A book as a pair of scissors
An occasional series on writing a new critical physio book
Louise Michel wrote that ‘The task of teachers... is to give the people the intellectual means to revolt’, and that feels like a very powerful motivation to me.
I’ve often said to my students — undergrads and postgrads — that my job as a teacher is to undermine their confidence at every possible opportunity. And I’m serious.
I want them to feel less self-assured and less confident in their knowledge at the end of a class than at the beginning. My hope is that this feeds their desire to heal the wound of their not-knowing and look again at what’s possible.
People have to want to learn, but we have to be careful not to kill that desire with ready-made solutions and textbook truths.
There is a Zen Buddhist tradition of turning monks away who come to the monastery looking for training. If the monk comes back, they are turned away again. Eventually, when the monk knows for certain that this is what they want, they are admitted.
But, of course, I can only have the luxury of being an agent provocateur because what I’m often teaching follows enormous amounts of conformity and standardisation. The students find it challenging, sometimes exhilarating, to be told they don’t have to practice that way.
So, if ‘knowledge is for cutting’, as Michel Foucault said, then our job surely is to provide people with the scissors. And there are many ways to do this.
My preferred way is through ideas and concepts. Thought experiments mainly. Ways of thinking that can have profound effects on what people feel is possible.
The beauty of ideas and concepts is that they can be played with in the safe knowledge that no one will be hurt. You can be really radical, and nothing gets broken.
But in physiotherapy, even working with ideas can be radical, because so many of my colleagues want to collapse thought altogether, and move as quickly as possible to something practical and empirical.
Ideas have no value unless you can put them into practice, right?
Well, I think not. In fact, I would even suggest that this attitude explains why there is so little theorising in physiotherapy: why we lack even the most basic concepts of what things like touch are; what we mean by therapy; what care is for us; whether feeling pain is a bad thing; and what constitutes a good life.
Hence the next book. Because I believe that if there is one dire need in physiotherapy today it isn’t for another inter-rater reliability study of the Standing Up and Sitting Down Test, it is for a fundamental, root-and-branch understanding of those things we believe make physiotherapy what it is.
So that when we know these things better, we’ll be better able to cut them up.