There may be no hope, but there is still commitment
To teach from within a distributive paradigm of schooling is to do nothing to that which is already circulating in the current distribution of wealth and power, the differentiation of abilities and epistemologies, connecting desires and wants with political economy. To teach from within the distributive paradigm is to apply techniques of individualization, to master processes of learning, to encourage competitions, gradings and continuous assessment; it is to distribute talent over the typography of value that makes up the neoliberal society.
I have shown elsewhere how the name teacher becomes a nothing in such public discourses on education: the name is owned not by the teacher, but by a certain political/public fixation, depriving the actual teacher of his or her name as a teacher (Safstrdm, 2014; Frelin 2010). The result tends to be that the actual teacher, the person, wears the name teacher as a negation of what he or she does when operating outside the distributive paradigm, when he or she truly engages with another, when he or she verifies the student as an equal intelligence.
That is when the teacher stages the real conditions for emancipation — operating from the insight of equality of intelligence: “Only a man can emancipate a man. Only an individual can be reasonable, and only within his own reason” (Ranciere 1991, p. 102). This reason is the power of all reasonable people, and moreover “this power depends on opinion, that of the equality of intelligence” (p. 95). Such insight requires a commitment to reasonable people, not hope, as the driving force of educational change.
The main problem with hope as a motivator for educational change is that hope is transformed into possession as soon as its object is achieved, therefore hope functions very well, too well, within a distributive paradigm of inequality, as well as within a capitalist logic of value accumulation. It is, as such, contained within instrumental education and teaching.
Hope does not function so well for non-instrumental education and teaching, since such teaching is much more concerned with a commitment to equality in the present.
Commitment as distinct from hope has quite different connotations. When I was recently (2018) giving a talk exploring this distinction between hope and commitment, someone said that commitment tends to sound too serious and not attractive for students. But the commitment I talk about is not something you teach, it is the very characteristics of being a teacher, of the teaching process as such, it is a condition for teaching within an educational theory'.
Commitment may be defined as being about constancy, dedication, devotedness, an enduring promise to do or give something to someone (Cambridge Dictionary); it is a gift without claims of return, a promise to be loyal and to embody an attitude of someone who works very hard to support something or someone.
That is, commitment comes with certain ethics of teaching in which the interest is directed towards the other, not oneself, while hope comes with a logic that fits capitalistic value accumulation and the distributive paradigm of education. To be committed is to be for the other without any claim of return, while hope is for one’s own benefit, directed towards one or another possession or salvation.
Commitment is open-ended, even though it has a precise direction and is embedded in particular ethics. In education, it is directed to the freedom of the other (Biesta & Safstrom, 2011) and responsibility' for the other (Safstrom, 2003a). To be committed to education is to be committed to a radical change in order for freedom to emerge: freedom for the other, for the student, the freedom of living a liveable life together with others in this world and at this point in time. Educational teaching is directed to the freedom of the other, and to the verification of equality in every moment of its existence. It therefore also makes learning possible as other than acquisition, other than a tool for competition and comparisons (Biesta, 2006, 2010).
When it comes to pedagogy, commitment is simply an appeal to steadfastness in the face of the power inscribed in the distributive paradigm, and an appeal to support all students regardless of their distributed talent. In short, it is an allegiance to the gift inscribed in the figure of teaching. Such a gift is not only about the wellbeing of, and promotion of, knowledge for the student, as John Dewey (1916) convincingly argues in Democracy and education, but also, and maybe primarily, about doing something - it is all about re-invention of freedom. Pedagogy is about commitment to change and emancipation in order to move beyond the surface of possessions, distributed through the idea of hope as inscribed within the distributive paradigm by the possessors, those who already have the desired societal qualities: abilities, talents, insights, money, things, intelligence and power. Without hope, everything can change.
In this chapter, I argue that pedagogy is not the same as a pedagogized society, which I describe here as a society based on the distributive paradigm of schooling; pedagogy is rather to be understood as a break with such a society through the constant re-invention of freedom and emancipation where there is none. In particular, this freedom is not about hope, but rather about an outcome of commitment to equality, since hope tends to defer the present from its actualization, while commitment comes with an ethic for the other here and now. It establishes the present as an ethical space. Commitment confinns an already taken-for-granted equality, it verifies equality.
There are different understandings of hope from those I have explored in this chapter, and I will return to one, the ancient Greek conception of hope as pointing towards an ambiguous and open-ended future, in chapters 5 and 6, where I discuss the early Sophists’ invention of educational theory. Commitment as defined above points likewise to an ambiguous open-ended future, that is, the gesture of commitment is necessary for freedom and emancipation to emerge at all, through and in education, pedagogy and teaching. Commitment so understood is ethical in its very foundation, and teaching is directed to emancipation and freedom of the other, verifying the equality of the other, and as part of the ambiguity' of the present order of things.
In this chapter, I have also introduced a distinction between the possibility of living a life, a liveable life, and the political and social categorization of that life. I have claimed that if we do not make this distinction clear, we risk violence on the lives of the manifold and diverse multiplicity and ambiguity of actually living people. Also, with Ranciere, it is living people who can be equal, who can rise from the land of inequality to assume equality with anyone else, while the institution, by necessity, embodies inequality. We therefore need to point out the cracks in the institutions themselves in order for a liveable life to emerge by, among other things, assuming equality where there is none.
In chapter 2 I will be more specific on the concept of emancipation, and discuss the role and place of this concept in an educational philosophy that does not accept the distributive paradigm of schooling as the defining context for education, but rather understands such a paradigm to be the main focus for educational critique. I will also, in line with the above, claim that it is schooling, and not the school, that is the problem. That is, in the school there is always a possibility to rise from the land of inequality by assuming equality in situations of teaching.