In Defense of Kindness in the Rhizome: A complex balance of many often opposing forces

“Reality is subjective, and there’s an unenlightened tendency in this culture to regard something as ‘important’ only if ‘tis sober and severe. Sure and still you’re right about your Cheerful Dum, only they’re not so much happy as lobotomized. But your Gloomy Smart are just as ridiculous. When you’re unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. And you get to take yourself oh so very seriously. ~ Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Lots of talk in the rhizo community these days about resilience and it seems that this will be a major theme of #rhizo16 – is that what it will be called? I think here in the U.S. we hear more talk of grit than of resilience but this, for me anyway, conjures images of John Wayne, and buck up and be a man about it, and my personal favorite “you’re too sensitive”.

They used to tell me I was too sensitive when I was younger – sometimes they still do. At one point in my youth I threatened to punch the next person that told me I was too sensitive in the nose – mind you not so that I could mindlessly hurt the person out of anger but so I could make the point that their face was too sensitive. I never did that – I was just making a point. But I did find strength in my sensitivity.

I used to think that sensitivity was synonymous with weakness and fearfulness and I fought against what I was. As I got older I realized that the opposite of sensitivity was not strength or courage but rather insensitivity and that insensitivity was a lowly trait that I should try to not associate myself with.

I think the larger conversation about grit and resilience has room for sensitivity and kindness.  I’m excited to explore it come May 10th. This seems to be a complex paradoxical subject.

Last year during #rhizo15 one of the strong points that I railed against was the idea of the immortal rhizome. Making the point that the rhizome may be hard to kill but that that does not make it immortal. I suppose even then I was exploring the rhizome as resilient. It seems to me that the rhizome is always becoming … till death, and that people are learning beings … till death. The bigger question, as an individual, is to realize what I’m becoming as I learn and to keep asking is that really what I want to be.  As a member of a rhizomatic learning community I would ask – what do we want to become?

This word “we” is also a point of concern and perhaps we are shifting from a question of “We’s and Them’s” to explore “We’s and I’s” this year. There have been calls for us to shift to an emphasis on “I” language. I’ve used the word we to explore how I felt about certain practices (I just did it to blended learning a few days ago) or even the rhizo community itself but not without disclaimer because I do this to give myself agency to explore what community or practice means to me from the inside. Here I am using we from the perspective of I, which is different than speaking for we as an I. I’m a fan of I language and I think you can be creative with it and even use we with it.

Hey that’s right I did talk about Why We Rhizo didn’t I – maybe it is time to revisit that?

It does seem that I was after a diversity in voice and perspective back then. I know I still want that. I value the voice that is counter to mine. I’ve learned from that voice. There have been times when that voice has gotten loud with me, or made fun of me, or otherwise tried to make it’s point by quashing my voice or making sure that I could watch as it quashed the voice of others that I cared about. Did I learn that way? Or did I just get beaten into submission?

What is the difference between education and indoctrination?

They are both forms of change and we will see a person become something different than they were through the process of going through either of them. What sets them apart from one another?

Could it be the role of power, teacher, leader, knowledge, right etc. If these things/people are fixed and rigid it seems that they are easily pounded into us through repetition and harsh criticism of the other. This seems like prime soil for indoctrination in my mind.

For me education is more slippery, though of course I know very well some don’t see a difference in this word from indoctrination. But as I use it, education looks at multiple views and is critical yes but not for the sake of dark sarcasm, for the sake of confusing the conversation, or miring other’s points with insignificant drabble. In my view education is at it’s heart kind and is honestly looking for truth realizing that truth flexes and changes depending on context. In my mind education is sensitive but please do not confuse this with weakness or fear.

As for our curriculum? Over the last year I have learned so much and for that I’m thankful but I will remind once more that the rhizome is not immortal but merely resilient. We are leaving a legacy, our actions have reactions, and we are becoming something. I would like to ask what are we going to become?

I hope to join you but I may be becoming something else – only time will tell. I will tell you I’m sensitive. I will tell you strive for kindness.

As I consider resilience I wonder if it starts in a very old place and with something that is so much harder than it may seem by the words on the page; in the stone; or, as the case maybe, on the screen – know yourself.

I know I want to be a part of a kind critical creative community of learners who are persistent in their exploration and sensitive to the world around them. I do hope I find that again.

My Virtual Life: becoming a real buddy with a nod to the Velveteen Rabbit

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be virtual?

Over the last year I spent a lot of time expanding my virtual self. Now, I had a virtual self before last year but there is no denying that, for me, during #rhizo15, and then after, as I started getting more involved with Virtually Connecting, that I really started to do more and more and just Be online. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and this post is just me doing a little reflecting.

