Notes towards the imagined geographies of the classroom
The imaginary , it transpires, is geo-historical, taking its spatio-temporal dimensions from sensory experience while re-articulating them, making torsions, toruses, Klein bottles and Mobius bands of them, across subjects, across generations, altering our understanding of materiality and the material world and our understanding of what matters to ‘us’ (‘we’, who learn), the ‘we’ constituted by the character of our intersubjectivity, our transindividuality, our implication in the world, and complication of the world …
In this case, we are implicated in the imaginary geo-historical, spatio-temporality of ‘the classroom’ and ‘classroom teaching’.
Edward Power (1962) argues that, contrary to the often expressed view that the movement for popular (public, ‘mass’) education began with the Protestant Revolt or the Catholic Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries, it actually belongs to the 18th and 19th centuries. It is to be found, he argues, as part of the rising tide of nationalism and the emergence of the nation state. Once the state began to realise the worth of education as an effective instrument for achieving political objectives, both secular and religious forces were mobilised and together they accelerated the whole process of popular education.
One of the most effective groups in this formation, Power notes, was the Brothers of the Christian Schools. The founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools was St. John Baptist de La Salle. Historically, La Salle was one of the greatest practical pioneers of education for ordinary people, first in France and later in the rest of the world.
To make their limited resources stretch as far as possible, the Brothers perfected the method of teaching large groups of 30-40 students, thereby inaugurating the simultaneous or class method of teaching. The simultaneous method involves one person, the teacher, reading while others follow along pointing to the words and reading them silently (Fecker, Greenwood and Harrigan, 2010). The class method is one of the keys to popular education.
By the use of the simultaneous or class method a large number of children of the same intellectual development could be taught together. Although this method had been employed in the universities for a long time, in the common schools the individual method was adhered to. The class method of teaching, replacing the older, more cumbersome individual or tutorial methods, made conceivable and possible a broad inclusive programme of elementary education open to all children of all people.
La Salle required all his teachers to give the same lesson to all the pupils of a class, to question them constantly, to maintain discipline and have silence observed.
A consequence of this new method of teaching was the dividing up of the children into distinct classes according to their attainments, and later on, the formation of sections in classes in which the children were too numerous or too unequal in mental development. La Salle firmly believed in providing both schooling and education by incorporating manners, civility, and most importantly, religion into the curriculum. Education involves the acquisition of knowledge and skills through instruction. Schooling is much more specific in that it requires that learning take place in a school. His students, the children of the poor and working classes, were accustomed to being left to roam the streets while their parents worked to provide food and shelter often working up to eleven hours a day in the winter and up to sixteen in the summer months (La Salle, 1696-1706, p. 8). These were children denied both the opportunity for schooling, as primary charity schools were non-existent, and education, as their parents had neither the time nor the background to teach them.
The simultaneous method was one of two pedagogic innovations that he set out in the “Conduite des écoles”. The other was the employment of the vernacular language in teaching reading. Although teaching the pupils to read the vernacular language, rather than putting a Latin book into their hands, which they did not understand, was a very simple matter, hardly any educator, except the masters of the schools of Port-Royal in 1643, had thought of so doing. The Port-Royal masters, like their schools, were short lived, so their innovations and experimentations had little influence on general pedagogy.
Therefore, even though they were not the actual founders nor advocated for them, there is a sense in which the Brothers of the Christian Schools cleared the political and pedagogical avenues for common schools by perfecting economical and effective means for educating large groups of elementary school students.
 As Drucilla Cornell (2019) remarks, “we have to understand exactly why the body, from the very beginning, needs to be able to protect itself as a whole, even when that “who” is indeed imaginary.”
For a discussion of the imaginary, see the following texts:
Cornell, D. (1995). The Imaginary Domain: Abortion, Pornography and Sexual Harassment. London: Routledge.
Cornell, D. (2019). The Fragility of persons and the need for the Imaginary domain. Amor Mundi, 17 March 2019. Available from http://hac.bard.edu/news/ [Accessed 18 March 2019].
Iser, W. (1990). The Aesthetic and the imaginary. In: The States of ‘Theory’: history, art, and critical discourse. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 201–220.
Lacan, J. (1988). The Topic of the Imaginary. In The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book I: Freud’s Papers on Technique, edited by J-A Miller). New York, NY: Norton.
Metz, C. (1975). The Imaginary Signifier. Screen 16 (2): 14–76.
Catholic Online School (2019). Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. Available from https://www.catholic.org/encyclopedia/view.php?id=6140 [Accessed 19 March 2019]
Fecker, J., Greenwood, K. and Harrigan, J. (2010). The Educational Theory of John Baptist de La Salle. New Foundations. Available from http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/LaSalle.html [Accessed 20 March 2019].
La Salle, J. (1696-1706). Religious Instructions and Exercises of Piety for the Christian Schools. Rhiems: La Salle.
Power, E.J. (1962). Persistent myths in the history of education. HIstory of Education Quarterly, 2 (3), 140–151. Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/367095 [Accessed 18 July 2018].
Timeline of the history of education in England by Derek Gillard: http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history/timeline.html