Are Teachers Agents of Stultification?

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. But the child who is ‘explained to’ will devote his intelligence to the work of grieving: to understanding, that is to say, to understanding that he doesn’t understand unless he is explained to. He is no longer submitting to the rod, but rather to a hierarchical world of intelligence.

The quote comes from Jacque Ranciere’s ‘Ignorant Schoolmaster.’ To position oneself as a teacher in the role of the “one who understands” and whose vocation is to “bring the light of understanding” to the benighted pupil, is to set up an antagonistic classroom from the outset. A hierarchy is erected. Following Ranciere, I think this duality between the wise-master and the groping subject, along with its pedagogical expression–teaching as explanation— is a source of stultification. It ignores the idea of knowledge as a process, a construction, and perhaps most fundamentally a conversation. It offers instead a classroom divided between light and darkness, and promotes a culture of submission rather than innovation. This, at least, is my take. It would be great if some other teachers would give voice… It would be even greater if some of you could offer strategies on how to overcome the said duality..

12 thoughts on “Are Teachers Agents of Stultification?”

  1. Delightful.
    I am trying to decide where to start, there are so many delicious ideas here. 🙂
    My favourite: using unnecessary power over students. This is based on the old fashioned view of schools like factories, cranking out student-clones and standardizing everything, including knowledge and learning….which of course is impossible, because just as you pointed out, learning is a process, not a product. It is a journey, not the destination.
    Strategies: step out of being a teacher and acknowledge that teaching and learning are two totally different phenomena that sometimes occur in the same physical space, i.e. classroom. Stop being a teacher and become a facilitator of your students learning, and your job just got much easier. Instead of imparting information/knowledge/even wisdom into your students’ heads you get to help them construct their own learning, and even keep them accountable for it. Sounds too good to be true?
    Practical tools: Cognitive approach to help students understand themselves, and recognize their own preferred ways of working, thinking and learning. Model your own way of thinking by showing the steps how you found the solution and remind students how there usually are more than just one way to accomplish the given task. Ask students to explain each other what they think and how they solved the problem. Use open-ended questions.
    Constructive tools to provide broad concepts and different types of categorization, so that the relations of subjects taught will make sense and become connected. Without that help most students will end up gathering small pieces of unimportant knowledge that they cannot utilize in higher level thinking processes. Ask students to provide real-life examples.
    Cooperative tools to create safe learning environment without competition but lots of catching each other succeeding or doing things well. Provide many opportunities to receive informal feedback about learning process and promote individualization and differentiation – it IS okay for students to have different homework or assignment. Everyone should have the right to learn what s/he needs to learn instead of what others in the classroom need to be learning, right?

  2. Well put Nina! And thank you for stopping by! Differentiation has been a challenge this term, but I agree that it is essential, and natural. ~ James

  3. I think admitting we make mistake and express the limitation we are facing to the students is a good start to avoid using “unnecessary power”.
    I think one issue here which has been a big issue when we want to start talking about “high level thinking” in the class room is the terms “core knowledge” and “core skills”. Do you believe there are certain sets of essentials we need to teach before helping students to construct their own knowledge/learning system? If yes, what would that be? How can we teach/inspire them effectively without using the “traditional way”?

  4. Within the boundaries of your room is a mini society that has been created. Its own culture , its own devide and its own language… who then made you boss ? So I propose chaos before order? An organic environment of development, not butchered by restrictions.

    I believe teaching is an impossible form to copy… what works for me won’t work for you because you are not me..

    In reality is this a possibility ? Or are we just f###ed?

    1. Hey Matthew! Thanks for stopping by! I thought you would enjoy this post, and if you aren’t already familiar, I know you would enjoy the writings / philosophy of Jacque Ranciere. So, is
      “chaos before order” a possibility? Man, so much to be said. I think / hope / believe that education (at least MYP / IB ) is sort of veering in this direction. They call it “inquiry based learning,” which values process over product. Within this idea dwells vast opportunity. One of the major hurdles is finding teachers who themselves embody these ideas. Regrettably, it seems there are a lot of “white sheep” trying to teach kids how to be “black sheep.” In other words, jilted reactionaries preaching revolution. It does not work. The world needs more teachers like you!! Let’s keep this conversation going, here or elsewhere. Feel like last night we merely glanced the tip of a colossal ice-burg…

      1. James, your proactive and provocative nature is infectious and inspiring. Like you I believe in education and believe its a gift. I think its important to have coversations and support each other as well as drink coffee. So yes lets meet in a coffee shop and converse. Maybe dada had it right…

      2. I’m happy to have helped with either. Thanks so much for reading. Please consider us friends in a united but difficult joust against “because we have always done it this way.” – James

  5. . I think / hope / believe that edtuicaon (at least MYP / IB ) is sort of veering in this direction. They call it inquiry based learning, which values process over product. Within this idea dwells vast opportunity. One of the major hurdles is finding teachers who themselves embody these ideas. Regrettably, it seems there are a lot of white sheep trying to teach kids how to be black sheep. In other words, jilted reactionaries preaching revolution. It does not work. The world needs more teachers like you!! Let’s keep this conversation going, here or elsewhere. Feel like last night we merely glanced the tip of a colossal ice-burg

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback Fabrizio. There is a giant elephant in the living room of educational discourse today that most of us ignore. It is the fact that the majority of teachers in the classroom today were brought up in and ultimately submitted to a theory of education based on compliance and fact mongering. We are now using the masters tools to tear down the masters house. The intentions are there. But the foundation of industrialized education is so strong that intentions do not seem to be improving learning in the deeper sense. Yes, would be great to discuss our way to a scalable discovery of new, student centered tools to dismantle the factory. My hopes remain high! (Because people like you exist) – James

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