Quotations from every chapter of The Ignorant Schoolmaster (which perhaps make up a descent summary of the whole book)


From Chapter 1:

“Until then, he had believed what all conscientious professor believe: that the important business of the master is to transmit his knowledge to his students so as to bring them, by degrees, to his own level of expertise.” p2-3

“And yet that logic is not without certain obscurities. Consider, for example, a book in the hands of a student. The book is made up of a series of reasonings designed to make a student understand some material. But now the schoolmaster opens his mouth to explain the book. He makes a series of reasonings in order to explain the series of reasonings that constitute the book. But why should the book need such help?” p4

“His mastery lay in the command that had enclosed the students in a closed circle from which they alone could break out. By leaving his intelligence out of the picture, he had allowed their intelligence to grapple with that of the book.”

“… The two faculties in play during the act of learning, namely intelligence and will, had therefore also been separated, liberated from each other. A pure relationship of will to will had been established between master and student: a relationship wherein the master’s domination resulted in an entirely liberated relationship between the intelligence of the student and that of the book — the intelligence of the book that was also the common link between master and student.” p13

From Chapter 2:

“He must be able to talk about everything he learns — the form of the letters, the placement or endings of words, the images, the reasonings, the characters’ feelings, the moral lessons — to say what he sees, what he thinks about it, what he makes of it. There was only one rule: he must be able to show, in the book, the materiality of everything he says.” p20

“This is the first principle of universal teaching: one must learn something and relate everything else to it.” p20

“Selection, progression, incompletion: these are his [the Old Master’s] principles. We learn rules and elements, then apply them to some chosen reading passages, and then do some exercises based on the acquired rudiments. Then we graduate to a higher level: other rudiments, another book, other exercises, another professor fills it in before digging another. Fragments add up, detached pieces of an explicator’s knowledge that put the student on a trail, following a master with whom he will never catch up. The book is never whole, the lesson is never finished. The master always keeps a piece of learning — that is to say, a piece of the student’s ignorance — up his sleeve. I understood that, says the satisfied student. You think so, corrects the master. In fact, there’s a difficulty here that I’ve been sparing you until now.” p21

“The child advances. He has been taught, therefore he has learned, therefore he can forget.” p21

“Take it and read it, he says to the poor person.

I don’t know how to read, answers the poor person. How would I understand what is written in the book?

As you have understood all things up until now: by comparing two facts. Here is a fact that I will tell you, the first sentence of the book…. Now here is a second fact: the words are written there.” p22

“Tell me the form of each letter as you would describe the form of an object or of an unknown place. Don’t say that you can’t. You know how to see, how to speak, you know how to show, you can remember. What more is needed? An absolute attention for seeing and seeing again, saying and repeating.” p 23

“Don’t try to fool me or fool yourself. Is that really what you saw? What do you think about it?” p23

“The book prevents escape. The route the student will take is unknown. But we know what he cannot escape”: the exercise of his liberty. We know too that the master won’t have the right to stand anywhere else — only at the door. 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.

But that infinity is no longer the master’s secret; it is the student’s journey. The book is finished. It is a totality that the student holds in his hand, that he can span entirely with a glance. There is nothing the master can hide from him, and nothing he can hide from the master’s gaze. The circle forbids cheating, and above all, that great cheat: incapacity. I can’t. I don’t understand. There is nothing to understand. Everything is in the book. One has only to recount it….” p23

“There is a will that commands and an intelligence that obeys. Let’s call the act that makes an intelligence proceed under the absolute constraint of a will attention.” p25

“There aren’t two sorts of mind. 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. Emancipation is becoming conscious of this equality of nature. This is what opens the way to all adventure in the land of knowledge. It is a matter of daring to be adventurous, and not whether one learns more or less well or more or less quickly.” p27

“These are in fact the master’s two fundamental acts. He interrogates, he demands speech, that is to say, the manifestations of an intelligence that wasn’t aware of itself or that had given up. And he verifies that the work of the intelligence is done with attention, that the words don’t say just anything in order to escape from the constraint.” p29

“The learned master’s science makes it very difficult for him not to spoil the method. He knows the response, and his questions lead the student to it naturally.” p29

Best master “who has never made the voyage before him: the ignorant master. There’s no risk of this master sparing the child the time necessary…” p30

“He will not verify what the student has found; he will verify that the student has searched.” p31

