Kalantzis and Cope on Petrus Ramus

Title Page from Peter Ramus, 'The Way of Geometry' (1569; English Translation, 1636)

The Ramus texts were very different from the argumentative mode of education in the Ancient Greece and Rome to which these early modern texts referred—the essentially oral and dialogical discourses of dialectic and rhetoric. Instead, knowledge was reconstituted through written language, and carefully arranged in a spatial order. No longer was learning founded on speaking and its sounds, but on the printed page in which directives to the source of knowledge could now take the form of ‘look at page seven, line three, the fourth word’. The Ramus texts were based on fixed and repeated relations—generalisable abstractly from student to student, faithfully reproducing the logic of the printer’s form. They also implied a particular orientation to knowledge and the world. The text portrayed the world ‘objectively’ such that there was no engagement outside of itself, again in contrast to the practices of Socratic dialogue. There appeared to be no difficulties with the knowledge or any alternative points of view. The contents were presented as self-evident and self-contained. Knowledge was supposed to be such that it could be printed in dichotomised outlines that showed how it was all organised spatially in itself and thus in the mind, too.

Pages from Peter Ramus, 'The Way of Geometry'

Knowledge, in other words, appeared as objective and universal truth. The language of the text deliberately presented itself as voiceless and depersonalised.

The very possibility of such apparently universal, objective knowledge was a cultural consequence of new pressures towards standardisation and the rise of technocratic rationality. With the spread of printing came a proliferation of grammar texts. Vernacular languages had previously been primarily oral and highly variable from region to region and dialect to dialect. Written down, these languages became more standard and uniform. Indeed, printers themselves were key figures in standardising the spelling and grammar of modern European languages. The idea that there might be ‘standard’ or objectively ‘correct’ usage, in other words, was a new cultural phenomenon. All this added up to a cultural logic never before encountered in human history, or at least not in quite this way. This logic was to form the initial basis of curriculum mass-institutionalised schooling as it was introduced to most parts of the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.