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Ignorant schoolmasters

According to OFSTED,

At GCSE, the sheer volume of poetry, with the focus on technical analysis, coupled with “overly didactic teaching methods”, is putting pupils off.

I wish I’d been taught technical analysis of poetry when I was doing GCSEs; indeed, a bit of excess didacticism would have made a nice change from the strange “not actually teaching” method adopted by my teachers. Until a chance encounter with F. R. Leavis’s New Bearings in English Poetry, I had no interest in poetry at all, which seemed like a pointlessly deformed form of expression, arbitrarily constraining writing in favor of a childishly contingent similarity of sounds or rhythm. Leavis’s explanation that these constraints could mean something made an enormous impact on me, and I remember wondering why none of my teachers had thought to mention it.

It’s probably unfair to name this post after Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster, particularly as I’ve never read it. But there is a certain style of teaching (it may well not be the one advocated by Rancière) based around a kind of faux-ignorance which is deeply reactionary. The pose of ignorance adopted by my English teachers devalues the education it’s supposed to be providing: if I am expected to be able to figure this stuff out on my own, why do I have to sit in school to do it? Teachers are not ignorant; they are teachers precisely because they know things their students do not know, and if this knowledge is worth anything they have an obligation to share it, not to pretend it doesn’t exist. Furthermore, to recognize this asymmetry of knowledge is a precondition of recognizing a more fundamental equality: that the student can understand, assimilate and accept or reject the same knowledge the teacher has already acquired.