On Pedagogy and Learning

Education in the United States runs concurrent to the idea of a prescribed form of “success” in our capitalist society. The idea of a master of information in the form of a professor or teacher, or even the disciplines of the institutions themselves is one that inhibits the learning and sets up boundaries that lend themselves to a normative set of information. “Just as the standardized tests that the U.S. favors as a guide to intellectual advancement in high schools tend to identify people who are good at standardized exams (as opposed to, say, intellectual visionaries), so in university grades, exams, and knowledge of canons identify scholars with an aptitude for maintaining and conforming to the dictates of the discipline.” (7).

The motivation behind advancing in this inflexible mode of education is as Halberstam asserts, “The desire to be taken seriously is precisely what compels people to follow the tried and true paths of knowledge production…Indeed terms like serious and rigorous tend to be code words, in academia as well as other contexts, for disciplinary correctness; they signal a form of training and learning that confirms what is already known according to approved methods of knowing, but they do not allow for visionary insights or flights of fancy.” (6). It would seem apparent the stifling nature of this standardizing and conformation of knowledge would have on actual learning, yet it backs the established system and, “most important, they statically reproduce themselves and inhibit dissent.” (10).

The resistance to this homogeny gives way to the idea that as members of academic institutions we must “resist mastery” (11), in that mastery implies a limited reservoir of knowledge that prescribes to the discipline of the instructor. In countries like Finland, whose educational rank worldwide is among, if not, the highest, caters their educational curriculum to the needs and desires of the students to allow for a higher level of motivation, other than grades, and is expansive and flexible in its nature as opposed to the reductionist pedagogy of the U.S. educational system in which the knowledge trickles down. This trickling down of knowledge, or inference that something is “right” is opposed to Halberstam’s idea of resisting mastery in the form of “failure’ and “stupidity”, as she states, “resistance takes the form of investing in counterintuitive modes of knowing such as failure and stupidity; we might read failure, for example, as a refusal of mastery, a critique of the intuitive connections within capitalism between success and profit,” (12). Being that, if there is a goal in mind, with a “set of presumptions” (12), then the process of learning and accumulation of knowledge has already been retarded.

The concept of the “ignorant schoolmaster” that, “must actually allow them to get lost in order for them to experience confusion and then find their own way out or back or around.” (14). Joseph Jacotot states his form of pedagogy as, “’I must teach you that I have nothing to teach you” ‘In this way he allows others to teach themselves and to learn without learning and internalizing a system of superior and inferior knowledges, superior and inferior intelligences.” (14). In other words, this lends itself to the age-old adage of “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

The seemingly disorganized concept of failure as form of success, depending on who is proclaiming judgment on this, is aligned with the idea of mutation in Darwinian evolution. When mutations are no longer encouraged and are in fact, eradicated or looked down upon, it limits and weakens the breadth of knowledge to be gained by such opposed approaches to learning. When the approach of James C. Scott is applied (which emphasizes, “mutuality, collectivity, plasticity, diversity and adaptability”) [10], an environment is created in which getting lost is an exercise in learning in itself and leads to the possibility of new ways of accumulating and applying knowledge.



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