Ignorant Teachers, a New Socialist Ideal
April 05, 2011
Your host has an article posted over at Minding the Campus. It expands on a few themes that may be familiar to regulars here.
Natural variations in cognitive ability, unlike those in musicality or athleticism, are a thorn in the paw of devout egalitarians. Avid readers of the Guardian’s arts and music pages would no doubt feel free to delight in the prowess of, say, Helen Mirren or Pinchas Zukerman without believing that everyone they passed on the street could with training do the same. It seems that only intelligence attracts contrarian manoeuvring.
The latest example of which comes via Fabian Tassano, author of Mediocracy: Inversions and Deceptions in an Egalitarian Culture. Tassano steers us to the claims of senior philosophy lecturer and Guardian contributor Dr Nina Power, who insists, apparently based on nothing, that “everyone has the potential to understand everything,” and that equality of intelligence is “something to be presupposed” because – well, just because - “everyone is equally intelligent.”
Dr Power’s assertions are bold and her reasoning unobvious, indeed difficult to detect - thus meeting the key criteria of Very Deep Thought. She refers to the French postmodernist Jacques Rancière, whose “axiomatic assertion of the equality of intelligence” is, we’re told, “one of the most important ideas of the past decade.” On what basis Rancière felt entitled to make such claims - and why Dr Power sees fit to agree with them - remains somewhat mysterious. Dr Power does, however, cite fellow philosopher Peter Hallward, who tells us, “Everyone has the same intelligence, and differences in knowledge are simply a matter of opportunity and motivation. On the basis of this assumption, superior knowledge ceases to be a necessary qualification of the teacher, just as the process of explanation… ceases to be an integral part of teaching.”
On this, Dr Power elaborates, highlighting another benefit of the egalitarian ideal: “In principle then, there is no reason why a teacher is smarter than his or her student, or why educators shouldn’t be able to learn alongside pupils in a shared ignorance.”
Knowledge, competence and the ability to explain – none of these things will be needed in our socialist utopia. Children will simply inhale education or absorb it through osmosis. On reflection, a couple of the teachers at my old comprehensive were particularly unskilled at explaining their thinking and struggled to remember facts. At the time I had no idea this would soon be regarded as a cutting-edge educational strategy.