Chuo Onlineロゴ

  • twitter-icon
  • facebook-icon
  • rss-icon


Some Things You Cannot Understand Now May Impact Later

Freudian theory as a perspective for considering human development and teacher training

Akira Geshi/Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Philosophy of Education and History of Educational Thought

Going back and forth between the books and the streets

My expertise lies in the Philosophy of Education. I believe that the philosophy of education is an act of going back and forth between two distant fields. One is literatures or texts that deals with ideas and philosophy. The other is modern education, including not only educational practices that teachers teach children in elementary, middle, high school, kindergarten, and so on but also the discourses and policies on which such practices are based. In Japan, Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets is well-known as the title for a series of works by Shuji Terayama, including essays, a film, and a drama. In contrast, the educational philosopher repeats the process of reading a book, going into the streets, reading another book, and going into the streets again.

My main research theme is the ideas and theories of Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalysis that he founded. On the other hand, my research considers matters closer to the reality of education, such as moral education, teacher training systems, and the history of educational theory.

These two fields of research may seem to be divided into "principle and application" or "theory and practice," but, in my opinion, they are inseparable. I will continue this article by discussing the relationship between Freud's theory of trauma and the reforms of modern teacher training system in Japan.

Re-reading of trauma theory

Trauma (physical trauma), in the modern sense, is inseparable from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is defined by the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic criteria Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). PTSD is a state of mental and physical disturbance that continues for more than a month due to a traumatic experience such as a violent event.

There is no doubt that Freud was a pioneer of the theory of trauma. However, there are significant differences between Freud and the DSM. In PTSD, symptoms are said to occur even after a single traumatic experience; however, Freud believed that patients have had multiple traumatic experiences.

This is where Freud's concept of "Nachträglichkeit" or "deferred action" comes into play. According to Freud, the first traumatic experience in childhood (often sexual victimization) is registered in the unconscious'. This memory is aroused by a second traumatic experience in adolescence and only thereafter, it becomes the cause of the disorder. Freud attributes this delay to the inability to understand the meaning of sex before adolescence.

These Freudian trauma theories are negative because they are etiological theories. However, I believe that the same theory can also be applied positively to human development theories.

As such, we divided the experience in human development into three types.

The first type can be understood within a person's framework of understanding, or experiences which cause that framework to expand and advance. This finding was unrelated to trauma. This concept is easy to understand if Piaget's theory of developmental stages and the gradual progression of curriculum underlying the National Curriculum Standards of Japan is considered.

The second is something that significantly exceeds a person's framework of understanding, which suddenly strikes without warning, and completely changes the person's form of being. If this experience has bad consequences, it can cause diseases such as PTSD. However, if it goes well, it will result in dramatic growth. Some examples include shocking encounters with others beyond our understanding, such as with friends, teachers, love interests, books, and works of art, etc.

The third is something that cannot be understood at the time of the experience but is subsequently activated by a trigger, thereby causing the self to transform. This is similar to Freud's theory of "Nachträglichkeit" or "deferred action." For example, The Doctor Mambo series by Morio Kita, a famous Japanese writer and psychiatrist, depicts a scene in which new students at a Japanese high school under the former system of education were shocked to find that their seniors act as if they were closely related to Kant, Hegel, Shakespeare, and Goethe. This was an eye-opening experience for the new students, but they did not fully understand its meaning at that time. However, this experience became the origin of the students' intellectual awakening.(1)

An important point of the third theory of human development is that there is a large gap between the two experiences in terms of both the framework of understanding and time. For this, people often use the expression, "I couldn't really understand what happened, but it was amazing." Consequently, such narratives may retrospectively define oneself, akin to someone saying, "I couldn't understand at the time it happened (but I understand somewhat now)."

Theoretical and practical issues in teacher training

Here we consider the human development theory introduced above as an issue in teacher training.(2)

Reforms of teacher training systems in 21st-century Japan are proceeding based on the following premise: "Theory learned at university is of no use in actual teaching at school. Therefore, students should learn practical teaching techniques that are immediately useful." A certain number of professors, associate professors, lecturers teachers conducting teacher training programs at institutions, such as universities, must have experience in teaching at elementary, junior high, and high schools.(3) This is because former principals, former vice principals, and current managers teach practical know-how for learning and life guidance based on their own experiences in teacher-training courses.(4)

However, do experienced teachers have a manual for smoothly conducting education, and are they able to teach teacher trainees to be good teachers? This question is also the subject of a book I recently translated, titled Freud and Education. The book's author, Deborah P. Britzman, is an educationalist and psychoanalyst with a high school teacher background. In the book, Britzman stated that both psychoanalysis and education are established through transference-countertransference relationships between subjects who are driven by different desires. Because each person's way of being and situation are one-time events that differ each time, there is no reproducibility in a natural scientific sense. Therefore, creating a manual for practical teaching methods is impossible. However, in terms of analysis and education, there is a difference between those who are experts and those who are unskilled. The difference lies in the ability to understand the transference-countertransference situation in the analyst-patient/teacher-student relationship and to reflect on the emotional relationship between oneself and the other person.

