Joe and I have started a long-awaited project: researching what Jacque Ranciere has to say about the family. He is the author of my favorite book: The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Last night we worked on his book Staging the People. There was a lot of careful work on the family, and why it is the best (and nearly only) place to intellectually emancipate individuals. What does intellectually emancipate mean? It means to realize that every person is intelligent, and that we are united in our ability to reason, think, learn, and communicate. When we see each other that way, we have more patience to share our thoughts carefully so we are understood. You can’t see someone as inferior or incapable of learning what you know or have experienced. You also treat every teacher or speaker as intelligent, and have more patience to understand what someone is trying to communicate or teach to you.
As a parent or teacher, it also means you can hold your student or child to a high standard. It isn’t about how much information a person can gain, but about trusting that some project is worth doing, or this or that book is worth reading, because there is always something to be learned. It means a child can’t throw out a book because they “can’t” learn anything — you can always learn something, even if it’s not what you were “supposed” to learn, points out Ranciere. You can always say what you think about something, and that is the beginning point of recognizing intelligence in what you are looking at. That realization or feeling that you are an intelligent thinking person who can relate and compose and communicate prompts you to do more thinking and relating and communicating. And that feeling also prompts you to recognize that potential in every other human being you will ever encounter.
But, being emancipated usually comes after someone has forced you to speak. They’ve asked you, “What do you see? What do you think? What do you make of it?” until finally you have begun to talk. Over time you realize that you have something to say! That is the beginning of emancipation. You can think. Don’t say can’t, just start thinking and talking about what you are thinking. The role of the Ignorant Schoolmaster is to force someone to simply speak what they are thinking. To make them “pay attention” and to verify that they are actually paying attention and not just rattling off something to get the schoolmaster off their back. That is emancipation, and it opens up a world in which learning is something I can do, not just something scholars do. Learning is thinking, not an amount of information gained.
An emancipator can be anyone, but it almost always needs to be a one-on-one scenario. Verifying the work of individuals in a large classroom is certainly possible, but it is much harder for an Ignorant Schoolmaster to verify that each is paying attention.
In this book (Staging the People), Ranciere is delving deeper into why the father or mother is the ideal emancipator. I am only copying and pasting some of the most striking passages, but it would be important to read the entire book to really understand what he is saying. (And you can! You are intelligent too! ) We are only beginning our project, so I am still developing my understanding of his reasoning. Here are the passages I want to record for later access: