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The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  993 ratings  ·  89 reviews
This extraordinary book can be read on several levels. Primarily, it is the story of Joseph Jacotot, an exiles French schoolteacher who discovered in 1818 an unconventional teaching method that spread panic throughout the learned community of Europe.

Knowing no Flemish, Jacotot found himself able to teach in French to Flemish students who knew no French; knowledge, Jacotot
Paperback, 176 pages
Published July 1st 1991 by Stanford University Press (first published February 4th 1987)
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David Schaafsma
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Ignorant Schoolmaster is a strange and strangely inspiring little book in the romantic tradition of Rousseau. Published in 1991, it would have been popular in the romantic educational sixties, focused as it is on individualism and deschooling (Ivan Illych). It recalls for me Writing Without Teachers by Peter Elbow and A. S Neills Summerhill and Jonathan Kozols anarchistic free schools. And, since it favors families over teachers (who are usually stultifying explicators rather than ...more
This is, quite literally, one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. Ranciere basically tells the story of one Joseph Jacotot, a professor who, during the restoration in early 19th century France was forced to leave the country, wound up in Flanders, and found himself asked to teach local students the French language, which they did not know. Unfortunately, Jacotot himself knew no Flemish and was without a common language with his students. Not to be dissuaded, he left his students with a ...more
Oct 26, 2012 rated it liked it
The last two chapters of the book completely fail to live up to the promise of the initial premise and *critique* of both social and internalized pedagogical-epistemological hierarchies, falling back into a micro-politics of discourse and a secularized ideology-critique (i.e. intellectual superiority as "everybody's" ideology).

Instead of making the qualitative leap from a radical Enlightenment notion of universal equality to grounding such possibility in objective, transformative social
May 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
The basic premise of Rancières work is to provide a history of the early nineteenth century French schoolmaster, Joseph Jacotot. Jacotot found himself in a position where he was asked to teach French to a group of Flemish students. The problem, however, was that the students knew no French and he knew no Flemish. In devising a method of teaching these students French by having them read and recite a book in French until they could understand and discuss it, Jacotot developed a pedagogy (in scare ...more
Stevphen Shukaitis
Nov 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I quite enjoyed this book. The main reason I read it is to be able to understand the ways that Colectivo Situaciones, the Argentinean militant research and political theory group, draw from and extend upon his work. So that's the context I read this within. The basic gist that stood out for me is the idea of a kind of equality that one takes as a presupposition to start from rather than as a goal to be worked towards. So that's why you have the notion on radical self-education that comes out ...more
Jeremy Allan
Jul 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book dares to reproduce several wild claims: 1.) All intelligences are equal; 2.) We can learn anything that can be learned by virtue of our own faculties and without the direction of a knowing-mentor; 3.) We can teach what we do not know. Rancière does not author these claims so much as retrieve them from the teachings of a nineteenth century pedagogue and pariah: Joseph Jacotot. Yet he asserts the claims anew and with a vigor that begs attention. And attention is exactly what is demanded. ...more
May 16, 2012 rated it liked it
The wonderful premise of this book gets mired in an ultimately incoherent and unconvincing thesis. The aspiration to an instrumental equality of intelligence has an ethical drive that seems consistent with Rancierre's project of emancipatory politics, but there is absolutely no political content to the effects of this 'aspiration'. The master/slave antinomy that he sees animating Bourdieu, Milner and Althusser's critiques of 1968 discourse seems flattened and deferred onto an antimony between ...more
Sep 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Amazing book about the human mind and its ability to think and learn. Ranciere posits that people have the unique ability to teach themselves and this ability gives everyone the ability for educational and political equality and participation. This is a gross over simplification but he rejects the standard student teacher relationship and rejects the idea of inborn class sorting. Much of the work is based on an obscure French educator of the 1820's who was able to teach his students stuff he did ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
ranciere's incisive critique of the self-perpetuating inequality in traditional explanatory pedagogy.
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The second half was way ahead of my comprehension, though Ranciere probably would have said that such a thing is impossible and I am not paying any attention. It might as well be correct, I have got mentally tired towards the end but still, the first hundred pages deliver the message profoundly and entirely.
Both individualistic and societal, egalitarian and pro-diversity, Ranciere believes in the communal act of learning and defies all possible categorisations of the teacher and the learner,
James F
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
The English translation, by Kristin Ross, of Ranci��re's Ma��tre ignorant. The book tells the story of Joseph Jacotot, a French scholar in exile in Belgium in the early nineteenth century, who devised a method of teaching what he didn't know. His thesis was very simple -- everyone is of equal intelligence. (Which, leaving aside those who are actually retarded because of some problem with the brain, I think is at least approximately true.) He went on to discover that people who were sufficiently ...more
A provocative and easy-to-follow book, it suggests a simple formula for emancipation: assume that everyone has equal intelligence. Ranciere examines the life, pedagogy, and thought of Joseph Jacotot, who was forced to try to teach students with whom he shared no common language and as a result developed "universal teaching." Universal teaching emphasizes the idea that every person is capable of learning with enough attention and hard work; since it is the student who is doing the work of ...more
Stefan Szczelkun
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book has many points of contact with my life and work. What follows is from the conclusion of my detailed blog of reading this book.

