Is Rhizomatic Learning an Invasive Species? You Bet Your Sweet Ass It Is: The Wild vs the Civilized; A Serious Response in 4 parts

Part 1 – introduction

I get the impression that in some interactions around the Internet I have come off as being on the side of answering “No” to the question about if rhizomatic learning is invasive but please be assured that the jury is still out for me. I really am pretty agnostic in most things.

All of this talk about invasives made me think of a few years ago when MOOCs were all the buzz and everyone in higher ed was afraid that they were going to kill higher education as we know it. I felt more excitement than fear about MOOCs and I found myself participating in #EDCMOOC as well as the #moocmooc Moocification.

During #moocmooc I was prompted somehow to write up this Coyote myth about MOOCs. It’s silly and rereading it now I can see how my context as someone who persuades faculty and administrators that technology is not something to be afraid of but something to embrace, explore, and examine comes through as the main takeaway of the story. I was trying to show that MOOCs were not something that had to be feared but were a natural indicator of change to be embraced.

Rereading the comments I realized that Scott Johnson (who I have gotten to know and appreciate a little better here in #rhizo15 through several enlightening conversations) provided an eloquent rebuttal with his badger myth.  Scott showed the other side of this where nothing really changes because the administration is so steeped in tradition.

What happens when the wild bumps up against the civilized? When the trickster runs through the hallowed halls screaming “Silence!!!” giggling and jumping all the while?

Part 2 – definitions

To be able to do this I feel that I need to set two definitions for myself. 1. what is an invasive species and 2. what is rhizomatic learning?

As far as I can tell there are several factors that are often considered in defining an invasive species:

  1. That it is foreign – though this is up in the air sometimes
  2. That it is harmful to humans
  3. That it grows and grows and grows never ending and taking over

I hedge in defining rhizomatic learning only because I heard the words “rhizomatic learning” for the first time a few months ago. It seems to have a philosophical base with Deleuze and Guattari but I have yet to even get to that (damn you Ernest Becker).

When I first entered #rhizo15 I noted that it reminded me of some nomadic traveling that I did in my youth; moving from town to village not really sure where I was going to next. At the time, I had not read Dave Cormier’s thoughts on rhizomatic learning nor had I heard some of the other voices using this metaphor – it just felt the same, being in the course, as when I was a nomad. It seems like a very natural way of learning – maybe a reflection of how people naturally learn without schools or structure of any kind.

So, at least for the purposes of this post, I will be working with rhizomatic learning as I understand it as:

  1. Learning in the wild
  2. Learning from connections – branching, forking, splitting, hacking and the like
  3. Learning as a natural creative chaotic process

Part 3 – contrast and compare

Okay so now that I have laid some ground work in terms of what each of these two things are lets do some comparisons:

Invasives are foreign 

If rhizomatic learning is a kind of natural learning that is outside of structured learning I suppose it can be perceived as foreign in a structured environment.

Invasives are harmful to humans

Again, outside of it’s natural setting (in the wild) I can see how those that rely on structured learning could see rhizomatic learning as being harmful.

Invasives grow and grow out of control, never ending, and take over

Here is where my limited knowledge really does hold me back. My gut tells me that the rhizome must die – eventually. I suppose I am getting this from my experience as a nomad – the journey is filled with endings – new beginnings yes – but beginnings don’t exist without endings and to focus only on those beginnings just feels hollow to me.  But everyone that has more experience than me with rhizomatic learning (well… those who will even entertain this notion at all) swears that the rhizome does not die… it just goes on and on and on and on…

When trying to discuss this sometimes I feel like this guy

It doesn’t help that my name is Autumm which is very close to Autumn and if thought of metaphorically…

I wonder if the invasive rhizome ever feels this way?

Part 4 – conclusion

So, the thing about invasives that I find interesting is that their identification is so subjective. It has a lot to do with bias and fear. It has a lot to do with what is harmful. But I think it is true that Sometimes Invasive Species are Good.

Is rhizomatic learning invasive? You bet your sweet ass it is. But an invasive is only given that label because someone has deemed it to be foreign, harmful, and immortal. I think that in the larger scheme all of these things are over exaggerations most of the time… however, a warning to any tower creatures that may have stumbled onto this post; invasives can be very dangerous if they find fertile soil outside of their natural environment.  But perhaps we need to check our own biases before we pour the weed killer too liberally.

