Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

Jacques Rancière’s neoliberal pedagogy

Reading an excellent article from Nina on the possibility of a more just educational system, which makes a determined attempt to enlist Rancière in this project. As it happens I’ve been reading a chunk of Rancière for my dissertation of late, which has sharpened my skepticism towards him, and I’m more convinced than ever that Rancière is of no use in thinking about liberatory education. Maybe this is a result of differences between francophone and anglophone intellectual cultures, but the “mastery” Rancière attacks seems absurdly anachronistic, a model of education swept away at least by the late 60s (indeed, rejected by progressive educators since the 20s). Not to belittle the importance of these reforming projects, but not only is Rancière’s advocacy of an exploratory and democratic education, as against a directive and hierarchical one, rather pushing at an open door, it’s pushing at an open door that has proved to be a plausible entry point for neoliberalism. Indeed it’s worse than that: Rancière’s ignorant schoolmaster is, it seems to me, the perfect figure of neoliberal authoritarianism. Read more↴


A happy coincidence that Infinite Thought should tag me with this meme when I’ve just finished grading a stack of papers and so been thinking a bit about what I’m doing when I’m teaching. This semester I’ve been teaching an introductory writing course, which is apparently a fixture of American universities, but is perhaps particularly important somewhere like Berkeley, where new students have such a wide range of writing abilities. There are, of course, structural reasons for this, including the fairly large number of students who don’t speak English at home (but who may never have received formal education in any other language), and the appalling underfunding of California’s public schools; but it’s  interesting to see how these structures manifest themselves, because they don’t simply appear as an absence. That is, it’s not, strictly speaking, that those students who struggle haven’t been taught to write; they’ve all, or almost all, attended school for 13 years, after all. But during those 13 years, they have been taught to write badly. It seems like it would be an interesting research project in the sociology of knowledge to figure out how this happens. Everyone in the world knows that the five-paragraph-essay structure is stupid and harmful, yet students still get taught it. It’s aggravating; students would come to my office hours with incredibly interesting and insightful responses to the stuff we’d read, but be completely incapable of expressing themselves on paper (and, if it’s aggravating for me, it must be many times worse for them).

A Library After an Air Rair, London, 1940 On with the meme. Read more↴

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. Read more↴

To: Undergraduates

It’s probably unneccessary to end a four-page paper, in which you describe the “political” features of your shared house, by saying that “a deeper understanding of these complex systems will require further research.”

It’s also, particularly if you know your paper is going to be marked by a graduate student, quite possibly late at night when they’re not in such a great mood, probably unwise to claim that the extra-curricular activity you’ve chosen to write about requires “more work than a graduate student’s whole thesis.”