Tag Archives: The Ignorant Schoolmaster

Family is the site of expansion of self, an experience of solidarity between individuals


It’s very philosophical, but I really really love this idea:

“The disciplinary instance of education then becomes the decision of emancipation that renders the father or mother capable of taking the place of ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ for their child, a place that embodies the unconditional requirement of the will: the son will verify the equality of intelligence in his self-apprenticeship to the extent that the father or mother verify the thoroughness of his effort to learn. The family is thus the site of an awareness in the form of an expansion of self, an expansion of each person’s ‘own business’ to the point at which this becomes a full exercise of common reason.

“The family deployed in this way does not withdraw into itself; it becomes the point of departure for a different sociability from that of collective fictions and institutional monopolies, the site where an individual is formed for whom being emancipated and emancipating are one in the same thing, experiencing in themselves the powers of reason and life and feeling these as principles of solidarity between individuals.”

Ranciere, in his book Staging the People, pg 49-50)

Here’s my interpretation of what this means:

“The disciplinary instance of education

[Homeschooling is a sort of discipline in our home. We assign things and they are expected to do them. If they don’t, there are consequences. I used to say (when Emma was doing her Kindergarten year) that school became the “front lines” that took the major hits in behavior issues. When we worked out the behavior with regard to school assignments, Emma was a happier kid during play time and family time.]

then becomes the decision of emancipation that renders the father or mother capable of taking the place of ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ for their child,

[“Emancipation” for Ranciere means showing someone that they are as equally capable to think as anyone else is. When a mother or father believes that they are equal to their child, then that empowers them to be a schoolmaster, and it also allows them to push their child to learn and become aware of their ability to learn.]

a place that embodies the unconditional requirement of the will:

[A parent, hypothetically, has a strong enough place of authority that the child can’t get away. They can’t just get a D or say they aren’t smart enough or just can’t do math, etc. They can’t get away from school. 🙂 Their “will” – or “work” – is required of them without the possibility for excuses.]

the son will verify the equality of intelligence in his self-apprenticeship to the extent that the father or mother verify the thoroughness of his effort to learn.

[When the parent(s) verify that the child is seeking, working, thinking, then what the child verifies is that the book in front of her or him was actually trying to communicate something. They harder we work to pay attention to a book, the more we realize how hard the author was trying to communicate with us.]

The family is thus the site of an awareness in the form of an expansion of self, an expansion of each person’s ‘own business’ to the point at which this becomes a full exercise of common reason.

[We realize that others out there are working hard to communicate to me! And that I can communicate with others.]

“The family deployed in this way does not withdraw into itself; it becomes the point of departure

[This doesn’t lead the child to believe he or she is smarter than other children, or a parent, but that he or she is equal to them and to other human beings. Emancipation means that a sincere conversation could happen with any person, or book, or painting, or theatrical performance, etc.]

for a different sociability from that of collective fictions and institutional monopolies,

[There’s a lot more going on here than I care to figure out right now, or than you probably care to read. 🙂 The idea, though, is that in society in general, people are looking to judge people as better or worse, smarter or dumber, crafty or clueless, and so forth. These are to some degree fictions invented to take advantage of others.]

the site where an individual is formed for whom being emancipated and emancipating are one in the same thing,

[When someone recognizes their equality with others, they also treat others as equal to them]

experiencing in themselves the powers of reason and life and feeling these as principles of solidarity between individuals.”

[Solidarity between individuals hopefully means greater peace, patience, charity, creativity, and so forth.]

 

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Thoughts on how Ranciere’s work on equality & hierarchy might help us think about LDS Priesthood and stewardships


Note: These are some thoughts lifted from the Dews From Heaven blog. In the course of a discussion, I tried to explain my thoughts on what Ranciere is saying in The Ignorant Schoolmaster and how that might apply to priesthood callings and callings generally in the Church. I thought it was worth posting just those thoughts here since I’ve written on this blog about Ranciere in the past and it would be helpful for me to have all those thoughts in one place.

