Ignorant Schoolmaster, chapter 1


I articulated my reading of Ranciere’s 1st chapter through responding to a blog post this past week. For my own record, here is the summary I came up with of Chapter 1:

I think Ranciere’s main point in chapter one is to emphasize that all people can reason and learn, but that not everyone believes that they can. Emancipation means teaching them that they can learn. Page 18 emphasizes that it is not so much a “method for instructing the people” as it is an “announcement.” I see Jacotot caring a lot more that a person recognized they had the power to learn, than he did what fact or subject they learned. Page 18 again: “He will learn what he wants. Nothing maybe.” Ranciere seems to emphasize that he is not calling for a necessarily more efficient teaching method, but for a revolution in the way people think.

(So though any of us may disagree with some of Ranciere’s basic pedagogical premises, I see his main point so far as not which method is more effective, but that there is an attitude change he feels is revolutionary and true.)

Ranciere believes that most people think they can’t learn without a master. (This calls to my mind the term “learned helplessness” from my child development class.) Ranciere sees a danger in our normal way of teaching, in that if we always tell a student what to learn, we are in some sense training them that they can’t figure out what to learn without us telling them.

As I read Ranciere, what he sees as dangerous is not that we explain things, but that we develop attitudes of superiority and inferiority. It is when we believe others can’t learn without us explaining things to them and when we believe we can’t learn without being explained to.

Note that from page 4, the problem was not that a student went to a book to have the book explain something. The problem (for Ranciere) was when someone stepped in between the student and the book. It was the explication of an explication, if you will, that caused him concern. If someone stops us from reading to read it for us, then stultification begins.

(Perhaps? this could be the same with a teacher: if a TA always jumps in to reexplain what the teacher has just said, the TA is expressing an opinion that the students can’t listen to the teacher themselves and understand the teacher. It is the jumping inbetween the student and the material to be learned that causes the concern for Ranciere. As I understand it, when this happens repeatedly, then the student finds it easier to wait for the secondary, outside source to explain it to them, and this laziness is the road to stultification.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this reading of Ranciere himself? (I’d love to hear thoughts on this reading specifically, rather than thoughts on teaching, if anyone cares to respond to it. Thanks.)

[From Feast Upon the Word Blog, where this chapter was discussed Jan 9-15 2010]

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