Teachers are often portrayed as masters of their subject, knowing nearly everything there is to know. They are up to date on all recent discoveries of that area, as well as the history. No one could teach it better than they can, except perhaps another master.
But what if they are not truly the “masters” of their subject? What if being a master of a subject is more than simply being able to list off a string of facts, explaining as you go along, as you were taught the subject? What if being a master of a subject is going through the highs and lows, learning to see for yourself what truly matters? What if it means teaching yourself a subject, learning it from the ground up, making mistakes, remedying those mistakes, and learning both from what you understand right away and what you don’t?
As a society, we tend to see things as black and white. They are educated in History; therefore, they are masters of History. You don’t know anything about History; therefore, you are a student, not a master. Perhaps this is true. But say you do know a lot about History, you just did not receive a formal education in it, nor did you get a degree. Are you considered a master? No. Do you know any more or less than someone with a degree? Maybe, maybe not. We compartmentalize learning as something that must be done in a classroom with a teacher; structure must exist in order for learning to occur. But what if this is not the case?
In “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” by Jacques Rancière, they discuss how children learn their mother tongue long before a master is able to teach them. They pick it up by listening, watching, trying, failing, and succeeding. No one explicitly tells them to, or gives them a step by step program that tells them how much they should be able to say and understand by a certain time or age. They simply learn as they go along, and the words that they learn in this timeframe will be better understood by them than anything a master could teach them.
Even so, we still picture education as a teacher standing in front of their class, lecturing on what the students read, suggesting they could not have possibly understood it on their own.
“All people are equally intelligent. This is Jacotot’s startling (or naïve?) presupposition, his lesson in intellectual emancipation. And from this starting point (the result of an accidental discovery occasioned by the peculiar circumstances of exile), Jacotot came to realize that knowledge is not necessary to teaching, nor explication necessary to learning. ‘Explication,’ he writes, ‘is the myth of pedagogy.’ Rather than eliminating in capacity, explication, in fact, creates it. It does this in part by establishing the temporal structure of delay (‘a little further along,’ ‘a little later,’ ‘a few more explanations and you’ll see the light’) that, writ large, would become the whole nineteenth-century myth of Progress … The pedagogical myth divides the world into two: the knowing and the ignorant, the mature and the unformed, the capable and the incapable.” (Translator’s Introduction, xix-xx)
Jacotot discovered that students were able to teach themselves French by reading a text both in their own language, and in French. These students were then able to pick up on complexities in French grammar without being taught, and were able to write their thoughts on what the text was saying – in French. This suggests that having a teacher explain what they are reading or learning is arbitrary, and actually causes more harm than good. By saying that they won’t be able to understand a topic without it being explained to them causes students to not try, or feel they cannot do it even if they do try. Then, if the explanation given does not make sense to the student, they are unable to teach themselves, because they were told they couldn’t.
If we adopt the pedagogy of universal teaching (assuming everyone has equal intelligence), education becomes more inclusive and allows all children to learn in a way that works for them. Additionally, Rancière states: “The very act of storytelling, an act that presumes in its interlocutor an equality of intelligence rather than an inequality of knowledge, posits equality, just as the act of explication posits inequality” (xxii). If we look back to the two worldviews that we previously discussed, the Aboriginal worldview emphasized learning through stories as well, suggesting they approached education with a universal teaching method. Assuming everyone has equal intelligence puts everyone on equal ground, not raising one individual above the rest, reflecting Indigenous societies. Everyone was equal, and chiefs were there to serve the group, not to rule. The fact that they also treated children as equals, not as inferior, would greatly affect how the children learned.
If we were to adopt this teaching method into our schools, students would be able to learn about what matters to them, and in a way that makes sense to them. This ideology is reflected in the Genius Hour Projects the class I am placed in. Students choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. There is little direction from the teacher, other than a few pointers on how to find reliable resources. The students research and learn everything on their own, without the teacher explaining their topic to them in class. Instead, they are able to teach the class about their topic at the end of the project. This not only allows for a wide range of interests; it also increases overall learning in the classroom. They are not only learning about their chosen topics: they are learning how to find information, read it, then process and analyze it, in addition to learning how to teach themselves something new.
If we adopted this teaching method and worldview throughout our school systems, students would learn to be more independent, a skill that is useful throughout life. In addition, individual’s needs would be taken care of, and students would have a desire to learn. Rather than being forced to sit in a classroom for several hours a day, they could learn to teach themselves what they need to know, and be able to specialize in the field they want to enter when they are older. By adopting a universal teaching method, we would be increasing the educational standards, and thus increasing the overall abundance of knowledge within our society.