NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

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Neshan 45

Guest Editor

Adjuster, Cop, Or Ignorant Schoolmaster

Pouya Ahmadi

In his account of the 1991 feature film, The Adjuster, Atom Egoyan portrays insurance agent Noah Render, who attempts to restore the damaged lives of his clients through unorthodox methods. His code — “You may not know it yet, but you’re in shock.” — acts as a gateway into the lives of his clients. He assures them that they will eventually return to their normal lives after placing them in designated hotels for a period of time and slowly inserting himself into their lives without their realizing. Noah and his family live in a show-flat in what appears to be a no-place surrounded by abandoned billboards. One day Bubba, a filmmaker, appears at their doorstep and tells them he wants to make a movie in their house. Without their knowing it, Bubba inserts himself into Noah’s family’s life soon after, just like Noah did in the case of his own clients.

With its fundamentally radical and yet rigid approach, the modernist design pedagogy — and what came after known as the International Style and its own set of modernist deriven rules — eventually became the standard / mainstream educational model which today is suffering from its own limited prescriptive and homogenizing agenda. Many schools across the globe (and more specifically in the West) adapted their methodologies to reflect the newly established wisdom in central Europe. Schools such as the Bauhaus and Ulm became the models for many others in Europe and the United States which ended up refining and regurgitating the same fundamentals, giving birth to the phenomenon of the modernist teacher.

The modernist teacher is many things, but most importantly is an adjuster. S/he is adamant to correct and discipline the faulty students. S/he does it the one and only way the modernists did by prescribing the same solution for every possible scenario. S/he is predictable and therefore reliable. S/he follows the method that has worked for many years and believes that will work for every single student regardless of their background, economics, race and gender. S/he is the master, knows the problem when s/he sees one and knows how to fix it. In her/his view, the student (apprentice) is ignorant and uncultured, and must be saved from her-/himself and what s/he wants. To them, s/he says: “You may not know it yet, but you’re in shock.” The modernist teacher is essentially a cop. Published by the Situationist International in 1971, “All teachers are cops!”, an illustration of a riot police figure is compared to a schoolteacher. Her/his gears are referred to as university degree (the helmet), sociology (face-shield), humanism (baton), hipness (shield) and so forth. Much like the teacher figure in Alan Parker’s feature film The Wall (1982), the relationship between the teacher and student is that of the oppressor and oppressed. In this equation (which is still very common today), the student has little to no agency over the work s/he does. S/he is a blind follower of rules, of what s/he is told to be right or wrong without questioning any of it. To put it more directly, the student (oppressed) is dehumanized by the network of oppressive systems (the institution and its teachers). How can this system overturn itself? 

What comes forth is a series of notes on and around design education today. It looks at alternative and inclusive modes of pedagogy that refuses to undermine the position of the student. Rather it aims to seek ways in which the educational setting operates as a collective that questions the existing hierarchical and exclusive models of intellectual emancipation. The term, “intellectual emancipation,” was originally coined by the exiled French teacher, Joseph Jacotot, who discovered an unconventional pedagogical model that shook Europe in 1818. His method would allow an illiterate person to teach a group, what is now known as the ignorant schoolmaster. By shifting the focus from the master-apprentice model to a collective one, where every member of the group is equally responsible for elevating the level of discourse and educating themselves, the role of the teacher radically changes. In such setting, the one-way dehumanising knowledge transfer mode transforms into an inclusive and self-reflective communication where the grounds are leveled for all parties. Hence, the student’s values and viewpoints are equally respected and reflected in the group, allowing for a richer, more diverse, and inclusive educational setting. With that in mind, consider reading the following essays.

Pouya Ahmadi

is a Chicago-based typographer and art director. He is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Chicago—School of Design—and an editorial board member ​of Neshan magazine focusing on contemporary graphic design and the visual arts. Pouya's work has been showcased by It'sNiceThat, AIGA Eye on Design, People of Print, Grafik, Etapes,​ ​Type Directors Club, Print Magazine, and many others. Pouya holds a MA/MAS degree in Visual Communication from the Basel School of Design in Switzerland and an MFA in Graphic Design from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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