is, are equally capable of learning; "All is in all", that is, the same general ideas are found in every work, and consequently man should strive to master one thing well and refer every-thing to what he knows already. However exaggerated such principles, and even the whole method, may seem, and however vehement at times Jacotot may have been in defending them, it must be conceded that they emphasize a few vital points, the necessity of personal effort and application on the part of the student, the connection more or less immediate of all ideas, the need of order and method, and the importance of thoroughness in knowledge.

C. A. DUBRAY


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