The Ignorant Schoolmaster 4 stars

The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation is a 1987 book by philosopher Jacques …


3 stars

I'm baffled by this text and how often it floats around spaces filled with "radical pedagogues," how often it's cited as something that has shown people what they didn't know. That's fine. I'm not against texts that make people aware of something, nor am I against people finding something in places where I do not.

But this book is baffling. Its construction is confusing, and much of it feels apocryphal while told as fact. It swims between multiple perspectives without really claiming any beyond seeking to reform the school system, and that's the part I take most issue with. It is a reformist text, seeking to make it clear that what we're doing is wrong but not so completely wrong that we can't salvage it. At best, I think it was misguided when it was published, and its philosophical discussions have been outdated since before then.

I also cannot figure out for whom this book is written. Who is the audience? What is its purpose? Either I struggle to ascertain that or it has done little to be clear. Is it the fault of the translation? I'll never know, as my French is poor.

What I do know is that all of the chapters could be boiled down to a paragraph. This could have been a pamphlet rather than a book, and it probably would've made more sense than building things as they had been done. I like thinking about what I'm reading and building connections, but this was constructed to be intentionally obtuse in nature.

In short, it feels and reads like academic wankery.

Edit: Also, as someone who as routinely worked with children with whom I share no common verbal language, the fact that I've seen so many people cling to this idea that Jacotot's students were able to achieve fluency "in mere months" is beyond me because that is a lot of work. Nowhere does Rancière even engage with the possibility that these Flemish guys who didn't speak a word of French... could have spoken at least some French and had some basic linguistic capability or possibly had another similar language to pull from! Or an interest prior to meeting Jacotot. None of this is addressed or considered, while Rancière simply claims this as fact (which we cannot really prove or disprove).

It's this constant focus on one person to be the one hero, which Jacotot is not. Learning is a community practice where people bring in ranges of knowledge, and these sorts of philosophy books perpetually hyper-individualise them even when they don't intend to.