J. F. Herbart, considered the founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline and the father of modern education, distinguished between the theory (principle) and practice (technique) of education. Nevertheless, he believed that these two are combined and united in the teacher. This issue of theory and practice also appeared in the history of Japan's teacher-training system.

Educational reforms in Japan after World War II attributed prewar ultranationalism to the disassociation between research (theory) and education (practice). Systematically, in the former system of Japanese education, there was a separation between universities, which served as places of research to cultivate intellectuals, and normal schools, which were vocational schools where students learned techniques for efficiently teaching the content prescribed by the Japanese government. After World War II, the act of promoting normal schools to universities throughout Japan had the proactive meaning of training teachers capable of independently examining the purpose and content of their education. Masao Maruyama, an intellectual and political scientist representing postwar Japan, despised school teachers as pseudo-intellectuals. However, the promotion of normal schools to universities had the potential to transform teachers into intellectuals.

In addition, postwar Japan continued to upgrade the qualifications required for teacher licensing. For example, in the 1960s, a graduate course at the master's level was introduced in teacher training. Since then, graduate courses have been established one after another throughout Japan.

However, the teacher training reforms currently being promoted seem to be contrary to the reforms mentioned above.

Recent changes in teacher training are clearly reflected in the question of what should be emphasized in teacher training programs. After World War II, there was a debate regarding teacher training: "Is the knowledge necessary for teachers that of 'subject content' such as Japanese language, social studies, mathematics, science, and English language? Or do teachers require knowledge in 'education science'?(5) However, today it is said that "what is required of teachers is not theory but technique." The following points should be emphasized; the former axis of opposition between knowledge of "subject content or educational science" has shifted to "theory or practice." Currently, both subject knowledge and educational scientific knowledge are considered "theory" which is considered useless in practice.

Many graduate schools affiliated with faculties for teacher training (equivalent to normal schools in the former Japanese education system) are now graduate schools for teaching with a practical orientation, and it is no longer necessary to conduct research, such as writing a master's thesis. It appears to me that focusing on teaching practices in schools deprives potential teachers of opportunities to acquire knowledge that can only be obtained at universities. In this context, this assumption may lead to the loss of the possibility of teachers creating new practical methods by learning new knowledge and unknown theories.

Dissociation creates a new reality

First, all the education that is now considered common sense was said to be a (idealistic) theory that did not correspond to reality at the time of initial introduction and implementation. The often-criticized educational method of cramming is an outgrowth of the Herbartian teaching method. That said, Herbartianism was originally introduced during the Meiji Period with the expectation of being a revolutionary education method. The concepts of independent and active learning that are currently in demand are a revival of ideas presented by philosopher John Dewey in the first half of the 20th century. Dewey's ideas have been reinterpreted many times, from the Taisho Period to the period immediately following World War II (the late 1940s and early 1950s), the 1990s, and even in the present age. These ideas have become the foundations of Japanese education.

For structured group encounters and moral dilemma classes, current teachers have learned the theories of Carl Rogers and Lawrence Kohlberg, which were introduced by Yasutaka Kokubu (University of Tsukuba, at the time) and Noriyuki Araki (Hyogo University of Teacher Education, at the time), at university and graduate schools, who took those theories back to their schools and spread them by devising unique methods to put them into practice.

In terms of the philosophy of education -- my area of expertise, past ideas are often considered to be disconnected from current education. Nevertheless, they still represent the essence of modern education. For example, Socrates and Plato examined the meaning of knowledge; John Locke studied the extent to which human beings are influenced by genetics and their environment; Rousseau sought the ideal form of education based on the needs and individuality of children; Pestalozzi inquired into the role of teachers; and Dewey examined the arrangement of educational materials centered on children and education for democracy. These issues are intertwined with those of modern education. Understanding the philosophy of education makes it possible to foster different understandings of modern education from different perspectives.

Teachers also fulfill the role of community-based intellectuals. In the past, this included the role of community leader. Even today, teachers fulfill the role of coordinators.

The same applies to school subjects and university researhes. Elementary, junior high, and high school teachers often make discoveries in fields such as biology, geology, and history. Such knowledge goes far beyond the content that should be taught in elementary, junior high, and high schools and is comparable to research conducted at universities. Some teachers play a leadership role in fields such as sports and the arts and also in promoting the region. This type of knowledge cannot be generated from the premise that the subject content to be studied in teacher-training courses should be within the scope of curriculum guidelines.

