Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sliding Out through Rhizo14

I'm sliding outwards, across the boundaries and just in time.

One of the most important results of Rhizo14 for me has been my connection to educational thinkers outside of North America and Western Europe, the West. In a series of articles for Hybrid Pedagogy, Maha Bali (Egypt) and Shyam Sharma (originally Nepal, now in New York, USA) tackle the issue of working with and speaking to the privileged West from a non-Western context. I had an epiphany when I read that Westerners and non-Westerners "do not talk the same language." I think Maha and Shyam are correct. We don't. Even the way I just wrote that—Westerners and non-Westerners—privileges the West, makes the West the touchstone, renders everything else as Other. I don't do it on purpose, but I do it none-the-less.

I'm not interested in beating up on myself here, or on the West, and that is certainly not what Maha and Shyam were doing. Rather, I feel an obligation to recognize our situation and to be sensitive to ways to work with this peculiar boundary that exists between us. I don't say eliminate the boundary because I have much more respect for boundaries than that. While it is true that hard boundaries can separate us, soft boundaries are also the affordances that join us. We cannot do without boundaries, but we can rethink and restructure our boundaries.

Then, Clarissa Bezerra (Brazil) has been sharing on her blog writings from Brazilian and Spanish scholars unknown to me and likely unknown to most US educationists. Clarissa has kindly translated a section from Maria Cândida Moraes' book Eco-Systemic Thought: Education, Learning, and Citizenship in the 21ST Century (Moraes, Maria Cândida. Pensamento Eco-Sistêmico: Educação, aprendizagem e cidanania no século XXI. 2 ed. -Petrópolis, RJ: Vozes, 2008), and it resonated with me immediately. I detect some heavy influences in Moraes' book from another of my favorite writers, Edgar Morin, who, I understand, is much more well-known in Latin America than in the English speaking world. I'm confident that Moraes has read On Complexity.

Moraes begins by grounding education and knowledge "adjacent to the roots of quantum, biological, and complex thought." This is where Siemens begins with his discussion of connectivism, and it's where I position my thinking about education, rhetoric, and rhizomatic learning: within complexity. As I've said in my blog before, I see connectivism, cMOOCs, rhizomatic learning, and a wealth of other educational efforts as expressions of culture's general expansion beyond the simple/complicated domains of classical scientific and cultural thought to include the complex/chaotic domains. I am interested in thought within the complex domain, and I sense that this is where Moraes is playing as well.

Moraes quickly focuses on the complex in education, pointing out that education in the complex domain is quite different than the "reproductive, authoritarian, and autocratic" approach of the simple domain with its strict adherence to linear, factory line processes: one path to one product, one way to one answer. The emergence of complexity thought to include the complex and chaotic domains, many paths to many answers, without doing away with or undermining the simple and complicated domains, has profound implications for our views of knowledge and education. Moraes says quite succinctly:
Today, it is no longer possible for us educators to ignore the epistemological implications of the scientific knowledge involving the concepts of self-organization, complexity, chaos, undeterminism, and non-linear dynamics which determine living systems. We notice that these macroconcepts or new themes, when allied with cognitive science (Varela et al., 1997), set forth a more challenging vision of the morphogenesis of knowledge, a non-linear vision of the dynamics of reality, which, more than ever, unveils the intricacies between cognition and life (Maturana & Varela, 1995). For these authors, living systems are cognitive systems, and life is a process of cognition. The interactions which take place within living organisms are aways cognitive interactions that are built upon the very flow of life. It is in this flow of life that, upon actions and reactions, we shape our world and are shaped by it. From this structural imbricacy, subject and world emerge together. And what is the meaning of that for education?
Education, then, can no longer be the cool, objective acquisition of inert knowledge; rather, it is the complex emergence of the knowing self within a knowing universe. Yes, the exchange of information, along with the exchange of matter, energy, and organization, is at the heart of how the universe works. We know, and we are known. We know as we are known. They are not separate things, but a dialog between ourselves and the universe. This is a radically different epistemology that we in education have yet to grapple with. Fortunately, we have access to a marvelous voice from Brazil that can help—though I must note that Jorge Luis Borges was trying to introduce us to complexity thinking way back in 1941 in his story The Garden of Forking Paths. It has taken me too long to comprehend. I have had to learn the first things last.

I look forward to more translations from Clarissa Bezerra, and I am indebted. Rhizo14, a garden of forking paths, is a wonderful place to study.

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