‘We can teach what we don’t know’

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 1)


The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (a book by Jacques Rancière) tells the story of Joseph Jacotot, a French teacher and educational philosopher (born in 1770).

A key experience for Jacotot was the occasion when he had to teach French language to students who only understood Dutch, a language he could not speak himself. He gave the students a book with the same text in two languages (French and Dutch) and asked them to compare the texts in order to learn. To his surprise, the students learned French in a similar pace as the students that he was able to teach in a conventional way. He had to admit that his ability to teach was not based on knowledge, but on something else.

The key elements of Jacotot’s teaching manifesto are:

1. All men have equal intelligence;
2. Every man has received from God the faculty of being able to instruct himself;
3. We can teach what we don’t know;
4. Everything is in everything.

(Related to ‘Rancière: Ignorance Will Have Learned’ presentation by Jairo Moreno, University of Pennsylvania, Department of Music: http://soundcloud.com/thenewschoolnyc/ranci-re-ignorance-will-have)

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