A common thread that I have sensed in the undercurrent of it all is this sense of being “Real” as in “In Real Life”. When we talk about meeting in-person vs meeting virtually we often refer to the face to face experience as “Real”, and I’m not sure I agree with that. This is not the first time I’ve thought about this. I worked through this a few months ago with some folks online and started to prefer the term “in the flesh” rather than “in real life” for my own interactions that happen face to face. One of the things that I like about life in general is the ability to work through my ideas in conjunction with others. Online allows me to extend the reach. Does it allow me more diverse voices to interact with? Jury is still out on that one. I’m thankful for the voices that are counter to my own and for the challenges that they bring. I encounter challenging voices online but I encounter them face to face too. I’m thankful for them all. Online transverses space and time better – I’ll give it that.

Over this past year I learned about and how to use a bunch of new technologies. I connected with and learned from people all over the globe. I fell in love and got my heart broken. I made a ton of new friends. I got (and continue to get) called out on some stuff that I was getting wrong… and that stung (stings) but I’m better for it. I traveled and I got to meet some of those people that I was connecting with online at #dLRN15 and #AACUgened16 and some other conferences. I have to say that it has been a pretty rich experience overall.

Did it hurt? Sometimes.

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become.

I started my journey in edtech as a non-traditional student, tech assistant in an office of academic technology at a community college. I did a lot of grunt work and I really wasn’t really sure to what end (It is not that it was not being pointed out to me just that I was greener than most). I just knew that I liked people and I liked technology and that edtech was paying attention to the mixture of the two where many other fields were just being pushed or pulled by them.

I was kind of lost for a long time and not sure what I was going to do with myself. I got another degree. I put myself out there. I landed a gig. It was in an IT department. It was at a university.

And then there is this idea of ontological design. This idea that our environment shapes us. Which seems pretty common sense and I’m not sure that we really need a fancy name like “ontological design” to describe it. But I’ve come to find affinity with fancy names and long titles just as I once had an affinity for disclaimers – I may still I’ve just decided for some reason not to use one here. But in the meantime I got another degree.

And after all of that – after all of that! I now feel kind of like a baby and that my eyes are just now starting to open. It is almost enough to give up, and I would… if it were not that I’m just beginning.

It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’

~ All quotes from: The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be real? What does it mean to be virtual? What does it mean to create something of beauty – something that might inspire others?

I’m not sure about the answers to these big questions. I’m pretty sure that no matter if we are living online or if we are living face to face that they are still important big questions that are not going anywhere anytime soon.

I started reading this book the other day that is all about how our virtual lives are stealing away our face to face lives. I’m considering exploring this in community because seems, to me, more of a problem of environment in general than a matter of “face to face vs online” or “Real vs. virtual”. But still, I think this book makes some good points about presence and focus – it just blames technology instead.

But who knows if I’ll have time. After all #rhizo16 starts on May 10th… that’s the rumor I heard anyway… you never know with those rhizomes.

and

I still owe Maha Bali that death post from last year… but I just can’t bring myself to write it.

😉


Photo in the public domain in the United States taken from Wikimedia Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

 

A Sort of “In Love”: What is it About Play?

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

~ Jane Howard

About a month after #rhizo15 someone asked me “how are you” and I lit up like bulb to say “I’m doing wonderful” and continued to tell them about this really cool supportive community I had found. After I finished they said “That’s great! I gotta tell you though at first, by the way you reacted, I thought you were going to tell me you had fallen in love”.

I thought about it for a second – and I realized I was – in a sort of “in love”.

I’ve been in love with community before – academic communities, spiritual communities, hippy communities (most complex).

The thing about love, like learning and thoughts, is that it is very much like a living thing. It grows. It evolves. It changes state. It becomes.

How does that work?

Tania Sheko recently presented on one of my favorite projects from #rhizo15; our rhizoradio play that began with her blog post. She lays out the process of how this was created and many of the side projects that came off of it here

But then Tanya asked a bunch of us “what is it about play” in a tweet referencing her post.

You should check out the post; she talks about risk and trust. About how you have to risk so much to be creative in a community and put your stuff out there – that it could be ignored or subject to all kinds of perceptions that you never intended. It rings of vulnerability and a need for authenticity if play is to be a vehicle for real community.

The thing I am noticing though is that you do all of that risk and trust stuff in love too and so I am seeing parallels and wondering if they transfer. When I ask myself “what is it about play” I can’t quite put my finger on it and I need something to ground it in. Can I ground play in love?

Can lines be drawn between one opening themselves up to put their heart on the line and someone opening themselves up to put their poetry, songs, artwork, thoughts, ideas, projects, further connections on the line? I think you can. I’m not sure there is a difference between hearts and poetry (for instance) to tell the truth – okay maybe in scale.