What comes over in this book, however many little holes you can pick in this argument, is a powerful sense of what revolutionary change consists of. Without practising an attitude of intellectual equality there is no chance of achieving an widely democratic and society of equals without exception. There is no chance of releasing the widespread thinking and
Maughn Gregory
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
1. Knowledge is not necessary to teach.
2. Expert explication is not necessary to learn.
3. All people are equally intelligent.

These theses, worked out by exiled French school teacher Joseph Jacotot in 1818, are at once pedagogically and politically revolutionary -- as demonstrated so powerfully in our age by Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School. Movements for social change that do not practice the pedagogy of intellectual equality will inevitably subvert their own goals.

As reviewer
Sep 20, 2008 rated it liked it
An interesting concept that I was actually able to put into practice when I taught a class!
May 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
In his book The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Jacques Ranciere reads the work of a 19th century French teacher, Jacotot. Jacotot ended up having Flemish students with whom he could not adequately communicate, as they did not speak French and he did not speak Flemish. In order to instruct them in French, he had them each get a copy of Telemachus in Flemish and in French. He had them read the book in their own language until it was very familiar. Then he had them read the book in French and compare the ...more
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Benoit
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Without a doubt the most liberating text I've ever read. It turns the history of philosophy and pedagogy on its head in its verification (rather than postponing) of equality. Every method of pedagogy is riddled with the implication of inequality of intelligence. How can we be free if we must rely on a master to show us the way?

This piece could also be seen as Ranciére's scathing satirical polemic of his old master, Althusser. This book exposes the inegalitarian core of Marxism's underlying
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book makes you question everything you think about education.

I must admit, I struggled with the writing of this text, quite a bit and found myself re-reading passages many MANY times.

Ranciere tells the story Joseph Jacotot, who developed a a new method of teaching. Basically this man goes to Brussels and cannot speak Flemish; however, he is tasked with teaching law to his students who also do not know French (his language). What follows is difficult to process and at times Ranciere is not
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Pretty interesting book!

This is Ranciere's account of a French teacher and philosopher, Joseph Jacotot. Jacotot found himself in a pretty interesting situation as he was able to teach Flemish students without knowing any Flemish himself.

This spawned a whole philosophy that shook up the nature of pedagogy itself, first by describing the traditional method ("explicatory stultification") and then contrasting it to his method of intellectual emancipation. There's lots of interesting ideas in here,
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend. Provocative conceptually, yet also written with a lovely brightness and joy. Ranciere details the story of Joseph Jacotot, who stumbled upon some rather radical insights about human learning. This book teases out various extremely unsettling ramifications of Jacotot's central insistence: all humans are equally intelligent. He rejects the entire (still dominant) model of education and science based on inequality of intelligence. It leads to stultification by way of explication. ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It has been a very long time since I read a book that fundamentally changed how I think. For whatever reasonperhaps I just read this at the right place at the right timebut The Ignorant Schoolmaster changed how I think about teaching and how I think about audiences (and socio-economic divisions within audiences) in the early modern period.

Oddly enough, I do not think Ranière writes a good *book*. I often finish reading him, thinking he could have condensed his text into, say, half its length and
Māra Ulme
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Definitely a must-read. Without a doubt. Personally, I am so thankful that this book exists, otherwise I might have thought my gut was wrong about certain (even blantantly apparent) notions regarding the way intelligence works. Now I feel much better about my existence on this planet.
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Reversing the inequality-equality dynamic in the teacher-student/children-parent relation and exploring its pedagogical and (a-)social consequences. I particularly liked the first three chapters. One of the more lucid writings by Rancière.
Kari Barclay
May 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great read with lots to chew on about education, even if I disagree with most of it. :O
Başak Ekinci
Mar 29, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Simply cool words, confusing, long sentences but nothing to be read
Mar 06, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really interesting! Sadly, I had to read it for a class that didn't really work well with the text, so I'm going to reread it later on my own.
Kathleen Quaintance
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing

Emancipation comes when the realization is made that there are no differences in the human potential for understanding.

Different languages can be spoken, and this includes capacities that have nothing to do with linguistics. One can speak with needle and thread or with hammer and nail in a manner no intellectually inferior to one who speaks in Latin.

What we commonly practice in most teaching methods is a manner of teaching that assumes a stark inequality between student and teacher, an
Evelin Tamm
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I found Ranciere via a special edition of "Educational Philosophy and Theory" (Vol 42, Nos 5-6, 2010) which was dedicated to his work.

"The Ignorant Schoolmaster" (first published in 1991)is introducing us to Rancieres ideas about equality and democracy in the field of education. His language is easy to follow and his ideas are provocative, specially to an educator.

Through the work of Jacotot (an ignorant schoolmaster) he introduces us to the concept he calls "universal teaching". The whole
Errol Orhan
May 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
The argument that is put forward in this book is extremely challenging in an intellectual way. This is mainly due to the fact that Ranciere starts off from a premise that seems counter intuitive at first: namely that everyone has the same intellectual capabilities. However, gradually the author makes you discard preconceived notions about brains, upbringing, and social class. Not because he points out that they are wrong, but that they're irrelevant.

As with all of Ranciere's other writings,
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Jacques Rancière (born Algiers, 1940) is a French philosopher and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris (St. Denis) who came to prominence when he co-authored Reading Capital (1968), with the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.

Rancière contributed to the influential volume Reading "Capital" (though his contribution is not contained in the partial English translation) before

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