“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
― Benjamin Franklin
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
[From Sotiris Triantis]
An intellectual adventure
Joseph Jacotot (born in 1770) was a French teacher who discovered something remarkable in the education process. His intellectual adventure begun in March 1815, when he went to Louvain to teach a group of Flemish students. It was notable for two reasons: First, because Jacotot did not know the Flemish language and second, because the students did not know any French. The only solution for them was to find a common ground: “There was thus no language in which he could teach them what they sought from him. Yet he wanted to respond to their wishes. To do so, the minimal link of a thing in common had to be established between himself and them.” (Rancière 1991, p. 1)
The poverty of the education stimulus
Joseph Jacotot was probably the first teacher in Europe to apply – even without his own knowledge – the constructivist method of education. This method suggests that the teacher is the person who provides the students with the right directions in order for them to construct the knowledge in their mind. Jacotot’s teaching success clearly reflects the main proposition of radical constructivism: “Knowledge is not passively received but actively built up by the cognizing subject.” Although students were the creators of their own knowledge the presence of the teacher was indispensable in the teaching process.
Claude Shannon’s A Mathematical Theory of Communication – one of the most influential scientific papers in the history of academia – has proven that the meaning of language cannot be “transported” to the reader or listener. When we read a text on a printed page or computer screen, the only thing we can see is a large number of signs (letters, words etc.). It is our mind that recognizes those characters as letters, words and structures and then creates a meaning. Knowledge cannot be “transported” to the subject because it can only be created in the subject’s brain and mind. The crucial point of constructivism inthe education process is that even with the teacher’s instructions the students still apply their own way of thinking and reasoning. Thought is always an individual process and it is up to the student to either critically reflect on the taught material or just memorize it.
The future of education
Nowadays the internet changes the way we learn and understand the world. It provides many sources of information and the more information the student possesses the more independent he is from the teacher. Jacotot’s teaching method can be seen as a remarkable psychological – even social – experiment about how people learn. This is exactly what Jacques Rancière – the author of the book – believed. That people have the ability to learn with limited or no instruction is empowering, especially for poor people who do not have access to the education system: “He proclaimed that one could teach what one didn’t know, and that a poor and ignorant father could, if he was emancipated, conduct the education of his children, without the aid of any master explicator.” (Rancière, p. 18)
― Sotiris Triantis