31: JOSEPH JACOTOT
In 1818 Joseph Jacotot reportedly discovered – commencing from experiences using a bilingual (French/Flemish) text of Archbishop Fénelon’s novel Télémaque – that students can be effectively taught in languages which they do not know, and that they can be taught to read by illiterates (such as the parents of his own pupils). Jacotot believed that all people were already possessed of vast amounts of latent knowledge which a teacher had only to ‘bring out’ (and which individuals lacking a teacher could actually ‘bring out’ in themselves). Some of the methods which Jacotot employed under the rubric ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ do appear usable; but the anecdotal nature of the reports hinders assessment of the degree to which his stronger claims can be accepted.
For much more on Jacotot, see Jacques Rancière’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Kristin Ross trans.) (Stanford, CA, 1991).
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