I’m currently reading, at David Didau’s suggestion, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education, which was published in 2009, when the DfE was still the ‘Department for Children, Schools and Families’, and ‘Every Child Matters’ was spreading its tentacles vigorously through the nation, as Labour poured millions of our hard-earned pounds into it. The culture it describes may no longer be pushed so vigorously by the government, but it is so deeply ingrained, and serves so many vested interests, that one wonders whether that matters very much.
The therapeutic turn in culture, which has had a huge impact on education, but also on management and on policy more widely, depicts humanity according to what the authors call ‘the diminished self’. In this understanding, people are all fragile and vulnerable. They all have problems which they need to acknowledge, and once they are acknowledged, suitable professional help can be arranged. From their earliest years, children are inducted into this culture, as they are manipulated into confessing their private thoughts and feelings in circle time. If they refuse to talk about their inner lives in this public context, they are seen as ‘repressed’, and certainly in need of help to overcome their inability to express themselves. It’s a Catch 22. Admit your problems, and we’ll interfere. Refuse to admit your problems, and that’s a problem, so we’ll interfere. The authors comment that
therapeutic education is profoundly dangerous because a diminished image of human potential opens up people’s emotions to assessment by the state and encourages dependence on ritualised forms of emotional support offered by state agencies. (p xiii)
It’s a gift for anyone who is seeking ever greater funding for state agencies which propose to manage all of the frightful emotional problems from which every person is presumed to be suffering. It’s also a wonderful culture for promoting ever greater sales of drugs such as Ritalin and Prozac.
This view of humanity pushes to one side the traditional view that we all have free will and reason, that we need to struggle to achieve anything, and that suffering is an ordinary part of human experience. Struggle is good; it is not a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘managed’. Instead of viewing humanity as rational and capable of making free choices in difficult circumstances, the therapeutic narrative presents us as prey to an overwhelming flood of emotions which the professionals will help us to manage.
In the therapeutic culture, we have all become victims, and the biggest victims are the ones who gain the most attention. No one shall be allowed to battle on calmly and quietly, refusing to draw attention to themselves. Everyone shall be required to expose their inner lives to public scrutiny, in a manner which our forebears would have considered self-indulgent to the point of obscenity.
This culture makes rational argument almost impossible. Those who propose rational arguments and refuse to be drawn into emotionalism are seen as cold, harsh and uncaring. The ‘circle time’ approach to discussion forbids correction. No one shall be told that they are wrong. No one shall be told that their personal feelings, however strong, do not in fact alter reality. The important thing is that everyone expresses themselves, and that we are all ‘non-judgemental’.
The consequences of therapeutic culture have been made very clear in the recent coverage of Brexit. We are informed of incidents of racial abuse, and called upon to express our outrage at them. Of course they are to be deplored. But it is the next step which is so pernicious. Because of these deplorable incidents, we are supposed to abandon any rational arguments in favour of Brexit, and instead allow ourselves to be emotionally blackmailed into agreeing that it must be wrong.
He who suffers, wins. Presumably this is why Palestinians are to be allowed to express their national identity, while British people are not.
It’s time to stand up for the dignity of ordinary human beings and fight against this culture of emotionalism and manipulation.