The whole idea behind being an “ignorant schoolmaster” is that you are a master not by virtue of having more intelligence, but simply by a structured situation. The structure almost has to be artificial, or arbitrary, to really work. The master has to see her or himself as equal to the student. When both the student and master see themselves as equal, then the call of the master to “pay attention” to the assignment or whatever is their “thing in common” has more effect. If the student constantly assumes they are inferior to the master, then there is the temptation to just wait until the master explains it to them. (Emancipation is when the student comes to realize they don’t have to wait to be explained to, and that there is always something they can think or say about the thing in common. Of course, that requires that the master actually gives them a thing in common, and asks questions that don’t have a specific, definite answer that only the master can validate.)

Anyway, the point is, when both individuals recognize the equality of intelligence, then they both see the hierarchical structure for what it is. It allows a master to impose their will on the will of another, rather than their intelligence on the intelligence of another.

Ranciere points out that when a hierarchy of intelligence is created (rather than an artificial hierarchy) it has to be based on a justification of superiority and inferiority — I am the master because I know more or have greater intelligence and you are the student because you know less or have inferior intelligence. Power must be justified to keep the hierarchy in place. But, if a student realizes that the master does not in fact have greater knowledge or greater intelligence, then hierarchical structure begins to crumble and the master loses his or her power. The student no longer has someone imposing intelligence or will upon him or her, and learning ceases.

This can get us into trouble in the Church, if we think that so-in-so has a particular calling because that person is inherently more spiritual than me. If that person makes what appears to us to be a mistake or something immoral, then we can began to question their spiritual superiority. Then we begin to question that person’s position within the hierarchy, and we no longer accept the imposition of will or decisions that come from that calling.

Of course, to really work appropriately, the person in the callingalso needs to recognize the spiritual equality (or intellectual equality, I don’t know that those are so separate in the end) of those serving “under” her or him within the hierarchy. I think when this is done right then spiritual growth occurs, in parallel to the learning that occurs within Ranciere’s model.

…Kim said some really cool things about D&C 121, so I’m adding those too: “The thought occurs to me: what if we were to understand the (lack of) priesthood structure in the early church (phases 1-3) as intentional, then? That is, rather than seeing Joseph kind of haphazardly make things up as he goes along, gradually consolidating power until he’s at the top of a great Mormon pyramid scheme, perhaps God purposefully revealed the priesthood in a way allows for the saints to experience it as non-hierarchical for several years. Then, by the time the complete hierarchy is finally revealed, the arbitrariness of that hierarchy is fully revealed, as simply one response to the needs of the kingdom at the time. Perhaps the early “lateral” priesthood was thus intentional, instead of being a watered-down, waiting-for-further-revelation, proto-version of the other? That’s the direction your Ranciere synopsis has me thinking in, anyway.

“And I like that picture, in some ways, because of the warning in D&C 121 about decoupling priesthood and power. The second a hierarchy is no longer seen as arbitrary, it becomes a question of power and situating oneself in a certain power network. Perhaps D&C 121 is reminding us to relate to priesthood hierarchy in an emancipated way?”

I like the idea of D&C 121 warning us against turning things into the wrong sort of hierarchy. I think that’s a very good reading! Your comment makes me think of D&C 107:21 – “Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.” I like the phrase “of necessity”. I want to hear it as: It was necessary to have leaders for practical reasons, but not because they were of a different type or superior.

I think there is actually something to the idea that ministering works in a hierarchically structured situation — I allow my visiting teachers to counsel or help me because of their calling, even though I know they are my equals. In our terminology, we might say that it is by virtue of their stewardship that they can help me, and I even recognize that they can receive revelation to help me. But the moment that they are released from that assignment, I no longer assume that they can receive revelation, or at least not in the same way. They could help me as a friend, and I assume friends too get prompted by the Spirit. 🙂 But I mean that in the Church we recognize that those in structured circumstances have rights to revelation for those under them, or within their stewardship. A Bishop receives revelation for the ward not because he is who he is, but because of the calling he has. It is by virtue of his temporary place or arbitrary (arbitrary because God created it or called him, and because it is not because he is inherently better).

