The Collapse of the Classroom

We are challenged to think about education and pedagogy in particular at times of digital technologies that are invading our life. This thinking does deserve special attention. The students in the classroom are the same individuals who have become an individual ( Deleuze) who are subject to the several networks of the internet. This new world of the internet has transformed us totally and brought everything literally to our fingertips. Before, this new experience classroom was a privileged space to access information and knowledge. Knowledge was magisterial. It had to be taught and supervised by the Magister/ Master. The internet, the smartphone, I-pad and the laptop have brought incessant access to information and knowledge and have led to the collapse of the privileged status of a classroom. The global pandemic seems to have accentuated the death of the classroom. The present condition makes it necessary for us to examine our educational apparatus and seek ways of effectively addressing our situation initiating creative pedagogical changes.

The classroom could be compared to the cave of Plato’s parable. Like the inhabitant of the cave, the students were silent receivers of the knowledge that is orally presented by the Magister. They were to learn to remain silent seating in the rows that were assigned to them in advance. The politics of the classrooms already produced docile bodies that could not move out of it without the permission of the authority. The students were given the knowledge that they did not demand and had to submit to it almost mindlessly.

Today things have radically changed. The students still do not demand any knowledge. It is available everywhere on the net. But what is changed is that they can access it on demand. This means they can get it immediately or instantly when they need it. Michel Serres tells us that the voice of the teacher is no longer heard because it has become ridiculous and irrelevant in the context of the incessant flow of information and knowledge. He says we have reached the democracy of knowledge and hence the students in the classroom have begun to break their silence. The voice of the teacher is drowned by the background noise of multi-tasking that may range from chats to games which can be all done in the silence of the classroom.

If we care to ask how we have reached this point, we may have to listen to Serres. He tells us that we humans have a natural need to externalize to communicate and build relations. During the oral stage, our thought got externalized through our speech. When we discovered writing this externalization was expanded. Our signature then began to stand for us. Our performance began to stand for us in the printed mark sheets. Our landholdings began to stand for our ownership because of a printed official paper. This is why Serres says we were dominated by the page. We lived and some of us continue to live a paginated life. We were grandchildren of writing and children of the book. But the book is fast dying. Our paginated life is disturbed. The new generation of our students is living by the touch of their thumb. While we can interrogate the disciplining practices of the classroom and the disciples that were taught inside it, we have to hesitatingly agree that the new condition that has taken captive our young generation is not all that is liberative. There are very real dangers of them being taken co-opted by the logic of society of control ensuring the conversion of their life habits into the image and likeness of the capitalist mode of production and consumption.

With the growing mobile technologies, the disciplinary society has crumbled and we have entered a society of control. Serres describes our plight as replicating the de-capitation of St. Denis who on being executed by the Roman emperor during the persecution, miraculously walked up the hill with his decapitated head in his hands. Serres finds the image of Bishop Denis fit to describe the plight of our new generation which he describes as decapitated and walking with the head in the hands (in the form of their computers). Hence,  our condition is truly precarious. The deductive reason for the classroom does not work against the aesthetic allurements of the new media. This is why the new pedagogy has the challenge to produce a dialogue between teachers, students and the new media. This is required to produce education that will produce subjects that are able to govern themselves. Although Michel Foucault has problems with this self-policing induced by a panopticon, in this case, the kind of self-governance that we are taking is a self-care that Foucault himself has been promoting in the later part of his work.

The breakdown of the platonic cave means that we no longer have docile bodies. What we have are moving bodies that have moved away from inward introspection making self-care a difficult option. We have the challenge to lead our students who are overly extroverted, digressed, distracted and who no longer fit within the walls of the classroom. When knowledge is just one click away, the walls of the classrooms certainly cannot stand firm. This does not free us from our responsibility to seek emancipation from the society of control. Perhaps, we are once again thrown into a Socratic conundrum that challenges us to initiate our students to know themselves. This self-knowledge besides being a virtue will maximize creative energy especially when knowledge is just a click away. This value-based creativity will enable our new generation to navigate through the muddled water and remain authentic and value-laden. Perhaps, we have to focus completely on the competence of our students like the French master Jacotot did whose narrative has been beautifully narrated by Jacques Racier in his book, Ignorant Master. This belief in the emancipative capacity of the students is the starting point of generating of a pedagogy that will enable our students to resist the society of control. This will bring about paidagogos from its roots paidos ( children) and agein (leading)–leading us to resist the capitalist logic of production and consumption.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao