W is for Why do I have to learn this?

| May 1, 2014

The method of equality was above all a method of the will. One could learn by oneself and without a master explicator when one wanted to, propelled by one’s own desire or by the constraint of the situation.”                                        The Ignorant Schoolmaster

Rancière’s pedagogy envisions the creation of emancipated individuals who are liberated from the need to rely on authority for explanations. According to him, educators can achieve this by refraining form explaining concepts which compose the subject matter and instead allow their students to experience these notions first hand, by directly interacting with the text. Will power seems to be a central aspect of this process. From the quote above, we understand that will power is engendered by either one’s personal desire to acquire knowledge about the subject matter or by the restrictions set by a particular situation. Because he puts forth the proposition that “one could learn by oneself”, it leaves me wondering how the role of the teacher is to be integrated in this scenario. In line with this statement, we can assume that Rancière believes a teacher should either identify the student’s passion and allow that desire to establish in him/her the will to learn the content, or create constraining circumstances that force will upon students. Although the latter situation might contrast with the idea of learning “under the sign of equality”, Rancière believes the subordination of will, as opposed to that of intelligence, is acceptable or even necessary. These two suggestions seem very different, the former entailing that students must learn a concept because they want to, while the latter entails they must learn it because they have to. Ideally, I would agree with the first scenario; in my experience as a teacher, a student who is intrinsically motivated to learn something because of his/her own desire and passion towards the subject, usually achieves higher results, than a student who is merely extrinsically motivated by the “constraint of a situation” (e.g. an assignment/examination). However, the problem with this idea is that transmitting passion for your subjects to your students is one of the most significant and difficult task we, as educators, have to face. The attempt to do so doesn’t always yield desirable results. If a teaching method existed, which successfully leads the student who wonders ‘Why to I have to learn this?’ to reply to his/her own question: ‘Because I want to’, the job of the educator wouldn’t be as challenging as it is.