Teaching From the Clinic to Classroom

Today I was giving some thought to the relationship between teaching in the classroom and teaching in the clinic. 

The two forms of teaching do not begin with – nor do they end with – the same goal. In the case of the clinic, the goal is typically, though not always, the alignment of the analysand with his or her truth. Thus, one must get the obsessional neurotic to take responsibility for the Other which he actively denies. Similarly, one must get the hysterical neurotic to realize that she is fundamentally asking a question about what she is for the Other. So, in the case of the clinic, there are several techniques that can be employed; each depends upon the clinical structure of the analysand whose speech one intervenes into as an Analyst.

For the obsessive, one might find the best practice to be one of continually intervening into the analysand’s speech as as to bring him to the point of recognizing that there really is some Other in the same room as him and that, finally, he can not keep denying the existence of this Other. For the hysteric, such an approach might be counter-productive. One might rather simply allow the hysteric the headroom so that she might associate freely; after all, the hysteric so desires something in the way of knowledge.

Teaching in the classroom often begins from a different premise. Those with in the classroom are either thought of as a unified group (it would be as if they are all obsessives, or as if they are all hysterics) or else they are a “generic” group. In the former case, we know that a classroom has different people, and, clinically speaking, different clinical structures. A hysteric might sit beside an obsessive who might sit beside a latent psychotic, and so on. In the latter case, we presume that there is no clinical structure or precise property of identity which allows us to unite the students into a unified clinical structure and which situates our teaching upon a secure foundation for intervention. I presume, with Alain Badiou, that the students in the classroom are a generic group.

The question then arises: is there no technique of intervention which we can borrow from psychoanalysis which allows us to situate an intervention? If the goal of teaching, all teaching, is to produce change – and to produce change of a really important kind, the kind of change that points at the soul itself – then the teaching of the classroom could, in some sense, be reduced to the teaching of the clinic. Yet, the teacher of the classroom, unlike the clinic, does not undergo the the same ethical training as the psychoanalyst (indeed, few psychoanalysts undergo the sort of ethical training that I am thinking about). Moreover, few teachers in the classroom are trained in technique in the same way that clinicians are trained (indeed, few clinicians are trained in this way!). It seems to me that we have a very Rancierean education system. Allow me to explain.

Immediately, we could presume that Jacques Ranciere’s ‘method of no method’ (as I call it) is the proper technique. Ranciere claimed, for example:

For my part, I really think, we always have to live in several worlds at the same time. Why? Because, precisely, there is really no right model of education. We don’t know, precisely, because there is not a kind of knowledge of the human mind that would really found the right process of education. Basically, the point about emancipation is that there is no right way. If you think of all the reforms in education, they are very often based on the idea that you, that we, must follow something like the right way of lecturing, but we don’t know what the right way of lecturing is. We don’t know where the new starting point is. So the principle of emancipation is, as I learned it from Joseph Jacotot, is that there is no right starting point. The starting point can be everywhere, you know. And also you can use a multiplicity of paths between one point and another point. This means that there is no ideal educational system that you could oppose to the existing one.

The problem that I have with Ranciere’s model is that he refuses a model (and here I place the emphasis on the singular “a”). It is by refusing a model of education that he in fact embraces all models. I note with interest the point that he made repetitively with me: the alternative model does not exist. The alternative, then, is in singular; he is against one alternative. This does not imply that he is against all techniques. In fact, it seems to me that his position basically avoids the critique of any single model so as to embrace all of them equally, on equal footing. But is this not what we currently have in the university system? We do not have standardized teaching – thankfully – and yet we also do not have any universal regard for an ethics or explicit pedagogy.

My own approach is to begin with the assumption that a generic group of students is the basis for a rejection of the alternative. It means that we ought to be favour of many approaches. For Ranciere, it seems to me, the embrace of many approaches implies that one accept or tolerate all approaches. Anything goes! Experiment, experiment, experiment!

But, it seems to me that when we use many approaches in the single classroom we are deliberately constructing an obscure discourse. Ranciere teaches us to embrace many models of education across the classrooms – and I want to embrace many models of education within the classroom.

Lacan himself was able to, on the one hand, provoke hysterics and obsessives alike, during the course of his teaching. Within several sentences he was speaking to all of us without employing a single discourse, he was employing all discourses which counteract the discourse of the one model which the students in the classroom, hysterics and obsessives alike, have come to expect from a university education. Within his seminar he employed many models of transmission – and not just one, as the Analyst’s discourse that he so elaborated in his 17th seminar seems to make us believe.

The problem is that the radical professor who accepts many approaches typically reduces these approaches to those which are themselves hysterical and obsessive. Is it any wonder that the classroom has become the place of pure enjoyment? Today students get off on Media Studies courses, for example, precisely because these courses permit them to enjoy playing video games in a university setting, experiment with Twitter, and so on. Participatory education today means that the teacher has truly become the ignorant schoolmaster who gets paid the big bucks for giving students exactly what they already have.

To embrace many models within the classroom does not mean that we embrace the models that already exist. Nor does it mean that we embrace the notion of pure experimentation – as if we are just brilliant minds without any security from tradition or discipline. Rather, it requires that we embrace the classroom as if there were several clinical structures within it. What this means, precisely, I’m not yet sure.

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