Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Sex and Education

It is rare to come across a film that crystallises a key pedagogical issue as well as “The Man Who Fell To Earth” (directed by Nicholas Roeg, who was also responsible for “Walkabout”, another favourite amongst pedagogues). The issue shines forth in one line of dialogue – a line I remember vividly while having forgotten every other word spoken during the film.

The background: Thomas Jerome Newton (played by David Bowie) finds himself in 1970s America. He is obviously not at home. Through a series of flashbacks and revelations it becomes clear he is from another planet - a planet stricken by drought – and he needs to find someone to help him build a spaceship to return there.

The scene: Dr Bryce (played by Rip Torn) is the university lecturer with the sort of scientific background Newton is looking for. We first see him in a state of complete debauchery, with a series of clips showing him in the same bed with one young female student after another, all strikingly similar, and each making the same comment about how he bears no resemblance to their father. Then he begins working for Newton and everything changes. Some time later, looking back at the alteration, he says: “And strangely, after that, I gradually began to lose my interest in eighteen-year-olds. I don’t know what happened to me. I’m not sure. But my mind developed a libido of its own.”

“My mind developed a libido of its own.” And is that not what education is all about: arriving at the point where the mind develops a libido of its own?

Clearly this is a film that people like Sugata Mitra need to watch – people who assume that children are born with minds that have libidos of their own. Of course every child expelled from the womb has to make sense of the buzzing, booming confusion of post-natal life, but once a boy has learnt to say: “That’s a cat,” any intellectual curiosity in the whatness of the cat is quickly brushed aside by the pleasure of pulling tails and the other joys of infantile dictatorship.

The mind only develops a libido of its own under certain conditions. Teachers – a species that people like Sugata Mitra want to render extinct – know that they have to work hard to create those conditions. Yet even then, the intellectual libido is a frail thing, like a flickering flame that must be shielded from the winds of the id.

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