The main point of the argument can be summarized as follows: Something you could not understand might have an effect in the future, or some things you cannot understand now may have an impact later. During human development, unexpected encounters with things beyond our understanding often have an ex post facto effect. Some knowledge is registered in the unconscious and activated later, even if we do not understand it at the time of the first encounter. Therefore, in teacher-training courses at institutions such as universities, we should not adopt an easy pragmatic approach for implementation in current schools; rather, we should properly evaluate the significance of learning in knowledge, pedagogy, educational science, and each specialized field, which at first glance may seem distant from modern education. This evaluation could be important even if such learning does not appear to be immediately useful.

Finally, this paper concludes with my arguments. I feel that I may have become too passionate about resisting the dismissal of education science in modern teacher training, and perhaps my argument has become strained. This may be an expression of my Oedipus complex as I grew up in a family of teachers. "The things that we learn in university are of no use when actually teaching at school." -- this was my father's favorite phrase.

As I wrote this, I realized that the sentence above is a perfect example of my main argument. My father's complaints that I heard when I was a child were revived as a result of studying Freud at university and also due to a career in which I am involved in teacher training -- all of which led me to write this article.

In my opinion, thinking about such matters might be an example of the work of philosophy of education.

(1) Akira Geshi, "Beyond the Trauma Principle in Education: Does Freud's Concept of 'Nachträglichkeit' Imply the Possibility of Retroactive Education?", E-Journal of Philosophy of Education: International Yearbook of the Philosophy of Education Society of Japan, Vol. 6, November 2021, pp. 56-75.
(2) This theory was developed through discussions between educational sociologist Teruyuki Hirota, educational philosopher Shigeo Kodama, and myself. Akira Geshi, Kimihiro Sukawa, and Hiroaki Sekine (editors), Kyoin yousei wo toinaosu: seido, jissenn, sisou(Reexamining Teacher Training: Systems, Practices, and Ideas), Toyokan Shuppan, 2016, pp. 225.
(3) "Daigaku set'chi-kijun no itibu wo kaiseisuru syourei-tou no kohu-ni-tuite (Regarding the Promulgation of Ministerial Ordinances Revising Part of University Establishment Standards (Notification)," 3-5, MEXT Notice No. 438, June 15, 2023.
(4) "Monka-syo hohshin: kyoiku-gakubu no kyoju ni syo-chu-kou-kyouin keiken-sya kiyou wo gimuka (MEXT Policy: Requiring the Appointment of University Professors in Education Departments Who Possess Experience as Elementary, Junior High, and High School Teachers)," Yomiuri Shimbun Online, March 25, 2023.
(5) Akira Geshi, "Educational Studies for Teachers Who Continue Learning: A Critical Examination of the Central Council for Education's 2015 report 'Improving the Quality and Ability of Teachers in Charge of Future School Education,'" Journal of Educational Research, Issue No. 54, December 2017, pp. 17-34.

Akira Geshi/Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: Philosophy of Education and History of Educational Thought

Akira Geshi was born in Utsunomiya City, Tochigi Prefecture in 1971. He graduated from the Department of Education in the Faculty of Letters, Chuo University in 1995. In 1998, he completed the Master’s Program of the Education Course in the Graduate School of Letters, Chuo University. In 2002, he completed the Doctoral Program of the Education Course in the Graduate School of Letters, Chuo University. He holds a PhD. He served as Research Fellow (PD) at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (The University of Tokyo), Lecturer and Associate Professor in the School of Education, Joetsu University of Education, and Associate Professor and Professor in the College of Humanities and Sciences, Nihon University before assuming his current position in 2021.

His areas of expertise are philosophy of education and history of educational thought.

His main written works include Kyoiku-shisou no Posutomodan: Sengo kyouikugaku wo koete (Postmodernism in Educational Thought: Beyond Postwar Pedagogy), Keiso Shobo, 2016, Korean translation: 게시 아키라, <포스트모던 교육사상>, 최승현, 박영스토리, 2020, and Seisin-bunseki-teki kodomo no tanjo: huroito syugi to kyoiku-gensetsu(The Birth of the Psychoanalytic Child: Freudianism and Educational Discourse), University of Tokyo Press, 2006.
His main written and edited works include Doh-toku Kyoiku(Moral Education), Gakubunsha, 2023, and ‘Amae’ to ‘Jiritsu no Kyoikugaku(Pedagogy of ‘Amae(dependence)’ and “Autonomy,”) Seori Shobo, 2015. He also co-translated Freud and Education written by Deborah P. Britzman, Keiso Shobo, 2022, and more.