The George Washington University-GSEHD
Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) & Educational Technology Leadership (ETL)
Curriculum Theory - TRED 325
Instructor: Dr. Brian Casemore
Nada's ESL Island
Curriculum Theory
Psychoanalysis and Education
Education, One of the Impossible Professions
Based on Britzman (2009): “The Very Thought of Education” - Chapter 7: The Impossible Professions

By Nada Salem Abisamra

April 15, 2010

            Success is the engine that drives every single one of us. It is our ultimate career goal, no matter what profession we have chosen, even if it is one of those Freud called “The Impossible Professions” in 1925, in his preface to August Aichhorn's text "Wayward Youth." Those impossible professions are: educating, healing, and governing. According to Merriam-Webster, impossible means “incapable of being done, attained, or fulfilled.” Does this mean that educators’, psychoanalysts’, and politicians’ jobs cannot be fulfilled? That those professionals cannot reach success? For the sake of this paper, I shall only tackle education, although Britzman’s main focus was on psychoanalysis. I have read between the lines (as Britzman recommended at the beginning of the book), and I shall use inferences in order to study, first, the reasons why education is considered an impossible profession; second, what education, as a profession, asks of us; third, how we react to that; and fourth, how we can make education a Possible Profession so that educators can reach fulfillment and success.
Why is education considered an Impossible Profession?
            Education is considered an impossible profession because it deals with internal conflicts of love and hate that it prefers to deny; it deals with emotions, with frustrations of never reaching an ideal outcome. Education is an impossible profession because it is subjective and cannot do without its subjectivity: it avoids critique and, according to Britzman, "there is no education without a critique of education" (p. 138). Education is accused of narcissism: it is not altruistic, neutral, or objective, as it claims to be; it proposes a discontinuity, a lack it represses, negates, and projects onto others; it reminds us of what is most incomplete, arbitrary, and archaic in us: it might remind us of our infancy or it might subject us to our own unanswered questions. Education is affected by transference, which is, Britzman argues, "an unconscious exchange of knowledge and love but also hatred and aggression" (p. 136). Education is depressive since it is highly affected by our personal quest for love and desire for knowledge, which is where, Britzman states, we feel most "incomplete, lonely, and alienated" (p. 130). Education consists of "finding our selves with others" (p. 131); it depends on enlivening emotional life, our susceptibility to the other, and our capacity to passionately attach our love to anything or anyone for no reason at all. Moreover, education exhibits an affective logic that proceeds from emotions. Whereas learning is vulnerable and uncertain, education does not tolerate uncertainty. Finally, education attempts to handle the uncontrollable. The educator will fail, Britzman says, "particularly if he/she has expectations and a plan to impose" (p. 135) and does not accept to deviate from them or tailor them to students’ needs.
What does education ask of us?
According to Britzman (2009), education, as an impossible profession, asks of us to think of knowledge as whole, ultimate. Education asks us to question the validity of our actions and reflect on the unrepresentable, the inexpressible. It asks us to consider what might happen when, because we feel so certain, we do not question things. It asks us to think of alternatives that haven't occurred to us, and to reason about our thinking, trying to point out our inhibitions, our suppressed thoughts and our fears. It asks us to be aware of the possibility of wishful thinking being mistaken for real progress; to think about and beware of our egocentric reasoning that makes us only focus on our own needs and urges. Finally, it asks us to work, to succeed, to reach ideal objectives, despite our lack of knowledge that we are not even trained to admit.
How do we react to what education, as an Impossible Profession, asks of us?
Having been made to believe that knowledge is and should be absolute, according to Freud (1925), we just resist anything that makes us question this fact. Our feelings are hurt by the subject matter of theory; we do not know and do not want to know why we have theory, which is, as Lacan (1998) argues, a “passion for ignorance” (p. 121). It is difficult for us to admit that there are things that we might not want to know about, but that we need to know. Moreover, our unconscious does not want to know what our ego does not want to know, including its mechanisms of defense against anxiety (reasoning, suppression, denial, and struggle). We refuse to go into the uncertain and give up the pleasures of certainty: we do not want to question what we think is true and intuitive, and exchange it for "something far disturbing and uncertain" (p. 129). We need the certainty we have gotten used to having. We refuse to admit our human narcissism, to challenge our omnipotence and lack of altruism, and to question our ideals and everything we think we stand for.
How can we make education a Possible Profession so that educators can reach fulfillment and success?
The answer to this question is, to my mind, the major goal of this chapter, if not of the whole book. The most important thing is to eliminate the factor of anxiety and keep our affective filter low in order for learning to take place. According to Krashen (1985), anxiety raises our affective filter which then forms a 'mental block' that prevents comprehensible input from being used for learning. The British Army adage “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” (5 Ps), if followed, does help a lot to reduce anxiety. Besides, we need to have realistic expectations of ourselves (our knowledge and what is required of us) and of our students. The mere realization that it is perfectly legitimate, and even critical to accept the fact that we do not know it all, that there is no absolute knowledge, that the content we know is and will always be, as Britzman said, "under construction" (p. 141), a work in progress, makes it much easier for us to practice our profession: it totally eliminates the anxiety that we would definitely feel when we are expected to be, as Mr. B. (Britzman, 2009) thought, THE source of knowledge, that perfect authoritative figure who always knows how to act and react, who is always calm, who innately has the right solutions to all kinds of problems, and is always certain of what to do. No more stage frights, no more nervousness, no more anger and frustration, no more aggressivity and feelings of inadequacy; just an acceptance of our imperfection and a constant endeavor to learn more and do our best.** We no longer worry about our qualifications and our right to teach (this does not mean, however, that we should not have the right qualifications to teach). We are now able to strive to overcome all kinds of barriers to learning since we know that we need to work with uncertainty, with trial and error. We can now accept the idea of being incomplete, of no longer being "the subject supposed to know" (p. 144), who is the ideal person, who has mastery and expertise. Errors and accidents do and always will exist. This chapter, “The Impossible Professions,” however overwhelming, demoralizing and depressing at times it might seem to be for some, does, in reality, give us the perfect excuse for not having to know it all in our profession, hereby eliminating the biggest factor that makes this profession impossible. It helps us accept uncertainty, accept the fact that no matter how much we think about something, our thought will always be limited. It helps us accept our constant need for self-analysis. It helps us admit, understand, and tolerate our own ignorance, and always seek the wisdom of accepting imperfections. It helps us accept the fact that “pedagogy is unpredictable, incomplete..." (Silin, 2003, p. 265). Last but not least, it helps us shed that horrible feeling of guilt that we experience every time we are asked a question whose answer we do not know, every time we encounter a problem that we do not manage to solve on the spot.
In conclusion, we have seen that once we have understood the reasons why education was labeled an “impossible profession,” we can turn things around and make it a possible profession by freeing it of all the aspects that make it impossible. This is no easy task, but the emotional intelligence (EI, EIQ, or EQ) concept can definitely help with this task. Whereas the measure for success used to be mainly IQ, it no longer is. EQ now (along with emotionality, honesty, luck, and socioeconomic status) plays a huge role in it. According to Daniel Goleman (1995), EQ consists, first, of knowing our emotions (self-awareness, which is expressed in Britzman as thinking in order to deal with our emotions, and as “learning one's emotional situation,” p. 131); second, EQ consists of managing our emotions; third, of motivating ourselves; fourth, of recognizing emotions in others (empathy); and fifth, of handling relationships (also expressed in Britzman as furthering emotional contact). Hence, in order to help make education a possible profession, we need to train teachers to be emotionally intelligent so that they, in turn, can train their students to be so, since EQ is now an important measure for success. I have one final question: this chapter was mainly about psychoanalysis which is today an "embattled discipline" (Fonagy, 2003, p. 73); is the future of education intertwined with the future of psychoanalysis? We need to keep in mind that a world without psychoanalysis might survive; but can a world without education survive?

