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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Education is an Event

This is the tentative conclusion of a forthcoming chapter:

Pedagogy of the Event:
A Revolution in Medical Education

Vincenzo Di Nicola

Chapter in:
Žižek and Education
Edited by Antonio Garcia
Foreword by Creston Davis, Afterword by Slavoj Žižek

Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishing
“Transgressions: Cultural Studies and Education” Series 

Conclusion: Education is an Event

What will philosophy say to us? It will say: ‘We must think the event.’ We must think the exception. We must know what we have to say about that which is not ordinary. We must think change in life.
—Alain Badiou[1]

Just as Badiou the philosopher tells us to think the event, to think change in life, Jaspers the physician-philosopher reminds the physician that philosophy is unavoidable for the practice of medicine. In his groundbreaking textbook of phenomenological psychiatry, Jaspers concluded a century ago that:  

If anyone thinks he can exclude philosophy and leave it aside as useless he will be eventually defeated by it in some obscure form or other.[2]

Medicine is the judicious and balanced use of science and technology, humanity and experience in the service of solving biomedical problems and promoting health. It works through aporias to achieve euporia, the balance that philosophy calls sophrosyne, being of sound mind and judgment. Empiricism alone, raw data and  technique cannot be the basis of medical practice. Sophrosyne calls on the physician to go “beyond the information given,”[3] to make clinical decisions, to find the courage to intervene.[4] Once the evidence is before us, there are choices to make. In spite of its pretensions, evidence-based medicine does not offer algorithms and heuristics for medical practice but strategies for reducing the contingency and complexity of human predicaments. For a medical practice based on discernment that embraces subjectivity along with science, we need medicine informed by philosophy; clinical practice requires critical thought.

The faithful physician begins with a pedagogy of the event in order to engage in problem-based learning and continual change in the practice of medicine. A critical pedagogy militates against the repetition of authority. Such a pedagogy will not invoke tradition as authority and traumatically shut down possibilities but will rather open possibilities, in what Badiou calls novation, to create a pedagogy of truth.

A pedagogy that prepares us for novation and is open to the event that creates the possibilities of genuine “subjects to the truth,” faithful to the event, is a pedagogy of truth. A pedagogy of the event is a pedagogy of truth.

In a pithy distillation of all my activities – as a medical educator, as a therapist, and as a critical thinker – I wish to conclude with a statement that is neither an identity nor a tautology but a tesselated series of proposals: 

Education is therapy is change is event is subject.

[1]. Alain Badiou, Polemics, trans. and with an introduction by Steve Corcoran (2006), p. 8.
[2]. Karl Jaspers, General Psychopathology, trans. by J. Hoenig and Marion W. Hamilton (1997), p. 770.
[3]. Jerome Bruner, Beyond the Information Given: Studies in the Psychology of Knowing (2010).
[4]. My formulation of the tripartite task of the physician is: the effort to understand, the courage to intervene, and the challenge to integrate understanding and practice. See: Vincenzo Di Nicola, Letters to a Young Therapist: Relational Practices for the Coming Community (2011), p. 17.


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