At a K12 school like mine, if I were to ask my sophomores “How many of you are painters?” there might be a few hands raised in a class. However, if I travelled down to the Early Childhood Center and asked the same question, I imagine a swarm of hands would shoot into the air proudly and enthusiastically. What happens between Kindergarten and 10th grade? Where do all the painters go? When did they begin to divide up the world as one made up of amateurs and experts, of inferior performers versus superior ones? How do we cleanse the doors of their perception to inspire students to claim back their place as painters again? After all, “...it’s not a matter of making great painters; it’s a matter of making emancipated [students]: people capable of saying, ‘me too, I’m a painter,’ a statement that contains nothing in the way of pride, only the reasonable feeling of power that belongs to any reasonable being. ‘There is no pride in saying out loud: Me too, I’m a painter! Pride consists in saying softly to others: You neither, you aren’t a painter.’ ‘Me too, I’m a painter’ means: me too, I have a soul, I have feelings to communicate to my fellow-men” (Rancière 67). In other words, all students have a soul and an intellect; therefore, they all have something to say, and this is why I teach: I want to reawaken the painter in each and every student who enters my class.
I believe every student has the capacity to learn anything, but students need to be reminded of the power of their intellect to emancipate their curiosity and to inspire them to take ownership of their learning. By emancipation I mean the idea “that every common person might conceive his human dignity, take the measure of his intellectual capacity, and decide how to use it” (Rancière 17). There are not two kinds of minds, namely ones that are good at school and ones that are not; instead, there are those whose intelligence has been revealed to them and those whose circumstances have not made such demands. As a teacher, I try to design a safe, challenging environment that demands this of every student, namely to take responsibility for his or her intelligence. Education, after all, is “the name for transmitting the social competency that produces responsibility... [which] leads to maturity” (Stiegler 2). Students, therefore, cannot be passive passengers in their journey towards discovery; they have to take control of their capacity to learn, which is the key to meaningful student-centered learning. To empower students to do so, the educational process needs to be authentic and relevant. Students must have choice and autonomy to motivate their will towards self-directed inquiry; only then do we nurture their nascent power of intellect and direct them towards the path to maturity.
I believe the learning process needs to be interconnected across departments to be meaningful for each student. Too often the learner navigates her schooling like a nomad, traveling from one departmental territory to another, without making the deeper connections, and the teacher’s sense of responsibility in such a scenario functions in a distributed fashion, meaning an English teacher claims responsibility for the learner’s knowledge of Shakespeare but remains unconcerned about her competency in calculus. I suggest envisioning school culture in terms of a community garden, a more rhizomatic social space which promotes unpredictable connections and spontaneity as well as a deterritorialized sense of ownership. No one owns the specific tomato, but everyone is responsible for the garden itself, thereby making it a shared responsibility. We as teachers along with the student share the responsibility of cultivating universally valued skills that all learners need to master. It's not about Shakespeare versus polynomials; it is about putting skills at the forefront to ask together are students thinking critically? Are they exploring creative solutions? Are they collaborating productively? By ceding some control of my departmental territory to model the kind of collaboration and creativity I want to instill in them, students are more empowered to map their journey of discovery in partnership with teachers who work together.
All students are intelligent, and all students can learn anything. The educator’s calling is to awaken what we know to be unmistakably in them. I think of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, when Mr. Gradgrind towered before the rows of desks filled with silent, anxious children and proudly proclaimed, "Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them" (9). My hope is to stir students to counter such instruction with the following declaration: "Make rhizomes... never plant! Don't sow, grow offshoots! Don't be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Don't have just ideas, just have an idea" (Deleuze and Guattari 24-25). I have no desire to plant or root out ideas in students to make them in my likeness: I just want students to have an idea that is uniquely theirs, to celebrate the wonderful multiplicities of the world, and to reclaim with confidence their place as painters again. My reward as teacher is bearing witness to this joyful awakening.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. Print.
Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: Barnes and Nobles Books, 2004. Print.
Rancière, Jacques. The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007. Print.
Stiegler, Bernard. Taking Care of Youth and the Generations. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010. Print.