9 thoughts on “Is Rhizomatic Learning an Invasive Species? You Bet Your Sweet Ass It Is: The Wild vs the Civilized; A Serious Response in 4 parts”

  1. Invasives can be all sorts of things. We were new people coming into a small college in an isolated town and people were afraid of us. Really. My wife and I inadvertently upset existing alliances and arrangements that in many ways nurtured people’s inner uselessness. We didn’t intend to be bad, though I found it irresistible and ended up getting fired. Though my wife carries the crusade forward by being an exemplar of productivity and innovation, invasives do have a life span and don’t always prevail.
    As a botanical metaphore it would be preferable to self-identify as a pioneering species such as would move into disturbed environments like burned forests where the displacement was already caused by other factors. That way it feels like a contribution to recovery rather than the sweeping away of the innocent, even if ineffectual in the skills of survival or absent of functional they be. But can we claim to be blameless. Should stunt ourselves simply to be likable while lemmings would march to their own demise anyway? Nope.
    Change isn’t always benign but things do come to an end. My father used to say: “everything eventually goes to shit” not out of meanness, just a fact of the material and mental world. This doesn’t really mean we exist in perpetual newness. Sometimes we live in shit for a long time until change sets in.

    1. Thanks for coming by Scott and leaving this thoughtful comment. I like that you push up against my ideas and stretch them out in new directions.

      I also wanted to add that sometimes we live in shit till it composts and turns into fertile soil. Or maybe that is what you meant in your last line?

  2. So the wiregrass says to the asparagus, “Who you callin’ invasive? This lot was all mine befo’ y’all got yo’self planted here.”
    And the asparagus replies, “Yeah, but how much a bundle are you worth at the market?”
    Then the kid came out (when he’d rather have been reading Tom Swift) and pulled the blades off the wire-grass so his mom would be satisfied that he’d weeded the asparagus patch.

    1. So much does get monetized these days Jim.

      Your story makes me think of the first time I saw Lambsquarters for sale at the farmer’s market – $3 for a little bundle. I had to laugh – do you have any idea how many of those I had been pulling as weeds in the garden and just composting!!!

  3. How awesome is this post! Really enjoyed and learned from this systematic (ironically) and intentional way of tackling the question!
    The part that I think you may (or may not?) be missing out on when you talk of rhizomes dying is this: rhizomes are underground and everywhere. You think it’s dead but it’s growing away from your sight. So we from rhizo14 didn’t die when rhizo15 started. We are still collaborating behind the scenes that you don’t see and of course also many of us are also doing so openly in rhizo15 and elsewhere. The “elsewhere” grows the network such that rhizo15 is chock full of ppl many individuals from rhizo14 met thru other MOOCs over the last year…and then our presence in these other spaces is slightly invasive. Eg edcontexts.org is half-rhizo14ers and hpj101 had about 5 of us (10% of the total!).

    But I agree w ur views on it being natural way of learning and that calling it invasive with a negative connotation is a bias implying a certain worldview. Now inspired to think more deeply about this! Thank you again for sharing your wonderful thinking! I have been learning so much with you the past few weeks

    1. Maha!

      I love so much how you embrace life at every turn. I’m still working on that article where I go deeper into my thoughts about death in the rhizome. I don’t think that we are disagreeing on this – I just think that perhaps I am spending a little more time lingering on that spot of the garden where we have not seen any new shoots in awhile. I think it is awesome that you guys are all so connected – I hope that I can retain some good connections from #rhizo15 as you are all pretty much awesome! 🙂

      Also, have to thank you for sharing so many great resources all the time: edcontexts.org looks so very cool!

      Thanks for all the engagement Maha – I learn more because of our conversations.

  4. Interesting, I was just working on the compost barrel yesterday. The concept is great, a barrel mounted horizontally that spins on its axis to stir things up. But it gets too heavy for me to turn so I’m trying to work out a crank mechanism or power it with a bicycle.

    As for shit I like your version better. Nature doesn’t waste things so even waste is re-purposed. Invasive species are bad because they create imbalanced environments. But they only dominate until a predator moves in to feed on them. Except, that might be a conclusion based on a market model of evolution as driven by competition? Cooperatively, an invasive species would be a demonstration, (maybe overly optimistic) of the optimal use of an environment and the predator represents an expression natural orderliness through responsive management?

    Watching the the way change works its way through an organization it certainly does create fear. I wonder if people are wired see danger first and opportunity a distant second?

    1. Hi Scott,

      I have that same love/hate relationship with those compost barrels. They are wonderful but they fill up fast and get heavy too quick. I find myself putting my full weight into rocking the darn thing (often getting compost tea all over me *so gross*) to try to build up enough momentum to flip it even once. Powering it with a bicycle sounds ingenious and you must post pics when you figure that out.

      As for your point about people seeing fear first and opportunity second – this takes me back to Becker and to death. Becker would say that all fear is tied back to a fear of Death at some level. I actually like this analogy most when dealing with fear of change which always involves some kind of loss. It evokes more sympathy from me in dealing with change fatigue – in myself and within others. It is easy to write change off – “oh just deal with it” “well I guess we are going to have to do it this way now” but if you think of it as experiencing a kind of mourning it makes it easier to have more sympathy and allow a grieving period. Becker also ties this fear to bias and I think that is where we start to see those lost opportunities. It is all still swimming in my head – I am right at the end of Denial of Death. I see a potential of practical applications for this in everything from system upgrades to policy overhaul to technophobia. Or maybe I’m going to far with the metaphor – jury is still out on that one.

      Change come.

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