At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
Dave Cormier’s intro to rhizo14 is full with translation. Or rather it is full with the invitation to translate. By that I mean he gives us room to begin to come to terms with “rhizomatic learning’. Below I begin totranslate a few of his choice remarks.
What happens if we let go of the conventional idea of a course directed from the top down?
I think that there are layers of letting go. There is the primary one Dave describes in the first paragraph–an aware sloughing off of the skin of coursework and curriculum and student and teacher and syllabus–the whole catastrophe. This is very hard unlearning. It requires a continuous monitoring of old metaphors and thinking in the light of …well, you know not what. The secondary letting go is individual baggage schema we each prize. We call it experience. It is an even greater unlearning. It is the matter of taking to heart Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief” in ways that most of us are unwilling to risk. We say we can do it, but such work is perceived as dangerous. It requires a vulnerability to and presence of the immediate, unmediated now. That is some scary shit, compadre, I don’t mind saying.
Trust the idea that people can come together to learn given the availability of an abundance of perspective, of information and of connection?
We are quite capable of doing this. We just have to remember what it was like to be an infant learning once more. Yeah, just open up a vein while you’re at it. I will try, but how do I try to do this? (No Yoda quotes in response, please.) First, I have to accept as given that everyone has best intentions at heart. That means that I have to have the very best intentions myself. Not perfect, but the best that I can muster. Second, I have to bring immediate and vulnerable stuff to the table. That means no bullshit to the best of my ability. Or even better, I will be honest. For example, I am trying to be straightforward about my worries here and about what I expect of myself and what I expect of others. And I have to acknowledge that I might be wrong, yes, totally wrong about all or part of what I have already written.
Being resident in a particular field?
As a farmer, I am comfortable with the idea of working in a field. I acknowledge that there are pre-existent, but not largely predetermined paths. I understand that there is mystery here and ‘unknown unknowns’ that can play out like Taleb’s black swans–complex, unbidden and unpredictable. As a farmer, I know that I am always working behind the arc of the future, a future that is as often as not curling and ready to collapse in gnarly waves crushing or carrying me forward into the present and then the past.
The class is made up of the collected paths chosen by all the students, shaped by my influence as an instructor and the impact of those external nodes they manage to contact. Respond.
I am simultaneously the best conformist and worst iconoclast I know of. I have had plenty of practice at doing what I am told. Plenty. At the same time I have found it quite impossible to do so. For example, my wife and I homebirthed all of our children in a time and place where finding midwives was a challenge. There were no certified nurse midwives where we lived. In fact, even getting a physician to help with pre-natal care was problematic. We eventually found exceptional help on the margins. Our midwife had gotten her training and experience working in Texas with very poor folks exactly like us. Our midwife’s assistant opened up a world of knowledge that we didn’t know existed. Our firstborn had some interesting complications including a cord wrapped around the neck. My point is simple–I suspect we only became iconoclasts because the issue is so personal and important, so important that we could not leave the work entirely to experts. Just like we could not leave our kids’ learning to the not so tender ministrations of schools, public or private, so we homeschooled. Just like we couldn’t leave our food and water and housing entirely to others. I am hoping to meet iconoclasts and conformists alike to help me meet this term with open hands.
Course starts January 14th
I must get past my personal iconoclasm to get to the community. This will be hard for me. I have some experience last summer working with some fabulous folks from the National Writing Project. They took me on and I learned how to connect better. That community-centeredness is not foreign to me, but it has not always been the way I have gotten along best in the world. I love helping every Tom, Jane, and Harry, but I really don’t like institutional groups all that much. I shy away from Rotarians and churches alike. Rhizo14 will be part of my continuing effort to get out of my comfort zone. I will need all the help I can get.
[If you want to know more about iconoclasm in coding, check out Ted Neward’s Info Q keynote.]
Here are some initial notes on the “course” Rhizomatic Learning and Dave Cormier’s introduction..
“Rhizomatic learning is a story.”
Is this a narrative played out in nature or is it an artificial, man-inspired sortie? The reason I ask the question is because I think of nature’s story as anthropomorphizing. There is no story in nature. A rhizome is a rhizome and nothing more. Move along, no story here folks.
I think of stories as part of our newer DNA, the social DNA that comes from orality and literacy. By itself, nature tells no stories. Humans mediate stories. We try to interpret nature as best we can and that’s none too good. It fails to varying degrees because of the approximate nature of analogy and metaphor. Words piled high into stories only approximate the unknown and perhaps unknowable basis of nature.
And as Thomas Berry warns, “It’s all a question of story.”
We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it, is no longer effective (123).
(Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the Earth. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988. Print.)
To go even further, some of the old stories (earth dominion, capitalism, be fruitful and multiply) might be destroying us all with their re-telling and re-enactment. I think the education story that Cormier outlines in the first paragraph is one of those self-destructive stories. Acknowledging that makes us all iconoclasts. I just don’t think we have found our new story yet. I would love to think that ‘rhizomatic learning’ in all its vague glory might be just the ticket.
The video below isn’t specifically about rhizomatic learning, but it represents the thinking of one of its most important proponents, , Slavoj Žižek. Just look at it ‘slant’as dear divine Miss Emily suggests and you might see the connection. If not, down a couple of shots of Four Roses Yellow Label, and come back to it.
In this RSA Animate, renowned philosopher Slavoj Zizek investigates the surprising ethical implications of charitable giving. This was taken from the RSA’s free public events programme. The RSA is a 258 year-old charity devoted to creating social progress and spreading world-changing ideas. For more information about our research, RSA Animates, free events programme and 27,000 strong fellowship.