So ministering might be like the work of a teacher in Ranciere’s model. I think that works well.

What about administering, though? I like the point that you can’t say one person just ministers and another just administers. Where the administration is an administration of ordinances (rather than administration of a program), I think we might see that administration as Ranciere’s “thing in common.” A teacher gives to others something that both teacher and student can work on together. With ordinances, priesthood holders give to someone something they already have, and then they together to think and talk and work on understanding that thing. So maybe administering is something done within the work of ministering? Or sometimes one priesthood holder can administer an ordinance, like the sacrament, but it is a “thing in common” for other priesthood holders and those without priesthood (RS teacher, visiting teacher, etc.) to talk about when they minister?

…Kim asked, “It sounds like you’re saying that both ministers and administrators fill the role of a Rancierian teacher, is that right?”

Okay, I suppose what I meant was that the ordinances themselves were the thing in common, which could be provided by a minister or an administrator. In Ranciere’s stories, the “thing in common” was given by the teacher but it wasn’t created by the teacher. For example, if I pick an art book and open to a picture of a painting by Monet, and then I tell Jacob that artists use colors to create moods and feelings, I have given him something to work on. I haven’t told him what Monet is communicating with colors, and I don’t have one right answer I am looking for. The book and the piece of information are our “thing in common.” Then I ask questions, “What colors do you see Jacob?” “Are there different kinds of colors in different parts of the painting?” “How do they make you feel?” “What is the scene about? Do you think the colors are communicating something about the scene?” “What else do you think about when you see the colors in this painting?” In that case, I did give him the book and information to start with. But, that information could have been given to him by someone else. It is not something I created, based off of my “superior” intelligence, or only something I could validate. It is a piece of information he could have read on his own and received it that way, but in this case I delivered it to him. But at that point it is something we hold in common, and we can get to work on learning from that point.

Does that help at all? Administration (of a thing in common) is not the teaching moment itself, but a part of constructing the teaching situation. I might also give Jacob two paintings and just ask him to think about what is different. Giving him the books wasn’t the teaching situation, asking him what he thinks about it is the potentially emancipating teaching moment.


“Any human work of art is the practice of the same intellectual potential”


“It’s not about opposing manual knowledge, the knowledge of the people, the intelligence of the tool and of the worker, to the science of schools or the rhetoric of the elite. It is not about asking who built seven-gated Thebes as a way to vindicate the place of constructors and makers in the social order. On the contrary, it is about recognizing that there are not two levels of intelligence, that any human work of art is the practice of the same intellectual potential. In all cases, it is a question of observing, comparing, and combining, of making and noticing how one has done it. What is possible is reflection: that return to oneself that is not pure contemplation but rather an unconditional attention to one’s intellectual acts, to the route they follow and to the possibility of always moving forward by bringing to bear the same intelligence on the conquest of new territories. He who makes a distinction between the manual work of the worker or the common man and the clouds of rhetoric remains stultified. The fabrication of clouds is a human work of art that demands as much — neither more nor less — labor and intellectual attention as the fabrication of shoes or locks.”

Ranciere, in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, pages 36-37.


