Becoming: the post-Deleuzian discourse of the good teacher

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I want to try to untangle Alex Moore’s really useful critique of the dominant discourse of ‘the ‘good’ teacher’, published in his book The Good Teacher: Dominant Discourses in Teaching and Teacher Education (2004), from his own use of what I would call a post-Deleuzian discourse of ‘becoming’. [In this week’s video,] Moore reiterates the thought of Deborah Bretzman, in stating that a good teacher is ‘an endless of process of becoming’, contrasting this to a state of ‘being’ a good teacher.

For Alex Moore, this idea of becoming consolidates the overall thesis of The Good Teacher. Moore argues that there are three dominant discourses of the good teacher:

1– charisma/character-based rhetoric
2– reflective practice/the rhetoric of turning inwards and of self-improvement
3– competency/technicist rhetoric

These discourses become problematic when they are adopted monologically, not ‘in concert with one another, or with other, equally instructive discourses’ (p.8). That is, Moore takes issue with the reductiveness latent within each discourse qua discourse; on account of its rhetorical status, and the linguistic, conceptual or epistemic frameworks this rhetorical status suggests (he cites Foucault for this reading of what a ‘discourse’ is).

This is all well and good, but we have to ask ourselves how possible it is to separate a linguistic, conceptual or epistemological framework of becoming from this incisive critique dominant discourses. Can’t ‘becoming’ become reductive too? Is not ‘becoming’ a word, concept or conceptual framework that, if not run in line with other equally instructive discourses, can become monological – to diverge from Foucauldian theories of discourse to Bakhtin’s equally relevant theories around polyphony and dialogism –– can’t ‘becoming’ become a limiting transcendental concept, seeking to integrate all signifying practices of teaching and education, unifying all of the non-events of teaching in reference to an authored ideology of happening, endless processing (of forms? of papers? maybe even a bureaucracy of becoming?), or of changing, of ‘-ing-‘ing?

Looking to its contemporary usage, I think we can begin to identify the linguistic, conceptual and epistemic terminology of becoming with notions of charisma, reflexive self-improvement and even technical competency, at stake in the reductionist model of the good teacher. In this respect, we can begin to challenge the idea that becoming of good teacher in an endless process of teacherly becoming is any less reductive than an idea of being a good teacher in a fixed mode of existence. Indeed, ‘the good teacher’, if this is as Moore suggests in The Good Teacher, a post-1970s construct, is more likely a construct of teacherly goodness founded on and sustained by a post-Deleuzian rhetoric of becoming than on ideas of being. This is not to say that we cannot espouse a model of good teaching on Deleuzian ideas of becoming, however, we must resist the post-Deleuzian interpretation of becoming as implying adaptability, flexibility, messy complexity or the endlessly processual.

The post-Deleuzian discourse of becoming typifies the neoliberal rhetoric of processual flexibilisation. In one instantiation, this language of becoming serves as a catch-all concept for describing and justifying the changed nature of how human labour fits into economic structures. Flexible models of work as a process of becoming allow for humans to be situated as flexibilised, on-demand resources to be exploited as and when. In the context of higher education, the rhetoric of flexible forms and adaptability are latent within the dominant discourse of reflexivity, as the groundwork of ideas of self-development and notions of teachers turning inwards. Teachers are expected to become in a constant process of inward self-assessment where that self is put into a state of questioning. This transcendental concept of reflexivity offers up an opportunity to integrate (and quantify… and economise…) all the potential non-events of teaching: sitting in silence while the students write; getting the bus to and from work; talking in a corridor with a colleague about a class you just had. The effective economisation of these non-events play out a broader game of blurring the boundaries between work and play, situating play as non-events of work and work as a non-event of play, so as to subtend all human action under a logic of capital.

The discourse of becoming is equally instrumental in the rhetorical workings of charisma. This character-based rhetoric of the good teacher re-centres didacticism around notions of pedagogical personae. The quality of teaching is down to the personal qualities of the teacher: they are generous, they are kind, they are funny, and so on and so forth. This style of non-schooling runs through our contemporary model of the teacher as charismatic. The teacher as conceptual-personae is a pedagogical model of teaching. We are talking Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson (2006), Whoopi Goldberg in the Sister Act films, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (1989), Jack Black in School of Rock (2003). These teachers are pedagogues who exist ‘with’ the students rather than ‘for’ them. They are ‘there for’, around, morally and culturally schooling rather than facilitating the ‘banking’ of information.

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This relation of information-giver to charismatic conceptual-personae seems to re-express the relation between the subject teacher (didáskalos) and the pedagogue (paidagögus). Mark K. Smith, in his infed.org blogpost ‘What is pedagogy?’, examines the difference between Ancient Greek didactic teachers (social elite school masters) and a rôle closer to a life coach – someone who has to ‘be around‘, ‘be with’, ‘be there for’ to provide moral supervision and cultural compass. The pedagogue rôle was typically fulfilled by a slave, and the racialised history of pedagogy can thus be traced by to perhaps-unexpected documents, such as Plato’s Socratic dialogues, where Socrates cannot believe a slave acts as a ‘tutor’ or master of Lysis; in Seneca, who relates pedagogue teachings as follows: ‘Walk thus and so; eat thus and so, this is the proper conduct for a man and that for a woman; this for a married man and that for a bachelor’; and more recently in Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery (1963), where a black man accompanies a white man, as a ‘bag carrying’ companion. These historical instances are cited by Mark Smith in ‘The Role of the Pedagogue in Galatians’, following N. H. Young ‘Paidagogos: The Social Setting of a Pauline Metaphor’. Doing so, Smith complicates the history of Paulo Freire’s much-cited idea. In Freire’s work, ‘pedagogy’ is the emancipatory style of schooling that can lift a students from socioeconomic deprivation.

