‘Care’ has returned as a critical term of morally attuned professional language- caring curriculum, caring schools and caring pedagogies. For parents, care consists of fretting and fussing and worrying and generally making a nuisance of oneself for the sake of one’s children. This worrying is not a side-effect of parenting. In everyday life-situations, caring is lived as a worrying attentiveness. The mother ensures that her feelings and needs are never overshadowing those of the child. She worries and waits. She proclaims-, ‘I don’t worry too much’ knowing that her worry allows her to ‘touch’ her child as she fights out of dwelling inside her anxieties.
Parental-care is rarely an explicit fretting and more a lingering awareness- a heedful attunement. Worry is the glue that that keeps the parents affixed to the child. We think of others as selves who are in the world just as we are in the world as selves and live in reciprocal relationships. It is the case that sometimes others are mistaken as objects but it is also possible to experience the other- as an appeal. A child compels us to feel responsible. We are called to responsibility. Stronger yet- the child takes us hostage.
We are claimed by the vulnerability of another who exercises a power over us. If I am free of worry, then perhaps inadvertently I may expose the child unduly to risks. To be care-less is not necessarily to be uncaring but unworrying. Søren Kierkegaard in ‘Fear and Trembling’ portrays Abraham’s predicament as he stood between two demands of caring responsibility- the demand of the community that he must be able to justify and account for his actions in an ethical manner and that he has been singled out by some other to be uniquely responsible for a mad and murderous act. The face of the child in Caravaggio’s painting of the biblical sacrificial scene is contorted in deep dread and fright.
Rembrandt covers over the face of the boy with the large clutching grip of Abraham’s hand. They both understood the significance of the face as an ethical experience of responsibility for the other and in particular for one’s child. It is Abraham’s originary acknowledgement of the ethical encounter with the face- the face of his own son that powerfully portrays our modern predicament: our ambiguous relation to our own children. Jacques Derrida in his ‘Gift of Death’ has put it very well: in a real sense we kill our children- that is their uniqueness, in many different ways, and all of us, men and women, are like Abraham holding up a knife over those who are precious to us.
We fail to be sensitive to the uniqueness of every child and the uniqueness of each person comes into sharp relief against the fact of his or her individual immortality. Strangely this immortality is bestowed on us at birth. This is why Derrida calls it ‘the gift of death’ since it is our own immortality that belongs to us more uniquely than anything else imaginable. Whatever else can be taken away from us, there is one thing that belongs to us so essentially that nobody can take it away, and that is our own death. I may give my death in sacrifice to someone else, and yet even that supreme gift cannot be substituted for their own death. Thus, it is the non- substitutional uniqueness of the other that I must preserve and not kill by betraying it to the general. Nathanael asked, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” And Phillip replied- “Come and see,” (John 1:46). Caring is experienced as worrying responsibility. Unfortunately, inside the colonial Ford model of mass public education we tend to become overly rationalistic, corporatist, managerial and narrowly results-oriented and forget to reflect on our practice as essentially pedagogical interactions.
Care remains an innate human responsiveness to the appeal of the other who is vulnerable. Perhaps pedagogy may call us to halt as it called Abraham not to kill his son.