Killing the Schoolmaster

Killing the Schoolmaster

Written by T. M. Suffield |
Sunday, September 3, 2023

Rancière wants to remove our ability to stand on the shoulders of others. I recall Anthony Thiselton drilling into me in his hermeneutics classes that we were pygmies on the shoulders of giants. Rancière would have us cut the giants off at the knees and then merrily dance into the sunset. As Christians we must instead confess that the tradition matters, the past matters, those who have gone before us show us the way.

Some time last century Nietzsche killed God, or reported on our murder of the divine, anyway.

As the trends and forces which made him declare that God was dead accelerated we have systematically done the same to each authority figure we encountered, in diminishing scales of authority like repeatedly smashing Russian dolls, until they are all gone.

To have autonomy we have to not only kill God, but we must murder each authority figure that we find. After we subsume Nietzsche’s will to power it’s an inevitable climb up a hill of skulls. We become intellectual Oedipus’ who have to overturn the wisdom of the masters. We’ve stopped doing so actively long ago, instead we passively kill the wise daily.

This has allowed us to each enthrone ourselves as god of our demesne, and no god brooks rivals. So we separate one from another, each man an island, unmoored and solipsistically floating, lonely as a cloud.

Ok, so that’s overstated and overwrought—not least because reports of the Lord’s demise were greatly exaggerated, go and have a peek in the tomb—but what has happened in the last couple of centuries is a successive dethroning of God from every arena of public and private life. This is then followed, inevitably because vacuums must be filled, with a slow but inexorable enthroning of the self in each throne we find.

This is the backdrop, or part of it, that created the phenomenon we name (and inhabit) ‘expressive individualism.’ The problems with community that persist in our societies, well documented at this point, exist for all manner of structural reasons—and it can be difficult to tell cart from horse. However we arrived, we find ourselves in a place where we place community after our selves. I decry it and yet I do it, a product of the social imaginary in which I live and breath and have my being, it is difficult to not view the world through the prism of my ‘identity’ and sense of self.

Yet if we can break back into reality we might just discover a richer, wider, surprising world that wants to teach us stories of its and our maker. We might discover the world is much stranger and more delightful than we give it credit for, having explained away the mysteriousness and tied everything up in neat boxes. We’re wrong of course, but we need to begin to see the world again, to see the reality that everything we encounter participates in and points towards.

To see reality we will need teachers, and we’ve killed them all. Thank the Lord he’s the God of resurrection.

Not so long ago I worked at a different University where I was responsible for helping academics develop their pedagogy. This included evidence-based evaluations of whether new teaching methods ‘worked,’ coaching academics on their practice, and reading a lot of academic studies in pedagogic journals.

Once at a conference we were extolled the virtues of Jacques Rancière, a philosopher who was interested in ‘emancipatory pedagogy’ among other ideas.

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