The Ignorant Schoolmaster by Jacques Ranciere

The Ignorant Schoolmaster

RATING: 8/10…READ: February 15, 2010

An overlooked work on why schools don’t work and a pledge for self-education or (intellectual emancipation). Joseph Jacotot in 1818 was able to teach in French to Flemish students who knew no French. Ranciere (a noted French philosopher) breaks down Joesph Jacotot’s philosophies in a somewhat dizzing fashion. A very slow and deep read, but nonetheless a solid read.

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What would make equality a presupposition rather than a goal, a practice rather than a reward situated firmly in some distant future so as to all the better explain its present infeasibility.

Explication is the myth of pedagogy. Rather than eliminating incapacity, explication, if fat, creates it. It does this in part by establishing the temporal structure of delay (“a little further along, a little later, a few more explanations and you’ll see the light.) that, writ large, would become the whole nineteenth-century myth of progress: “the pedagogical fiction erected into the fiction of the whole society, “and the general infantilization of the individuals who compose it. The pedagogical myth divides the world into two: the knowing and the ignorant, the mature and the uninformed, the capable and the incapable.

For hasn’t the pedagogical fiction of our own time been cast on a global scale? Never will the student catch up with the teacher; never will the “developing” nations catch up with the enlightened nations.

Equality is neither given nor claimed, it is practiced, it is verified. The very act of storytelling, an act that presumes in its listener an equality of intelligence rather than an inequality of knowledge, assumes equality, just as the act of explication assumes inequality.

The essential act of the master (professor) was to explicate: to disengage the simple elements of learning, and to reconcile their simplicity in principle with the factual simplicity that characterizes young and ignorant minds. To teach was to transmit learning and form minds simultaneously, by leading those minds, according to an ordered progression, from the most simple to the most complex

The master’s secret is to know how to recognize the distance between the taught material and the person being instructed, the distance between learning and understanding. The explicator sets up and abolishes this distance.

The words a child learns best, those whose meanings he likes, those he makes his own through his own usage, are those he learns without a master explicator.

Understanding (the assumption) is what the child cannot do without the explaining of the master.

The child who recites under the threat of the rod obeys the rod and that’s all: he will apply his intelligence to something else.

The method of equality was above all a method of the will. One could learn by oneself and without a master explicator when one wanted to, propelled by one’s own desire or by the constraint of the situation.

A person, and a child in particular, may need a master when his own will is not strong enough to set him on track and keep him there. But that subject is purely one of will over will.

The act of intelligence obeying only itself even while the will obeys another will = emancipation. (Playing the game, but never really buying into it)

One can teach what one doesn’t know if the student is emancipated, that is to say, if he is obliged to use his own intelligence.

To emancipate an ignorant person, one must be, and one need only be, emancipated oneself, that is to say, conscious of the true power of the human mind. The ignorant person will learn by himself what the master doesn’t know if the master believes he can and obliges him to realize his capacity: a circle of power homologous to the circle of powerlessness that ties the explicator of the old method. (With Jacotot’s method, the teacher is more so of a coach)

The strange part we have been teaching ourselves since the beginning of time (universal teaching) yet no one stops to think –I’ve learned many things without explanations.

“age quod agis,” continue doing what you are doing; learn the facts, imitate it, know yourself, this is how nature works.

This is the most difficult leap. This method is practiced of necessity by everyone, but no one wants to recognize it, no one wants to cope with the intellectual revolution it signifies.

The social circle, the order of things (status quo), prevents it from being recognized for what it is: the true method by which everyone can take measure of their own capacity.

One must dare to recognize it and pursue the OPEN verification of its power —otherwise, the method of powerlessness, the Old Master (current system), will last as long as the order of things.

He must be able to talk about everything he learns – the form of the letters, the placement or endings of the words, the images, the reasoning, the characters’ feelings, the moral lessons —to say what he sees, what he thinks about it, what he makes of it.

The first principle of universal teaching: one must learn something and relate everything else to it.  —and first something must be learned.

For self-learning one must have an absolute attention for seeing and seeing again, saying an repeating.

The student must see everything for himself, compare and compare, and always respond to a three part question: what do you see? What do you think about it? What do you make of it? And so on, to infinity.

The circle forbids cheating, and above all, the great cheat: incapacity; “I can’t, I don’t understand.”

There is a will that commands intelligence that obeys. Let’s call the act that makes an intelligence under the absolute constraint of will attention.