The Ignorant Steward: Five Lessons in Spiritual Emancipation


I think that would be a great title for a book someday! 🙂 I’m still quite convinced that Ranciere’s model for teaching is exactly how we ought to think about things in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are equal with each other — we’re even co-eternal with God! And we have stewardships based not on merit, but based on our willingness to yield to the Spirit. The Spirit is that which gets us working. It pushes us forward. It enlightens our minds. It is one of those great things in common that points us to so many other things in common upon which our minds and hearts can ponder and get to work! As teachers or leaders or parents in Zion, our job is not to lead based on our superior intelligence, but to lead in such a way that they come to lean on the greatest Intelligence of all! Any time we get in between God and a child of God, we are guilty of priestcraft; any time a teacher comes in between the “thing in common” and the student, she/he is guilty of stultification. The ignorant one will do more and less at the same time, says Ranciere. He will do less, because he cannot verify if the student’s answer is right. But he can do more, because he can verify if the student has paid attention. Paying attention is all that is needed — and how much that applies to our work in the Church! Pay attention to the Spirit! Pay attention to the scriptures! (all of them!) Pay attention to the ordinances and think about them! Go to the temple and pay attention! Pay attention to the needs of those you visit teach! Pay attention to sacrament talks and see what the Spirit teaches you about doctrine, how to teach or not to teach, what this person needs, what those around you need, and so forth. There is so much to learn if one only pays attention, and then the work that follows is a joint quest for truth and love. We are all of equal intelligence, says Ranciere — we are all equal in that we can all pay attention and think. We are all of equal spiritual nature, I think — we are all equal in that we can repent, receive ordinances, and commune with the Spirit!


Summary of Ranciere


The whole idea behind being an “ignorant schoolmaster” is that you are a master not by virtue of having more intelligence, but simply by a structured situation. The structure almost has to be artificial, or arbitrary, to really work. The master has to see her or himself as equal to the student. When both the student and master see themselves as equal, then the call of the master to “pay attention” to the assignment or whatever is their “thing in common” has more effect. If the student constantly assumes they are inferior to the master, then there is the temptation to just wait until the master explains it to them. (Emancipation is when the student comes to realize they don’t have to wait to be explained to, and that there is always something they can think or say about the thing in common. Of course, that requires that the master actually gives them a thing in common, and asks questions that don’t have a specific, definite answer that only the master can validate.)

Anyway, the point is, when both individuals recognize the equality of intelligence, then they both see the hierarchical structure for what it is. It allows a master to impose their will on the will of another, rather than their intelligence on the intelligence of another.

Ranciere points out that when a hierarchy of intelligence is created (rather than an artificial hierarchy) it has to be based on a justification of superiority and inferiority — I am the master because I know more or have greater intelligence and you are the student because you know less or have inferior intelligence. Power must be justified to keep the hierarchy in place. But, if a student realizes that the master does not in fact have greater knowledge or greater intelligence, then hierarchical structure begins to crumble and the master loses his or her power. The student no longer has someone imposing intelligence or will upon him or her, and learning ceases.

This can get us into trouble in the Church, if we think that so-in-so has a particular calling because that person is inherentlymore spiritual than me. If that person makes what appears to us to be a mistake or something immoral, then we can began to question their spiritual superiority. Then we begin to question that person’s position within the hierarchy, and we no longer accept the imposition of will or decisions that come from that calling.

Of course, to really work appropriately, the person in the callingalso needs to recognize the spiritual equality (or intellectual equality, I don’t know that those are so separate in the end) of those serving “under” her or him within the hierarchy. I think when this is done right then spiritual growth occurs, in parallel to the learning that occurs within Ranciere’s model.

Hope that’s a helpful start. 🙂


Ranciere & the Church


Quick thought:

Someone needs to write an essay (or book!) called something like :

“Equal, Yet Leadership: Five Lessons in Spiritual Emancipation”

Start with something like “Bear with me, philosophy first.” Separate intelligence and will. By this we mean that there is a hierarchy that exists, in which we assume that there are people naturally more intelligent than me, and I learn from them. I can teach others, who are inferior than me, and so on. Can progress through levels, I can become more intelligent and therefore higher in hierarchy. This exists in everyday things too and not just university. For example: new stations. We assume that person giving the report knows more about it than me, so we assume an inferior position and receive information. And we feel a superior position to those who don’t or haven’t yet watched that same news report as we did. We know more than them, and so feel a sort of superiority to them.

But in the Church, we start with a basic level of equality.

Equal access to the Spirit.

Then, go through each chapter of Ranciere’s book and work carefully to apply it to the Church. Work hard, like Ranciere did. Be honest. Thorough.


Ranciere and the Family (From Staging the People)


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:

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