Let’s assume that knowledge is a social production – that we produce knowledge (in our classrooms) by having our students engage in and talk about the subject that they are doing (ie. the doing of science). Let us also assume a different positioning – an ontological shift that says all people, ALL people are equal. The book “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” by Jacques Ranciere, is a narrative about a teacher, Jacotot, who discovers something very profound in his students: that they are all intelligent – that they bring to the table their multitude of experiences and are thinking beings capable of thought and rationalization. Ranciere uses the term “multiple intelligences.”
I’m sure some of you are telling me, “Well, I already knew that Yen. My kids are very smart and they blow me away with the things they think of.”
If that’s the case, then why do you assume that they know less then you? When we assume that students think just like we (as teachers) can, is there really a “gap” in knowledge, when knowledge is constructed? If the body of knowledge is a house, your students come to you with skills, and tools to build this house. You as the teacher come with the blueprint, and the experiences of building many houses. I would argue then that teachers do not “know” more than their students, if knowledge (the houses we we build) are social constructions. They have more experiences than their students do. Knowledge is not experience, nor is experience knowledge. However, I think our society to gets these two things mixed up.
In our classrooms, are we building houses, or are we giving our students a tour of a house that is already built? Which will be more useful to our students, if the idea is that one day, they will be building houses themselves?
“But Yen, there is a gap between the students and I. What is my role as a teacher, if it is not to bridge this gap?” The gap is in experience, not in a student’s knowledge. Learning happens in this gap once experience is provided. For example, when we teach students to ride a bicycle, they will not learn how by simply watching the teacher ride. Students must experience bicycle riding. They ride the bicycle, while their instructor provides the necessary scaffolds to help them ride. However, the instructor cannot ride the bike for them.
The gap is between how we learn with what we learn. As teachers, it is our job to point out the gap, but only the learner can fill it. If the gap is about experience, then we all come into the culture of the classroom with gaps. The what that we learn is different for each individual student. For teachers, we must learn about our students. Therefore, we also have a gap to fill. In this sense, no one is less intelligent or knowledgeable than anyone else. We are all equal and bring our gaps to the classroom to be filled with experiences constructed from interactions with each other. In this way, there are no deficits – only opportunities to gain more experiences.