I. Teaching is based on a transference relationship. It is an utterly common experience for teachers to find students enacting all sorts of relationships with them, often based on relations they've had with parents. At some point, that transference has to be broken. The teacher has to give up being the font of all knowledge and insight, and accept a significantly depreciated role as a facilitator, a caretaker, someone with the occasional pastoral function, but no longer the gatekeeper of wisdom. It’s a hell of a comedown.
II. At some point, therefore, you find yourself as a teacher cleft between the natural authoritarian propensities that go with the role and the necessity of acknowledging ignorance. In a way, the teacher’s job isn’t to inform students of what they, ignorant little twits, don’t know. It is to place a different value on not-knowing. It is to enable students to make peace with the fact that not-knowing is the usual state of affairs.
III. We do have a little bit of knowhow to be getting on with — the little bit that necessarily occupies most teaching time and is subject to examination. Beyond that, there is nothing but lack, nothing but the questions which no one knows how to dispose of. And this pittance of knowledge we spend most of our time teaching is there in the best of cases, not to supply all the answers, but merely to help formulate the questions.
IV. That, of course, is not what the UK education system conditions anyone to expect. Right up to higher education, the assessment situation is predicated on the idea that either the teachers or the assigned texts have all the answers you need. The fact that in higher education you are expected to reflect critically on readings and formulate independent arguments may be one reason why the expansion of higher education has been correlated to a general decline in deference and authoritarian values. But even in the higher education system, there is such a terror of being ‘wrong’ that most of the arguments that are presented for assessment are modulations on templates and themes found in the relevant literature.
V. If what is important in education are the questions, then, this isn’t particularly recognised in an education system built mainly on the transmission of dead knowledge. And the questions which, it seems to me, are never addressed in the classroom are those which are paramount: why on earth are you here? What could possibly motivate you to come and sit in this space, jumping through these hoops every week? Why would you comply with these often boring and not always useful tasks? The answer, in most cases, is guilt. Institutions which succeed learn how to manipulate guilt and administer anxiety — and then wonder why students are more stressed out than they have ever been. But the question is, what is your desire? What did you want out of this? Are you here to placate your parents, or disappoint them? Are you here to plan for a career or social insurrection? Do you even know? Isn’t that the most interesting thing about this situation - that you’re here in this classroom, and you don’t even know what brought you here? These questions, relating to the problem of desire (or what pedagogy writers would call motivation), are not centred in modern pedagogical praxis. But if the educational process excludes the subject of desire, if it excludes the gravity of the student’s experience from the process, then it is no wonder that the problem of motivation is largely dealt with through anxiety.
VI. The unknown quantity in relation to anxiety is jouissance. Jouissance is always present in the classroom. What is jouissance? Lacan defined it as something that begins with a tickle and ends in a blaze of petrol. You can't tickle your students and you can't encourage them to throw petrol bombs. Still, they may be tickled, with who knows what consequences.