“Is this insignificant? Think about everything the demand implies for the student in the way of an endless task. Think about the intelligence it can also grant to the ignorant examiner: “What prevents the ignorant but emancipated mother from noticing all the times that she asks the child where ‘Father’ is, whether or not he always points to the same word; what prevents her hiding the word and asking, what is the word under my finger? Etc., etc.” p31

“The thing, the book, prevents cheating by both the ignorant and the learned.” p32

“Whoever looks always finds. He doesn’t necessarily find what he was looking for, and even less what he was supposed to find. But he finds something new to relate to the thing he already knows. What is essential is the continuous vigilance, the attention that never subsides without irrationality setting in…” p33

“‘I can’t’ means ‘I don’t want to; why would I make the effort?’” p40

Chapter 3

“The only mistake would be to take our opinions for the truth.” pg45

“In short, 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, to say what one believes one sees…. ‘I can’t’ is one of these absent sentences.” p55

“This principle of veracity is at the heart of the emancipation experience. It is not the key to any science, but the privileged relation of each person to the truth, the one that puts him on his path, on his orbit as a seeker.” p 57

“What is essential is to avoid lying, not to say that we have seen something when we’ve kept our eyes closed” p59

pg 63, learning = speaking, book = same speaking

“This is the true modesty of the ‘genius,’ that is to say, of the emancipated artist: he employs all his art, all his power, to show us his poem as the absence of another that he credits us with knowing as well as he.” p 70

“His genius lies in having worked by the principle of the equality of intelligence, in having not believed himself superior to those he was speaking to.” p70

“Each one of us is an artist to the extent that 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.  The artist needs equality as the explicator needs inequality.” p70-1

“Reason begins when discourses organized with the goal of being right cease, beings where equality is recognized: not an equality decreed by law or force, not a passively received equality, but an equality in act, verified, at each step by those marchers who, in their constant attention to themselves ad in their endless revolving around the truth, find the right sentences to make themselves understood by others.” p 72

Chapter 5

“But universal teaching cannot, without being spoiled, specialize in the production of a set kind of social actor… Universal teaching belongs to families” p 103

“Let’s affirm, then that universal teaching will not take, it will not be established in society. But it will not perish, because it is the natural method of the human mind, that of all people who look for their path themselves.” p105

“Routine is not ignorance; it is the cowardice and pride of people who renounce their own power for the unique pleasure of affirming their neighbor’s incapacity.” p108

“He translated equality as PROGRESS and the emancipation of the fathers of poor families as EDUCATING THE PEOPLE. And in order to be concerned with these abstractions, these ontologies, other abstractions–corporations–were necessary.” p 116

“Wars and revolutions change the nature of dominant explications” p117  Revolutions say rather than birth or money providing ranks, “Capacity must from now on decide social ranks. And it is education that will reveal and develop it.” p 118

“The guide points to the veil covering all things and begins to raise it– suitably, in order, step by step, progressively. ‘A certain delay must be worked into the progress.’ Methods are necessary.” p 120 “Never will the student catch up with the master, nor the people with its enlightened elite; but the hope of getting there makes them advance along the good road, the one of perfected explications.”

“But what they propose is to perfect stultification by perfecting explications.” p 121

“This is the progressives’ circle. They want to tear minds away from the old routine, from the control of priests and obscurantists of any kind. And for that, more rational explications and methods are necessary. they must be tested ad compared by way of commissions and reports. A qualified and licensed personnel, learned in the new methods and monitored on their execution of them, must be employed to educate the people. Above all, the improvisations of incompetents must be avoided;one must not permit the minds formed by chance or routine, ignorant of the perfected explications and progressive methods, to have the possibility of opening a school and teaching anything in any which way. Families– those places of the routine reproducing of inveterate superstition, of empirical knowledge and obscure sentiment– must be prevented from taking on their children’s instruction. For this, a well-ordered system of public instruction is necessary. ” p121

Then method used, as a “good method” but not as it was intended – “In short, all of Jacotot’s teaching is respected there except in one or two small matters: they are not teaching what they do not know.” p123

“What man of science and devotion would accept in this way to leave his light under a basket and the salt of the earth without savor? And how would the fragile young plants, the childlike minds of the people, how would they grow without the beneficial dew of explications? Who could understand that the way for them to rise up in the intellectual order is not to learn what they don’t know from scholars but rather to teach it to other ignorant ones? ” p132-3

“Equality was not an end to attain, but a point of departure, a supposition to maintain in every circumstance. ” p138

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