Rancière: <i>The ignorant schoolmaster</i>

Jacques Rancière

The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation

Tr. by K. Ross. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press1999 [1991].

further links about Rancière

What all human children learn best is what no master can explain: the mother tongue. We speak to them and we speak around them. They hear and retain, imitate and repeat, make mistakes and correct themselves, succeed by chance and begin again methodically, and, at too young an age for explicators to begin instructing them, they are almost all ... able to understand and speak the language of their parents. (p. 5)

It is the explicator who needs the incapable and not the other way around: it is he who constitutes the incapable as such. (p. 6)

Understanding is never more than translating, that is, giving the equivalent of a text, but in no way its reason. There is nothing behind the written page, no false bottom that necessitates the work of an other intelligence, that of the explicator; no language of the master, no language of the language whose words and sentences are able to speak the reason of the words and sentences of a text. (p. 9-10)

the "nothing" here is not a deconstructed emptiness but rather an "everything" that could never be said(a la Merleau-Ponty)--and certainly not by an explicator. This statement has fundamental methodological implications for all sciences of the human when they claim a better (rather than different) understanding of humanity than any of those given the special human beings that may be granted the status of "philosopher," "intellectual," "scientist." It is not that texts produced by those are any less valuable than those produced by everyone else but that the very claims made by them must be based on the reality of their "otherness" rather than their greater access to the "real" or the "true." The methodological question, eventually, is the translation problem: how do we, analysts, legitimize our claims that our new text is somehow closer to the original text than other texts that were written by another one us?

the fact was there: they had learned by themselves, without a master explicator. (p.11)

The "method" he was proposing is the oldest in the world, and it never stops being verified every day, in all the circumstances where an individual must learn something wiout any means of having it explained to him. There is no one on earth who hasn't learned something by himself and withou a master explicator. (p. 16)


Don't ask if the little educated [schooled would have been better here] child suffers from this mutilation. The system's genius is to transform loss into profit. He has been taught, therefore he has learned, therefore he can forget ... The more intelligent he becomes [the more degrees he has], the more he can peer down from on high at those he has surpassed ... becuase they are not intelligent enough to understand. (p. 21-22)

Whoever wishes to emancipate someone must interrogate him in the manner of men and not in the manner of scholars, in order to be instructed, not to instruct. And that can only be performed by someone who effectively knows no more than the student ... : the ignorant master. (p. 29-30)

This is the way that the ignorant master can instruct the learned one as well as theignorant one: by verifying that he is always searching. (p.33)

compare this to Garfinkel on "screwing around":

It is not about opposing...the knowledge of the people...to the science of schools. It is about recognizing that there are not two levels of intelligence. In all cases it is a question, of observing, comparing and combining, of making and noticing how one has done it (p. 36)

the argument against all attempts to justify an "equity" focus to the extent that it proceeds through the gathering of evidence about in-equities in conditions/learning/intelligence (p. 46-49)

language does not unite people. On the contrary it is the arbitrariness of language that makes them try to communicate by forcing them to translate.-but also puts them in a community of intelligence (p. 58)

note the relationship to Merleau-Ponty and Garfinkel (and thus also to Saussure and Durkheim): (arbitrary) language (social) structuration requires active collective acts of intelligence - or education. R. continues on the same theme in the following pages that are very much about the consequences of cultural production within humanity.

It is because there is no code given by divinity, no language of languages [a passing attack against Chomski?]], that human intelligence employs all its art to making itself understood and to understanding what the neighboring intelligence is signifying [what difference in the flow of history, local and not so local, it is attempting to make]. (p. 62)

The paradoxes of democratic controls

(pp. 86ff)

On ignorant fathers and families as polities of the will

[illiterate father teaching child to read] (p. 30)

By compelling his son's will, the father in a poor family verifies that his son has the same intelligence as he, that he seeks in the same way; and what the son, in turn, looks for in the book is the intelligence of the book's author, in order to verify that it proceeds in the same way as his own. (p. 39)

Universal teaching belongs to families, and the best that an enlightened ruler can do for its propagation is to use his authority to protect the free circulation of the service (p. 103).

non-reader of Chinese might practice their emancipatory education here.

February 21, 2007 [ 2004]