Counselling, Mindfullness, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy

Another brick in the Wall?

Wall“In order to learn, one must want something, notice something, do something, and get something.” This maxim by Dollard and Miller covers a number of areas. From children being taught the value of saving up for something to students studying for a qualification to an organisation learning about itself. I teach in a university and have seen how education has changed over the years. When I trained as a teacher in the 1970’s we were given our timetable and some reading. What we did was up to us. We could attend lectures or not. We could read around our subject . Or not. Today my students have the entirety of the Web to help them. We give very specific learning objectives for both individual lectures as well as the entire module. We post links to web sites;  give You Tube extracts and recommend course texts. ( We can check up on what each student is doing. Have they looked at the resources we have given them? When did they last log in? Big Brother really can watch them.) I am ambivalent about this level of input by academics. It feels as though we infantalise our students and rob them of their chance to learn. How much do they want to know something? Are they prepared to leave the safe paths of prior knowledge and risk finding their own answers? But another part of me understands that I am selling a product and am competing in a market place. So in order to persuade students to come to my university, I have to ensure that they get better “value for money” with me than with a competitor. If this means that my students have more You Tube links, then, apparently, more You Tube there shall be!

This link is of a researcher asking students “What is the purpose of Univerity?” Their answers are fascinating-and reflect current values.

I have friends who read Anglo Saxon, Norse and Celtic or Archaeology and Anthropology. For no better reason than that they were interested in their subject. Today the top three most popular courses are Business and Management studies; Law, and Sociology and  Social Studies (a trend that has, surprisingly, not changed much since the 1970’s) The focus of education is not to pursue knowledge for its own sake but to try and guarantee a job. As someone who teaches Mental Health nursing I warn my students that they cannot unlearn what they learn during their course with us. They will view themselves differently at the end of three years. Their friends and family will view them somewhat differently. Hopefully my students will view their future patients differently after our course. What they cannot do is to return to an imaginary pre-lapsarian state of ignorance and, perhaps, innocence. We upset their world view.  Business Studies does not carry this risk. Learning is dangerous. Particularly when the subject is ourselves.

And here I want to insert a famous piece by Pink Floyd about Education.

That line “All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.” along with the variation “All in all you’re just another brick in the wall” has interesting resonances. Pink Floyd have it sung by children who see teachers as angry and abusive and education as “thought control”. (1979 was also UNICEF‘s Year of the Child which Roger Water’s may or may not have been aware of when he wrote the lyrics for “The Wall”)  All of which makes for good cover but is by no means the whole of the story. Walls serve a  number of purposes. They mark boundaries; they keep people and things safe; they keep danger at bay. They also serve to imprison. To confine. To limit. Sometimes we want and need a wall. Other times we want our freedom. The best walls will have a gate which we can open or close as we need. Here is where Education meets therapy. As a teacher i may not batter down my student’s walls. Nor as a counsellor may I batter down my patient’s walls. In both roles I try to help my students or my patients to think about their walls. What might have happened for this wall to have been built here? How do they feel about the wall? Is it possible to see if there is a gate?

I vividly recall when I was in analysis for the second time being determined that i was not going to use my analyst’s couch. I sat for three sessions in a chair crying hard as we visited painful material. Part of  me was well aware of how helpful the couch would be. Another part of me  saw it a wall that would imprison me. The following wek during another tearful session my analyst gently suggested i re-consider using the couch. i relented. Climbed onto the couch and allowed it to hold me-as my analyst has understood it would. Sometimes walls are helpful. Sometime not!

I wiil come back to these ideas in my next piece but will close with another link. This time from the Institute of Psychoanalysis. the piece is called “What is Psychoanalysis?” but could as easily be “What is Learning?”


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