Unlearning

I recently gave a talk at a wonderful conference on “Pedagogies of Unlearning” (see link) and was impressed once again by the similarities between educational and psychoanalytic theory. Unlearning, for those unfamiliar with the term, has a few different meanings, but in a nutshell, it means we have to change our minds, unlearn old things, resist feeling that we’ve already learned what we need to learn; and if we are teachers, we need to figure out how to unsettle or even eschew “explanation.”  The convergence was modeled by, among others, Deborah Britzman’s talk on writer’s block (see link), which raised the question of the temporality of the assignment (whether one given to ourselves or by others), and why we so readily feel that we don’t have enough time to write (well)–for that matter, why we ensure we don’t have enough time, by procrastinating, which is part of the writing process for so many of us, not necessarily simply an obstacle to it.  Britzman’s talk set me to thinking about insurance companies’ insistence on treatment plans and short-term or once-a-month psychotherapy, which is perhaps analogous to the so-called “student success” movement’s emphasis on “progress to the degree,” i.e. getting rid of students who want or need to take their time, and getting rid of programs that don’t contribute in any obvious way to zeroing in on the degree per se.  The student success movement, in essence, opposes what is known as “enrichment” as a needed component of education, e.g. courses in English for new immigrants, painting classes for the elderly, art and music appreciation classes, and much much more.  (I discuss this in “Duologue” in connection with recent efforts to take accreditation away from the City College of San Francisco.)  I believe one of the most important arguments for psychoanalysis as a technique is precisely that it gives the patient time.  This is partly because time is precisely what trauma sufferers didn’t get; by definition, trauma means that you haven’t had time to prepare, so you’re overwhelmed.  To not be hurried along is vital to un/learning, because we get attached to ideas, which makes them hard to give up; mourning takes time.  So does working through other kinds of attachments (to old expectations about relationships, for example).  Relentless speed-up, of course, makes this difficult, and I think it’s responsible for a lot of the psychological malaise in and around us; we’re rarely allowed to “stay” anywhere for awhile to explore where we are, so trauma is always in the air, or just around the corner.  So, in contrast to conventional wisdom, I want to say to my students as well as to my patients:  take your time.  Take your time.  Take your time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s