Friday, May 20, 2011

Equality of intelligence: Jacotot's teaching revolution

Working through another semester teaching World Civilization II courses has pushed me more and more to see pedagogy the way Jacotot and Ranciere see it. That since the struggles for emancipation that came out of the 18th-19th century, there is a key idea that equality is not something to be taught but that instead just exists. I would venture to say this is one of the best ideas behind the Reformation, even though it was practiced somewhat imperfectly by Luther and Calvin; that the openness to literature (in the case of the Reformation the Bible) meant the liberation of the reader ( I would say Augustine's On Christian Doctrine and Barth's "happy" theology lays out a similar proposal).

This then leads to the reciprocal idea of learning that moves back and forth between teacher and student, and I think opens up the instructor to the students leaning that some knowledge is better left alone because it is past use. It gets away from the idea that students are passive agents just waiting to be filled with knowledge by the teacher.

This is one of the main principles why I enjoy Zizek because he manages to use everyday examples from culture (Hitchcock films/Kung Fu Panda/Radiohead/Starbucks ads) and make them apply to theory (at least that is how I answer the question of why I pay attention to Zizek). For example, when discussing a topic from history, I find that if I can incorporate art/music/film in the lecture the students tend to be more engaged. Some might decry that this ruins the "purity" of learning, but I think that it opens up the actual messiness of trying to make sense of the world; this places the responsibility in our hands and not some all-knowing institution.

See Jacotot's Wikipedia profile below and read Ranciere's The Ignorant Schoolmaster for more details.

Joseph Jacotot

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph (or Jean-Joseph) Jacotot (4 March 1770 - 30 July 1840) was a French teacher and educational philosopher, creator of the method of "intellectual emancipation." He was born at Dijon on the 4th of March 1770. He was educated at the university of Dijon, where in his nineteenth year he was made a professor of Latin, after which he studied law, became a lawyer, and at the same time devoted a large amount of his attention to mathematics. In 1788 he organized a federation of the youth of Dijon for the defence of the principles of the Revolution; and in 1792, with the rank of captain, he set out to take part in the campaign of Belgium, where he conducted himself with bravery and distinction. After filling the office of secretary of the commission d’organisation du mouvement des armées, in 1794 he became deputy of the director of the École Polytechnique. Upon the founding of the central schools at Dijon he was appointed to the chair of the "method" or instruction of science. There he made his first experiments in his "emancipatory" method of teaching. When the central schools were replaced by other educational institutions, Jacotot occupied the chairs of mathematics and of Roman law until the overthrow of the empire. In 1815 he was elected a representative to the chamber of deputies; but after the Second Restoration he found it necessary to quit his native land.

Having taken up his residence at Brussels, in 1818 Jacotot was nominated teacher of the French language at the University of Louvain, where he systematized the educational principles which he had already practised with success in France.

His emancipatory or panecastic (French: panécastique "everything in each" from Greek πᾶν and ἕκαστον) method was not only adopted in several institutions in Belgium, but also met with some approval in France, England, Germany, and Russia. It was based on three principles:

  1. all men have equal intelligence;
  2. every man has received from God the faculty of being able to instruct himself;
  3. everything is in everything.

Regarding the first principle, he maintained that it is only in the will to use their intelligence that men differ. His own process, depending on the third principle, was to give a student learning a language for the first time a short passage of a few lines, and to encourage the pupil to study first the words, then the letters, then the grammar, then the meaning, until a single paragraph became the occasion for learning an entire literature. After the revolution of 1830 Jacotot returned to France, and he died in Paris on 30 July 1840.

Jacotot described his system in Enseignement universel (universal education), langue maternelle (Louvain and Dijon, 1823)—which passed through several editions—and in various other works; and he also advocated his views in the Journal de l’êmancipation intellectuelle and elsewhere. For a complete list of his works and fuller details regarding his career, see Biographie de J. Jacotot, by Achille Guillard (Paris, 1860).

Jacotot's career and principles are also described by Jacques Rancière in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Stanford University Press, 1991).

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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