Don't be fooled by ignorant schoolmasters: On the role of the teacher in emancipatory education

Gert Biesta*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The question I address in this article is how we might understand the role of the teacher in education that seeks to promote emancipation. I take up this question in conversation with German and North-American versions of critical pedagogy with, the works of Paulo Freire and with that of Jacques Rancière. I show that in each case we find not only a strong argument for emancipatory education but also a distinct view about the role of the teacher. My aim is partly to show the different ways in which the role of the teacher in emancipatory education can be conceived and to make clear how this role is related to the different understandings of emancipation and the dynamics of emancipatory education. The motivation for writing this article also stems from what I see as a rather problematic interpretation of the work of Rancière in recent educational scholarship, one where the key message of his 1991 book The Ignorant Schoolmaster is taken to be that anyone can learn without a teacher and that this alleged 'freedom to learn' would constitute emancipation. I challenge such a constructivist interpretation of Rancière's work and argue that the key message of The Ignorant Schoolmaster is that emancipatory education is not a matter of transfer of knowledge from a teacher who knows to a student who does not (yet) know, but nonetheless is a process in which teachers and their teaching are indispensable. This will allow me to argue why and how teaching remains essential for emancipatory education and why we should therefore not be fooled into thinking that ignorant schoolmasters, because they have no knowledge to give, have nothing to teach and can be done away with.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-73
Number of pages22
JournalPolicy Futures in Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


  • critical pedagogy
  • emancipatory education
  • Jacques Rancière
  • Paulo Freire
  • teaching
  • the role of the teacher


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