The question of difference when raised within the realm of education ignites tension and emotionality that can result in traumatic disruptions and breakdowns. Affective elements of education can injure, inasmuch as they can facilitate healing. What determines whether one is hurting or healing in the classroom appears to come down to the differences that lie between one and the other. Critical social justice frameworks postulate that a difference in privilege means one learner feels empowered where another learner feels oppressed. However, a major goal of this book is to extrapolate the possibilities that difference, therefore privilege, can offer the practice of education. In working through this book, I aimed to find a way to utilise both the healing and traumatic elements of difference in enacting social justice within classrooms.
My method of psychoanalytic auto-ethnography placed the narrative of the subject at the center of the classroom. I weaved my own experiences of socialisation at home and school within the narratives of three young people faced with trauma in segregated society and schooling. My reading and understanding of the memoirs depended as much on how the lives were written as it did on how I read the accounts. This provided a way of appraising the role of education, past, present, and future in the enactment of social justice for individuals in society. Albeit simplistic, this view connected my own experiences to the experiences of strangers far removed from me through time and space. The quality of atemporality in the discourse of social justice means narratives always maintain their value, society always stands accountable for oppression, and education always has a role to play in all of it.
My ultimate campaign is for a practice of love and hope at the centre of pedagogy, which would privilege those labelled oppressed as well as those condemned as oppressors. Sharon Todd says of the practice of love in the classroom: we cannot create a simple list of expected behaviours and have them function in the modality of being. She says we cannot tell students that this kind of love is what you ought to feel, and if you feel otherwise, you are somehow morally impaired. When Trump won the American presidential elections through an ideological value that for many people correspondences with social justice – democracy, the result was devastating for many. Through social media, American voters in support of Trump were condemned as morally impaired. Trump’s opponents felt he consistently displayed a disregard for social justice and campaigned on the promise of regression to oppressive values for women, immigrants, and racialized people. The collapse of meaning in many of the ideological values Americans had come to view as indicative of their national identity brought a sense of disillusionment and fear. I believe that is why Trump’s slogan “make America great again” ultimately triggered perverse reactions across the US, in Canada, and even in the UK.
The social disillusionment and fear did not evade the classroom. If anything, it invaded education at all levels in some very disturbing ways. On social media, educators expressed a desire to reassure their students, even as they grappled with their own fears and discouragement. The term “safe space” came up many times. What is safe space, and how can an educator or society create a safe space? If a child whose parents voted for Donald Trump turned up to a classroom where those who supported Trump were deemed morally impaired, would that be a safe space for him? How would that child feel? How would children who listened constantly to disillusioned parents in support of or against Trump feel in an environment where the teacher deemed one group wrong and the other right? Was making America great again a question of moral impairment? Did those who liked that idea want it at the expense of others or were they fearful of losing what little power they felt they possessed? Terms like “white flight” and “white fright” raised and shot down by opposing views meant social justice for one group is perceived as a violation of freedom for another. As in the case of Professor Peterson who teaches psychology at UofT. He perceives the enactment of social justice for LGBTQ people as a violation of his freedom of speech and denounces “political correctness” as a prohibition of his jouissance. Like Donald Trump, he represents a group of people with castration anxiety that propels them to destroy what they perceive as jouissance in others and reject perceived prohibitions of their own pleasure. Politics is a cloudy business and the same dark clouds can settle within the classroom eradicating love and hope whilst instilling fear.
These dynamics are relevant to my work because they show the need to reconsider what we mean by social justice. If democracy placed an allegedly morally impaired man at the helm of a free country, he must be appealing to someone’s need for social justice. Therefore, social justice is subjective and not something that can be designated by an Other. It is something individuals seek for and work for from whatever position they occupy. For those who voted for Donald Trump, he represents social justice. A lack of definition and clarity in the enactment of social justice makes intervention impossible and yet ongoing efforts to define social justice for one group present barriers for another. Within such conflicts, those with the authority to intervene do not necessarily do so because they are unclear as to what exactly constitutes social justice. This is the point I make in my book: social justice is subjective and regardless of race, gender or sexuality, the call for social justice issues from one’s personal experiences of oppression. I found especially in examining Glen and Mark’s narratives that once false dichotomies are removed, social oppression is an evil with which all must contend from diverse standpoints. Society as Other inflicts trauma for individuals caught on either side of the divide. Oppression takes advantage of difference and establishes a system of exclusion based on the fantasies people create in their vulnerable moments. I believe that is why “white flight” and “white fright” should not be so easily dismissed as ‘excuses.’
Acknowledging the false dichotomies on which entire fields of thought are formulated moves forward the agenda for a more accurate appraisal of the emotional subject within the classroom. In my conclusion, I admit I do not possess the answers to the question of safe space but my idea of privileged space, formulated through psychoanalytic paradigms offers the possibility of a classroom in which those deemed oppressed or oppressor can engage one another’s realities critically, empathically, and most importantly openly, creating opportunities of transformation for both subjectivities.
In Canada, a claim of moral superiority over the US, based on notions of multiculturalism belies the evident discord within its borders and classrooms. Expressions of Trump inspired racism and xenophobia, were denounced as “unCanadian” establishing a contextual dichotomy of Canadian and American. Such labels issue from the same fundamental fantasy of difference, which serves to fulfil subjective agendas. The use of narratives in curriculum exposes these agendas and help individuals understand the positionality of the other. Through narrative analysis, through life writing, and through pedagogy students encounter subjective fantasies and become witnesses to the breakdowns within the wider discourse of society. Once individuals become cognitive of subjective lack, it is possible to grapple with institutional oppression in society. My formulation of privileged space bears great relevance for critical race theory and other social justice frameworks that would dictate to whom and how social justice applies. At the same time, I reframe contemporary crises in so-called multicultural coursework, social justice pedagogy, and general classroom dynamics by exposing the underlying affect and psychopathologies that influence the learning outcomes.
I have presented a theoretical paradigm for pedagogy formulated through practical experience within the therapeutic clinic. As I concluded in my book, psychoanalytic paradigms offer opportunities for generativity for teachers. As classrooms become privileged spaces where those learning can connect and communicate with a central figure – the teacher – who feels empowered to teach through a practice of love and hope, students are empowered to learn, to encounter, to work through the more troubling and difficult aspects of humanity. My hope expressed through this book is to foster such an environment where subjective experiences, affect, hopes, desires, and lack can contribute to meaningful learning and teaching; and more importantly, lead to meaningful enactments of social justice.