Hence, the notion of a ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ is itself grounded in a history of oppression. The pedagogue who can save students in an ideological figure itself indelibly subject to and oppressed by violent structures of racial oppression. This pedagogue provides moral and cultural compass – as Seneca reports, they tell the student how to eat, how to walk, and how to perform one’s gendered identity. To some extent then, the pedagogue schools their student in how to reinforce the social conditions that ensure the continued subjugation of the pedagogue.

To return to the ideal conceptual-personae of the charismatic teacher (or even tothe conceptual-personae of teach’-ing’), to understand how becoming reinforces this discourse we need to turn to the dormant historical linkage between the pedagogue and ideas of becoming, in order to realise the interwoven histories of oppression that underly this ideas. Deleuze’s ideas of becoming start to suggest a coherent thread through his work from his early engagement with Nietzsche. In Nietzsche and Philosophy (based on his doctoral thesis), Deleuze posits the intervention that a philosophy of becoming can make into a philosophy of being. Turning to Ancient Greek materials, as had Nietzsche before he, Deleuze writes that ‘Heraclitus[…] made an affirmation of becoming‘.  He continues, ‘Heraclitus is obscure because he leads us to the threshold of the obscure: what is the being of becoming? What is the being inseparable from that which is becoming? Return is the being of that which becomes. Return is the being of becoming itself, the being which is affirmed in becoming. The eternal return as law of becoming, as justice and as being.’ (p.23). Forgetting the riddles between ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ here, what is interesting is the pedagogical voice that Deleuze adopts. He here occupies the philosophical register of Nietzsche’s writings in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, whilst multiplying that register to simultaneous occupy the voice of Heraclitus, whilst all the while remaining within the register of his own text. Deleuze is a pedagogue who speaks ‘with’ – ‘we’ examine Heraclitus, not he. ‘We’ question – ‘we’ answer – ‘we’ think together. This is no doubt a play on the very notion of eternal return as the theorem of becoming itself revolves through time in an eternity of differential repetitions. Yet it is also a lineage that can help to trace notions of ‘becoming’ back through its Deleuzian arrival on the scene of post-structuralist thought, to its Ancient Greek origins. Lest we forget that Heraclitus also said the following: ‘War is father of all and king of all; and some he manifested as gods, some as men; some he made slaves, some free.’

A discourse of becoming instates the teacher as pedagogue, and this teacher conceptual-personae promises flexible forms of social liberation whilst all the while configuring the social into fixed forms of social exclusion and oppression. These structures are racist at their Ancient Greek origin and in the history traced by Smith via Young; however, under further inspection and reflection I would hazard a guess that the conceptual-personae of the charismatic pedagogue was equally instrumental in enforcing other given social orders, such as ethnicity, nationality, gender, sex, ability and (as examined in a previous blogpost), perhaps even the complex conflation of these orders under the rubric of ‘intelligence’.

Finally, then, to the technicist idea of competency. Though less immediately obvious, the linkage between the use of becoming as a rhetorical device and the notion of a teacher as a competent craftsperson is the swiftest dealt with of the three dominant discourses of the good teacher. It is here that we must speak more gracefully of Deleuze’s task. Regardless of the effect of his writing, Deleuze does not seek to make becoming into a rhetorical device. Far from it, becoming evades all notions of being as the eternal return makes being the structured perception of what is in essence a world that becomes. Hence, the milieu of becoming is a technicist measure. It is an algorithmic, measurable, quantified and transfigured ideologue of becoming, at several antithetical removes from how Deleuze would have used the word.

In sum, while the effort to identify a dominant discourse of the good teacher is really useful and does bring a lot of clarity, it undermines this critical incisiveness to speak of the good teacher as ‘an endless process of becoming’, as if this process could counteract the fixed rhetorical form of pedagogical conceptual-personae. This is not the case, and becoming is not going to serve the redemptive function isolated for it in this model of thinking. Rather, becoming is going to return us back to the linguistic, conceptual and epistemic frameworks that make Ryan Gosling a hero; that mean we must measure ourselves against the UKPSF or eagerly read the latest Green Paper; or that we must stand in a lift and spend three floors considering our consideration of whether we considered our considering in the class we just left three floors considering below…

 

References:

Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (London: Continuum, 2006)

Alex Moore, The Good Teacher: Dominant Discourses in Teaching and Teacher Education (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004)

Annie Condron, ‘Top Ten Must See Teacher Movies’, Available online: http://www.teachhub.com/top-12-must-see-teacher-movies

Andrew Robinson, ‘In Theory | Bakhtin: Dialogism, Polyphony and Heteroglossia,’ Ceasefire Magazine, Available online: https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/in-theory-bakhtin-1/

Graham, Daniel W., “Heraclitus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Available online: https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/heraclitus/

Mark K. Smith, ‘What is pedagogy?’, the encyclopaedia of informal education (2012), Available online: http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/

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