When we talk about trust in the classroom, what exactly is the nature of this fiduciary bond? What does the student trust me to do and not do? And why?
The first step to becoming a student is not filling out an assessment form, or handing over your Visa card; rather, it is willingly assuming the status of a dunce. You declare, by becoming a student, that you are ignorant. Ordinarily, this would be an embarrassment, but in the classroom it is not, or at least should not be.
One reason for this can be found in the fact that the language lesson operates in an analogous manner to the psychoanalytic session. In psychoanalysis there is only one golden rule, and that is that you must break the golden rule of the rest of the world: you must say what you think. It is a form of reversion to childhood in which all the thoughts whose repression forms the foundation of a forbearing society are given full reign. Indeed, the analysand is expected to give vent to the hideous majesty fomenting in their souls. In the classroom, a similar mode of discourse holds sway. The student, normally a model of poise and fluency, is reduced to a kind of babble, an incoherent stuttering wreck of humanity who makes less sense than a three year old – and who must do so in order to progress.
It is this socially transgressive behaviour which is the basis of the relationship between student and teacher. It is, because it is predicated on failure, a form of intimacy. Like most intimacies, it is founded on an agreement not to say what you think. As a teacher, I neither laugh nor scorn when one of my students concocts a miserable sentence such as, ‘I can going at Saturday night’, even when they mean Sunday. It would be like a psychoanalyst recoiling in horror at a patient who fantasizes about eating raw camel hearts in June. It would be a betrayal of the very professionalism of the relationship, a professionalism in which normal human relations are somehow suspended so that the classroom can function as an alembic, filtering out the nonsense and thus leaving the integrity of the individual student intact.
If we accept the veracity of this analogy, there are several implications. Not the least of which is that neither teachers nor students can be themselves. Ordinary people have very little patience for listening to nonsense; ordinarily, people have very little patience for producing nonsense. There is, then, a kind of fictiveness built into the language classroom. While many of us hanker after authenticity in the classroom, the classroom is not just a physical reality but also a metaphysical one, a contrived space designed to foster learning. As with psychoanalysis, it is not the boy who dared to shout at the naked emperor with whom we should side, but the emperor.