** I just started taking a Zumba dance class. I love dancing so much! There is no other activity that I love more. When I was young, I would spend endless hours dancing at parties. There I was, a few days ago, expecting myself to do exactly what the dancing teacher was doing... and with elegance and grace. Obviously, I couldn't. I was so frustrated. I wanted to leave the room. I wanted to quit that hobby. How come I, who had danced so well in the past, could not dance exactly as the teacher was dancing, if not better? I posed a little, shot a quick look at the other ladies who, like me, were taking the Zumba class, and, what I saw was so far from perfection... each one was just doing her best... but was far from following the teacher's exact steps. Why was I so demanding of myself? Why did I want perfection? There is no such thing as perfection, just as there is no such thing as ultimate knowledge. I do have good dancing abilities... I am here to learn more, and I am not supposed to be perfect. Only when I realized that perfection was not required of me did I manage to shake off that feeling of anxiety, of expecting more than I could give, and started to dance. Was I perfect? Of course not. But did I try? Definitely! And it was just the beginning. It is the same for teachers; the same for all kinds of students. If we want good results, we should not aim higher than possible. We should have realistic expectations, go step by step, and only listen to the positive voice in our minds.

For notes about chap. 7, random thoughts about teaching, relevant links, and glossary/definitions
Go to:

NEW...Final Paper:...NEW
"Emotions and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) in Curriculum Theory:
on Incorporating EQ Skills in Teacher Education"

            • Emotions and Education as an Impossible Profession
            • Emotions in Curriculum Theory: Based on Taubman, Powell & Barber, Salvio, and Silin
            • Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
            • Criticisms of Emotional Intelligence
            • On Incorporating EQ Skills in Teacher Education

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