Table of Contents:
The community of poets and teaching
As developed above, one problem with the neoliberal discourse on schooling is that everyone within it has his or her proper place, and nothing is supposed to happen that hasn’t happened already: there is no change or newness possible. Order here means staying in one’s place, and consequently not staying in one’s place means creating disorder. The opposite of order is, within the madness of neoliberal discourses on schooling, chaos. No-one wants chaos; therefore what is needed, so the logic goes, is discipline and order! The role and ultimate task of teachers, then, is to bring discipline and order to schools to prevent chaos from happening. Teachers are understood as positioned at the border of chaos, fighting at the very frontier of normality (Safstrom & Mansson, 2004, Lang-mann & Safstrom, 2018).
Students create chaos in the school by being unpredictable in their actions, but through discipline and order they will become predictable. To follow through on this kind of logic means that what the teacher cannot control creates chaos in the school. Teachers therefore need to control everything in the school. But teachers cannot know how students think, or what they think about it! What will they do next? What do they feel? And what will they learn? To stay with the logic, students need to be controlled, tested, counted and marked so that their ways of being in school and society can be predicted, disciplined and brought to order.
Therefore, at least some teachers as well as some researchers, and ministers of stultifying education, always will have as their priority to support measures undertaken to try to predict how students think, act, behave and talk — even if it takes neuroscience researchers scanning brains to do it. The implications of neuroscience research for what takes place in a classroom, however, are severely limited, particularly if one takes teaching and not learning as a starting point. Nevertheless, neuroscience research is extending the legitimacy of what it can say about issues concerning schools, backed up by political power.
As Jan Bengtsson (2010) has shown, and as discussed in previous chapters, neuroscience research is used politically to support well-known neoliberal political opinions about what is, or should be, going on in schools, beyond what it can prove by evidence. This is not to say that neuroscience has nothing to offer, but that such science cannot explain the whole of what is going on in schooling; and that which is explained by it needs to be understood in its proper context. Also, and most importantly, even if neuroscience has a limited contribution to make to schooling, it has nothing to say about education, not least since that is not what it studies in the first place.
To be teachers within this kind of discourse on schooling is to be those who are charged with bringing us back to order, not only by preserving order and preventing chaos, but also by preventing meaning from filling up empty discourse. Not any meaning, but the dangerously noisy meaning attached to passionate teachers and students, who speak for themselves as if they had the right to (Ruitenberg, 2008).
Passionate speech overflows teaching with meaning and gives value to the name teacher, and by so doing gives meaning to the very form of teaching, the very act of triggering passions for students in the classroom. A teacher “is first of all a person who speaks to another, who tells stories and returns the authority of knowledge to the poetic condition of all spoken interaction” (Ranciére, in Bingham & Biesta 2010, p. 6). And since anyone can be included in the passion of life, in the passion of making life into a form of art, as Foucault (1997a, 1997b, 1997c) repeatedly claimed, the grip of empty speech will dissolve, and what remains is a certain kind of equality. It is the equality beyond measure, discipline and order, the equality between students and teachers in the poetic transformation of knowledge and control into contingency and change, and in that transformation the verification of equality of intelligence and freedom (Ranciére, 1991).
The thing is, this is already happening. It does happen that teachers love teaching, cannot stop themselves from being passionate, and thereby bring contingency and change to the classroom in the form of a poetry' of knowledge which reframes common sense, or rather introduces opposite ways of framing what is common beyond discipline and order. It turns the classroom and everyone within it into a community of poets.
It is passionate teachers who find another balance between pleasure and pain, the pleasure of the act of teaching and the pain of being inscribed within the neoliberal discourse on schooling. It is teachers who, in their ignorance of the very order of the discourse on schooling and their knowledge, wisdom and intelligence, destabilize the very balance on which this order rests: the balance point of inequality.
Teachers who resist the stultifying madness of the neoliberal discourse on schooling bring to the classroom a concrete sense of equality within the passion of teaching. Here anyone can take his or her place, anyone can speak. It is equality in which no-one is already known, but always a mystery, not to be solved or tested but to be experienced and even enjoyed. It is to perceive and to hear the speech of what I have elsewhere called the wrong people (that is, those who speak as if they had the right to, even in circumstances depriving them of that right) that is the marker of passionate teaching (Safstrom, 2013). This upheaval that is going on in at least some classrooms contributes to the constitution of a new form of sensory experience, the aesthetic experience of a community of poets speaking for themselves.
What the passion of teachers says to us is this: in the passion of teaching, in the community of poets, the moment in which you are free to emancipate is never later, but always now. Later it is always too late. Equality is not the golden end, but where it all starts (Ranciere, 2007a). The passion of teaching within a community of poets is, in other words, an expression of the possibility of equality in a context of inequality. It is the very form emancipation takes in education, and that which makes change possible.
The war on chaos is a war on borders
The war, if it is indeed a war, is not on chaos but on borders; or rather it is a war over fixing boundaries — boundaries separating not only what, but also who, creates chaos. It is the struggle over what constitutes chaos in the first place. It is a contestation over boundaries defining who is speaking and thinking in good order, and who is only making noise outside that very same order.
Passionate teachers within a community of poets claim, with Ranciere (2009), that: “Ultimately no positive boundary separates those who are fit for thinking from those who are not fit for thinking” (p. 282). There is simply no such thing as an incapacity to think and speak. Rather what passionate teachers do is to ask, again and again: who and what defines that incapacity in the first place? And this is a particularly important question in the age of measurement, as Biesta (2010) has called it, and in the age of mapping brains, when the incapacity of teachers and students alike is to be given a scientific explanation by evidence. But it is exactly this matter of incapacity that needs to be stripped of its scientific disguise, to speak with Ranciere (2009). That is, teachers within the public discourse on education are not unable to fix schooling because of their incapacity; rather, being unable to fix schooling is what it means to be a teacher within that discourse in the first place!
What I argue in this chapter is that, in order to get our proper name as teachers back, we simply need to refuse the inequality of the neoliberal discourse on education, its madness and its emptiness, by refusing the manic call for fixing schools and society which is embedded in the distributive paradigm of schooling. As Ranciere claims: "... each man [or woman] also has the means of withdrawing his |or her] intelligence” (1991, p. 81), withdrawing from partaking in such a reconstitution of inequality.
However, in light of teacher education, where students are becoming teachers, it seems important to offer them something other than a position of withdrawal or refusal. By refocusing on the passion of teaching, teacher educators can bring a re-imagination of the very term of teaching into the centre of the curriculum. This would build on what passionate teachers do already: that is, immerse themselves in the poetry of knowledge together with a community of poets. Strangely enough, it releases powers not only of great imagination, but also of emancipation and change.
In chapter 5 I will return to the beginning of educational theory through the concept of paideia, and from that starting point locate the place of freedom and change within an educational theory, making passionate teaching possible in the first place. I will also show that education is not for or about democracy, but is its very praxis: that is, education precedes democracy, making democracy possible in a profound way.