Is the idea of play alive? Like learning and thoughts and love? And if it is then I need to turn the coin over (in true she’s so heavy fashion) and ask about the other side. What does it mean when learning turns to memorization or regurgitation? What does it mean when thoughts are not challenged but pandered to our own fears and biases? What does it mean when love turns to stasis? What does it mean when play turns to work?

I’m not even sure these things are bad things. There is something very comforting there. In a place where things stay the same and we can count on things to be where they were yesterday and the day before. Immortal. Forever the same. I think we need that in the world. But I don’t think that is a place of growth. I don’t think that is alive.

However, I do see conflict here and I often see these two going head to head as things like policy and bureaucracy make threats on things more emergent. In looking for focus I search for balance especially because I also think that play, creative love, critical thinking/reflection, and connected learning can be a cruel beast in the face of stasis – ripping it to shreds without mercy. While, if given the opportunity stasis will box in and choke out any semblance of life in love, learning, or play.

So what is it about play? I think it may have something to do with love.  

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.

The Posts that Could Have Been

So, I’m trying to get back on track with #rhizo15. I got thrown off a bit as I am currently in this whirlwind tour – I just got back to Columbus from Detroit via Cleveland today and I leave for Chicago tomorrow. I went to Detroit to visit my Mom for Mother’s Day the day after having this salon at my house and entertaining more people than I have in about a year or so. My thoughts are all tangled and there are too many of them so this is my brain dump at the end of week 4. These are some of the posts that could have been.

The Exquisite Corpse: Connections We Can’t See

I pulled out the old exquisite corpse for the salon. If you don’t know what an exquisite corpse is – it is either drawing or writing (yes we did a writing one too but I don’t want this post to get too long) where participants are asked to complete a portion of a piece without seeing the whole thing. In this case we covered each square when finished drawing in it – leaving a few lines sticking out for the next person to continue.

Notice some of the similarities in these panels.

FullSizeRender-4

This made me think of rhizomatic learning in so many ways… the connections branching off of one another, the similarities and synchronicity’s…

I have seen several posts in #rhizo15 that refer to “something that I saw on one of the blogs somewhere” or posts talking about similar themes that are not citing one another in any way. What is going on here?

I’m no better – I know I have done this but I have to wonder: Are some people intentionally snubbing one another? Do they not see the connections? Are people just lazy? What is up with the connections that we can’t see – as consumers and producers of content (people).

This also makes me think of Bonnie Stewart’s research on vulnerability in using social media in the academy. I mean who puts their budding ideas out on the web to be hacked by god knows who in a industry of publish or perish?

At the same time – our ideas grow and expand when others get involved.

But if I take on this experimental mindset what if I make a fool of myself?

Bahhhh. Paradoxes. Making. Brain. Hurt.

Maha’s Challenge to Me on Why the Rhizome Must Die

So, last week Maha Bali challenged me to take my idea that the rhizome must die to the next level. I had started talking about this at the beginning of #rhizo15 in relation to unlearning. I had all intentions of exploring it in week 4 but … yeah.

I have to say that I am especially struggling with this one because it seems to drum up some intense reactions from people. People get really defensive about it. No one wants the rhizome to die. Disclaimer – I don’t want the rhizome to die.

One of the most frequent responses that I get is at the heart of this week’s prompt – pointing out how hard it is to kill a rhizome and how rhizome’s have a tendency to “take over”. I understand this problem but I really do think that it is adjacent to my point. I’m not talking about killing a rhizome – not necessarily… though that could be a part of it.

I suppose, at times, portions of the rhizome needs to die so that it does not strangle out the rest of the garden. Does this take us back to the role of the teacher? Not just pulling that weed but getting out the shovel. 

I kind of overuse disclaimers in my posts (getting back to that vulnerability thing I guess) but this one would have to include one stating that I personally fear death myself and that I don’t want the rhizome to die any more than the next gal… but…

My point is simply that everything that lives – dies. Some things live longer than others and some things are more resilient than others but everything that lives – dies. Some day – some how. And if we are going to use a metaphor of a living organism then we should accept that there will be death in that. This could be as simple as the end of the “course”… It could be related to unlearning (which is too strong of a term for some apparently so who the heck do I think I am by calling it a little death).

My intention was to expand on this whole idea by defining death as an archetype for loss or endings, parse out some differences between Death and death, of course tie in that all death is also a kind of beginning…  But it is all tangled up in knots in my mind right now.  I would like to revisit it soon – if I can sort it all out and connect it somehow.

Conclusion

So, week 4 snuck by me with a lot in my head and not a lot of time to articulate it. I know this post is pretty disjointed and not so poetic. No apologizes – it is what it is.

I’m looking forward to week 5 though I’m not sure where I am going to take it.