Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Body of Knowledge, or Embodied Knowledge? On theory, reading, privilege and #rhizo14

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I am compelled to write this post quickly before I pick up my daughter from daycare. I need to write this post.

First off – I think #rhizo14 has been an amazing experience so far. A wonderful group of people who are kind and supportive and generous towards each other… some of whom have known each other for years (since CCK08 or some such experience) and yet welcomed me right in. Some of whom I knew briefly via #edcmooc or on Twitter or just a few weeks ago on Dave’s blog. They are now important parts of my life and my learning.

Second – the main reason for this post relates to a discussion on facebook related to Deleuze & Guttari and whether we should be reading them. Personally, I am happy for people who want to read them to go ahead and read them. I am happy for them to encourage others to read them (such as Cath’s eloquently worded blogpost here) but I think it is more important for people to not make others feel excluded for NOT wanting to read that complex literature (as Jaap does here).

As I told Cath on facebook, her blogpost is very kindly written. It does not look down upon the person who finds D&G difficult or irrelevant. However, there seems to be a group of people on #rhizo14 who are interested in learning the theory (note that D&G’s writing on rhizomatic thinking inspired Dave’s work on rhizomatic learning, but they are not the same thing)… but feel everyone else should be reading it, too. This is problematic for many reasons.

Mainly: this is a MOOC about rhizomatic learning. I know little of what this means, but I am pretty sure it means each of us can have his/her own learning goal and choose his/her own independent learning path towards reaching that goal. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I have just finished my PhD from a prestigious UK university; I know how to read scholarship. I just don’t want to spend my time reading D&G right now. I’d do it if it engaged me, but other people’s blogs are engaging me much more and I’m learning much more (relevant to my learning goals about this course) from the experience of rhizomatic learning itself. We can learn from theory. But we can learn from the embodiment of that theory by experiencing what it is. As I understand it, Dave’s rhizomatic learning describes a process of learning that already occurs in real life outside formal education, and that occurs increasingly in an age of abundance (of knowledge, information, connectivity). Others may have experienced this in cMOOCs before and be ready to move onto theory. Others may prefer to read the theory before experiencing it, or do both together. For my own purposes, I prefer to experience it for now (in the limited time I have between juggling a new job, a toddler, and other scholarly publications and work that I need to read more urgently).

I did try to read D&G today on the way home on the bus (I know, not ideal for concentration). I got a few useful ideas, but nothing revolutionary, but I am sure it is there somewhere if I look long and hard enough.

I think, though, that I will be rebellious a little longer and say that I think too much emphasis on theory is problematic on more levels:

1. It privileges those of us who are academics, social science or humanities academics. Because, believe me, when I started my PhD I could not read a single paper written about philosophy (my PhD was about critical thinking) – and it took me a while to get where I am today and I STILL find D&G hard… so am sure those of us who are not academics must be having a harder time with it? Not all of us have the social capital needed to read this easily. It may be hard for all, but not equally hard for all.

2. It privileges those who are native speakers. I am fluent but not a native speaker. Reading translated stuff (esp. continental philosophical postmodern stuff) is very difficult for me. IT is not always worth the effort. It might or might not be. My strategy is to read secondary sources, see if I find anything interesting, then decide what original writing to read. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that strategy. Discourse and jargon are useful to those who understand it and are immersed in it. It is exclusive to others outside the “discipline”. If it’s an important educational concept, we should be able to communicate it clearly to non-academics e.g. school teachers or univ professors who teach e.g. engineering or management. How else would it be “useful” to those people?

3. It privileges a certain body of knowledge rather than the embodiment of that knowledge. Books are static. Rhizomatic learning must be dynamic, right? This course is rhizomatic learning in action. One way of understanding it is being in it and doing it. Another way is reading about it. Connectivism sounded weird to me until I experienced it a little in #edcmooc and now in #rhizo14… but rhizomatic learning (as I understood in an earlier article be Dave) resonated with me more… enough to make me take this course. I have written previously about how teachers may be looking at the question of “why students don’t read” from the wrong angle.

We are not all the same in this course or in any course. I love the supportiveness of the community. I did not have this for my PhD and maybe I would have read more or wider or deeper for my PhD if I had had a supportive community of people to discuss it with. But I also think it is totally acceptable and respectable to want to pursue this differently. I would love it if folks who wanted to read the theory were willing to simplify or summarize some of the ideas in their own blogs (thanks to all who posted dictionaries, resources, etc.). This all reminds me of an earlier post by Scott Johnson on Noise – when it is a new idea or concept we are totally unfamiliar with, it sounds like noise. Without a supportive community, we are unlikely to pursue it. (sorry no time to look for the link now)

21 Comments

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