It makes no difference whether the act is directed at the form of a letter to be recognized, a sentence to be memorized, a relation to be found between two mathematical entities, or the elements of speech to be composed. There is not one faculty that records, another that understands, another that judges…and inventing is not of another than remembering.

There aren’t two sorts of minds. There is inequality in the manifestations of intelligence, according to the greater or lesser energy communicated to the intelligence by the will for discovering and combining new relations; but there is no hierarchy of intellectual capacity.

It is a matter of daring to be adventurous, and not whether one learns more or less well or more or less quickly.

The principle of inequality is what stultifies students

The secret of the good masers (teachers): through their questions, they discretely guide the student’s intelligence –discretely enough to make it work, but not to the point of leaving it to itself.

Whoever wishes to emancipate someone must interrogate him in the manner of men and not in the manner of scholars, in order to be instructed, not to instruct. And that can only be performed by someone who effectively knows no more than the student, who has never made the voyage before him: the ignorant master.

The ignorant one himself will do less and more at the same time. He will not verify what the student has found. He will verify if the students has searched. He will judge whether or not he has paid attention.

The materiality of the book keeps two minds at an equal distance, where as explication is the annihilation of one mind by another.

What is essential is the continuous vigilance, the attention that never subsides without irrationality setting in.

To emancipate someone else, one must be emancipated oneself. One must know oneself to be a voyage of the mind.

I think therefore I am —> I am, therefore I think

The whole practice of universal teaching is summed up in the question: what do you think about it?

One must begin to reflect on their abilities and on the manner in which they acquired them.

He who makes a distinction between the manual work of the worker or the common man and clouds of rhetoric remains stultified

“The poor village people outside of Bernoble work at making gloves; they are paid 30 cents a dozen. Since they became emancipated, they work hard at look at, studying, and understanding a well-made glove. They will understand the meaning of all the sentences, all the words of the glove. They will end up speaking as well as the city woman who earns seven francs a dozen. One has only to learn a language spoken with scissors, needle, and thread.”

Essentially, what an emancipated person can do is be an emancipator: to give, not the key of knowledge, but the consciousness of what an intelligence can do when it considers itself equal to any other and considers any other equal to itself.

What stultifies the common people is not the lack of instruction, but the belief in the inferiority of their intelligence.

Learning to improvise was first of all learning to overcome oneself, to overcome the incapacity to speak in front of others –that is to say, one’s refusal to submit oneself to other’s judgments.

You can’t prove that all intelligence is equal in the sense of isolation and reproduction through procedure such as physicists and chemists…its true…but out problem isn’t proving that all intelligence is equal. Its seeing what can be done under the supposition.

Intelligence is equal, what is unequal is how you developed the intelligence. I will not say he is less intelligent, but rather less skilled. He has spent less time working at improving his intelligence.

I will not say that he has done less well because he is less intelligent. I will say that he has perhaps produced poorer work because he worked more poorly, that he ahs not seen well because he hasn’t looked well. I will say that he brought less attention to his work.

Man is a will served by intelligence.

Intelligence is attention and research before being a combination of ideas. Will is the power to be moved, to act by its own movement, before being an instance of choice.

Perhaps saying that wills are unequally demanding suffices to explain the differences in attention that would perhaps suffice to explain the inequality of intellectual performances.

It is the lack of the will that causes intelligence to make mistakes. The mind’s original sin is not swiftness, but distraction, absence.

The most frequent mode of exercising intelligence, much to the dissatisfaction of geniuses, is repetition.

And repetition is boring. The first vice is laziness. It is easier to absent oneself, to half-see, to say what one hasn’t seen.

The secret of geniuses: the relentless work to bend the body to necessary habits, to compel the intelligence to new ideas, to new ways of expressing them; to redo on purpose what chance once produced, and to reverse the unhappy circumstance into occasions for success.

By the will we mean that self reflection…the reasonable being is first of all a being who knows his power, who doesn’t lie to himself about it.

“Know yourself” no longer means, in the Platonic manner, know where your good lies. It means come back to yourself, to what you know to be unmistakably in you.

Your humility is nothing but proud fear of stumbling in front of others. Stumbling is nothing; the wrong is diverging from, leaving one’s path and no longer paying attention to what one says, forgetting what one is. So follow your path.

Liberty is not guaranteed by any pre-established harmony. It is taken, it is won, it is lost, solely by each person’s effort.

