Sunday, April 19, 2015

Learning Subjectives for #rhizo15

Dave Cormier has a fine way of challenging people to think outside their boxes, or outside any boxes. In the first week of Rhizo15, he has challenged us to think about our learning subjectives for the course. Of course, he's playing on the penchant of education for learning objectives, and I could glibly say that I'll let him know when I find them. In any rhizomatic course, objectives are often emergent outcomes, as Simon Warren notes in his marvelous post Emergent Outcomes from a Field of Weeds, and we should sustain the equanimity to remain open to those emergent outcomes, but starting with some subjectives—even objectives—can be helpful if we don't allow them to trap us.

I think subjectives are a bit like DNA. In becoming a person, it's really helpful to have had some DNA to kick start the journey toward becoming who you are and who you will become, but you really can't let that DNA trap you. DNA, for instance, provides you gender, but if you limit yourself to whatever that characteristic is supposed to mean or if some group limits you to that, then you then you short-circuit yourself. My DNA made me a male, but I'll be damned if I'll be limited to what male means in my society and in my head. My job is to push boundaries, to transgress, to wander, and to develop the patience to see what emerges. But I also have to accept that whatever emerges for me, it will emerge in part from my being male.

But—and here is what I'm hoping to learn more about in Rhizo15—I don't wander alone. Indeed, I'm coming to see that wandering alone is something of a Romantic myth concocted to glorify the individual. I am developing a deep and abiding appreciation for the rhizome, the learning community, the swarm. I must define myself incorporating the cold, brute genetic and social material I started with, and that responsibility is mine to accept or to ignore, yes—but there is no definition aside from, or independent of, the environment in which I emerge. I define, but I do so within my swarms. All my swarms.

Edgar Morin taught me this lesson, but I express it most easily in terms of my own field: writing. I've used this example before, but it is worth repeating here. Consider the period (full stop in the UK), that tiny bit of end punctuation.

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All alone on a line, the period is reduced to its base DNA, if that: a "punctuation mark placed at the end of a sentence" (Wikipedia). That doesn't mean much, and if the period limited itself to its DNA, it wouldn't mean much, but arrange the period in a swarm of words such as this blog post, and it proliferates, it unpacks, it becomes much more than a silly dot at the end of a sentence. The period, of course, brings its DNA to a text, but within the text it enlarges, it moves beyond its boundaries. It becomes what it can be.

All by myself, I don't mean much, but in my swarms, I proliferate and unpack. I am father, husband, child, brother, employee, teacher, scholar, learner, friend, joker, traveler—all those things, and more, but only within a swarm.

I use the term swarm foolishly perhaps. Most people don't like swarms, which feature prominently in horror movies. Swarms characterize all those groups of things that lose their individual identity and menace us. Read most any American account of the Korean War, and you'll almost certainly find a reference to a swarm of Koreans or the Chinese horde. They are not nice words. But my reading into recent studies in swarms suggests that all those ants, bees, starlings, and fish are not identical and they are not all robots doing the same things. They follow their own trajectories within the context of their surrounding neighbors. It appears that following your own path within the constraints of your chosen communities has great affordances.

My subjective, then, is to learn more about how to cultivate the rhizome, the swarm—to find my path within the constraints of Rhizo15. I've been able to go some new places and think some new things because I have followed my path through this community. My path has influenced others and has been influenced in turn. It is both my path and the path of the swarm at the same time. I want to understand better how and why that works.
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