The virtue of our intelligence is less in knowing than in doing. “Knowing is nothing, doing is everything.”

In the act of speaking, man doesn’t transmit his knowledge, he makes poetry; he translates and invites others to do the same. He communicates as an artisan: as a person who handles words like tools.

It is true that the reasonable man can do anything. But he must still learn the proper language of each of the things he wants to do: to make shoes, machines, or poems.

The secret of genius is that of universal teaching: learning, repeating, imitating, translating, taking apart, and putting back together.

Each one of us is an artist to the extent that he carries out a double process; he is not content to be a mere journeyman but wants to make all work a means of expression, and he is not content to feel something but tries to impart it to others.

Intelligence is not a power of understanding based on comparing knowledge with its object. It is the power to make oneself understood through another’s verification.

Intelligence is indivisible, without community, with division. It cannot therefore, belong to any group, for then it would no longer belong to an individual. We must therefore conclude that intelligence is only in individuals, that is not in their union.

Schools pride themselves on the union of intelligence (like part of a machine) not fostering individual intelligence by itself.

The alliance between will and intelligence, knows two fundamental modalities: attention and distraction.

The distracted person doesn’t see why he should pay attention. Distraction is laziness first, the desire to retire from effort; it is the act of the mind underestimating its own power.

“I Can’t” says the ignorant one who wants to withdraw from the task of learning. You quickly understand what he means: “This isn’t common sense, since I don’t understand it; a man like me!”

The perverted will doesn’t stop using intelligence, but its use is based on a fundamental distraction. It habituates intelligence into only seeing what contributes preponderance, what serves to cancel out the other’s intelligence. The will not longer attempts to figure out or be figured out. It makes the goal the other’s silence.

Even today, what is it that allows the thinker (academic) to scorn the worker’s intelligence if not the worker’s intelligence for the peasant —like the peasant for his wife, the wife for his neighbor’s wife, and so on to infinity.  —the need to feel superior.

Equality remains the only reason for inequality.

Society exists only through distinctions, and nature presents only equalities.

Reasonable will is first of all the art of conquering oneself. Reasonable will preserve itself faithfully by controlling its own sacrifice.

He who knows the right way departs from it when necessary, as much as is necessary, and never too much. Reason sees everything as it is: it shows, it hides, as much as it deems suitable, never more, never less.

He who knows how to remain true to himself in the middle of irrationality will triumph over the passion of others exactly as he triumphs over his own.

A professor is a thing, less easily handled than a book, undoubtedly, but he can be learned: he can be observed, imitated, dissected, put back together; his person, available for observation, can be tested. A professor is neither more nor less intelligent than another man, and he generally presents a great quantity of facts for the researcher’s observation.

Universal teaching can only be directed to individuals, never to societies.

Universal teaching is the poor’s method, but it isn’t the method of the poor. It’s the method of men, that is to say, of inventors. Whoever employs it, no matter what his science or rank, will multiply his intellectual powers.

Education is like liberty: it isn’t given, it’s taken.

We understand men of progress in the literal sense of the term: men who move forward, who are not concerned with social rank, but go see for themselves if the thing is true:

Voyagers who traverse to Europe in search of all the procedures, methods, or institutions worthy of being imitated; who when they have heard tell of some new experiment here or there, go to see the facts, try to reproduce the experiment, who don’t see why six years should be spent learning something, if its been proved that it can be done in two, who think, above all, that knowledge is nothing in itself and that doing is everything.

No society can exist to teach that of intellectual emancipation searching for the best methods to emancipate people as this leads to stultification.

The progressives want to liberate minds and promote the abilities of the masses. But what they promote is to perfect stultification by perfecting explications.

The Greeks and the Romans had neither a university nor a Great Master

What had to be prevented above all was letting the poor know they could educate themselves by their own abilities, that they had abilities —those abilities that in the social and political order now succeeded the old titles of nobility. And the best way to do this was to educate them. That is to say, to give them the measure of their inability. Schools were opened everywhere, and nowhere did anyone want to announce the possibility of learning without a master explicator.

The nature of totality cannot be the same as that of its parts

One need only learn how to be equal men in an unequal society. That is what being emancipated means.

Equality is not given, not is it claimed; it is practiced; it is verified.

Equality was not an end to attain, but a point of departure, a supposition to maintain in every circumstance.

Is it all about the journey verifying equality, but not a means unto itself.