Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Being closed-minded about being open-minded…


One of the interesting paradoxes about being liberal is that liberal thinking can be intolerant. I used to call this being closed-minded about being open-minded. When tolerating different perspectives technically implies being open to perspectives that are not even tolerant of ours… Doesn’t it?

But does it mean it’s ok for tolerant people to be tolerant of intolerance? Can we be tolerant of nazi thinking, for example? Can we be tolerant of racism? Probably not, right?

So being open-minded is nuanced. I agree with Martin Weller, for example, in “you don’t get openness for nothing“, where he suggests that research about open edu or MOOCs should in turn be published in open-access venus. He says he is not dogmatic about openness for every single thing, but this is one he’s a “hard-liner” about. I agree.

Regarding rhizo14 research… I think true openness would respect some people’s right to not want to be open and listen to their concerns, even if the majority of vocal people prefer openness. Because even though I would personally prefer openness, I feel that (indirectly) imposing openness can exclude some people.

I perceive openness in the case of rhizo14 autoethnography to mean “openness to diverse perspectives and levels of openness” which means the collective work can have a level of openness but individuals can choose varying levels of openness, say how they wish to be attributed, etc.

I wrote my last post on mess to talk about this indirectly among other things.

The fact that something fits my personal philosophy and my values, that i think it was ok, does not mean it does not offend, hurt, bother, scare, or otherwise disagree with, other people. And I need to be open-minded about that. Don’t we all?

ADDED 10 mins later

The most surreal thing just happened. An article I wrote for Al-Fanar was just republished in a place called Open Democracy without my permission AND copyrighted, and told if someone wants to republish to contact them. Not me. What is more, they got my bio off my blog, but never thought to tweet me to ask permission! I want my stuff to be CC but not to be republished without my knowledge! Am I crazy here? What if I disagreed with the values of the other publication?


  1. Maha, we all have a duty of respect and my membership in Amnesty International would be meaningless without my believing that works all ways. A person and their thoughts (even in writing and paid for) are not common property to be exchanged, borrowed or used by others in any manner without explicit permission.

    I agree with most things open but there are people who presume they can take by virtue of giving their “valuable” opinion or offering “exposure to a wider audience” and then turn around and refuse you a response. If these people make money in writing their opinion then they are in the market place of ideas and can’t fiddle with values as if they were innocents.

    In the Rhizo group I accept that we are in a state of exchange where group use is unrestricted by me because I get equal or greater value from the group. Where I stop is in the notion that we are some sort of public property there for the picking by others outside the group who would use us to their advantage. There’s plenty of need within the group for publishing credits “earned” by group participation and particularly by people early in their career who could have taken other paths but stayed to give us the value of their participation.

    I guess I feel like there are levels of openness. Especially within the free exchange area I see use tied to some sort of “earned” privilege in the form of personal participation or direct support. Privileges of access and use by third parties feels wrong to be called “open.”

    Related to your previous blog I think this book is very cool” The Work of the Imagination” in the Understanding Children’s Worlds series by Paul L. Harris, Blackwell Publishing 2000 and 2007. Make-Believe is actually quite complex. The book covers studies on early childhood beliefs and behaviours that go way beyond what we believe the kids are thinking. I was raised on the theories of Dr Spock (the Earth version) and don’t recommend it.

  2. Maha, openness raises serious issues, and I thank you for confronting them. I agree with you that no group should force anyone to be open, especially since many have genuine risks involved with public discourse, and I recognize that a public, open forum can exclude many from the conversation. While boundaries around any conversation are porous (there are preciously few inviolable boundaries in nature: not black holes and perhaps not even death), most boundaries manage the flows of information, energy, matter, and organization through the boundary, and they try to exclude those elements which may damage the entity. Of course, defining and limiting damage are problematic issues themselves, and I do not know how to avoid them. One tries for kindness and understanding, but it seems to be a constant struggle.

    Still, if a group of my buddies were playing a game of soccer, and I showed up with a baseball or cricket bat and started playing the ball with the bat instead of my feet, then they would be right in explaining proper behavior within the game and excluding me if I didn’t play correctly. They should not be able to force me to play with my feet, but they should be able to exclude me if I don’t or can’t play with my feet. To let me continue playing the soccer ball with a baseball bat would destroy the game for all. Of course, if they love my company enough, then they could also change/enlarge the rules of the game enough to allow me to use a bat, but it would be an exception, probably a one time exception, and it really wouldn’t be soccer.

    • wow. you. are. so. good. with. those. sports. examples!
      Keith, you’re making my head spin… your story about the soccer is like Martin Weller’s point that publishing “about” open education should always be in open access venues. I agree with it as a metaphor for that. It’s trickier when I try to apply it to “the other thing” 🙂 Because then it becomes an issue of whether the priority is a particular value: openness or inclusion? And whereas I cannot guarantee inclusion (some people have not and will not participate no matter what), I wonder if the rhizo14 story is better off with one or the other? Inclusion is already problematic. Non-inclusion is problematic on a social and emotional level for me, but also (secondarily) compromises the “research” (so far, we only have raw data, and people have opted in for that; though we can consider citing blogs by people, but that becomes choosing which posts by which people and a level of interpretation that is OK in traditional research but more complex for an autoethnography). Another approach, though, might be a mix of autoethnography and traditional research. Where part of the story is said in people’s voices as they wish to represent themselves, and another part of it interprets people’s stories via their blogs. I’m not completely comfortable with that…because it would be “authors” doing research “about” people, which I was hoping not to do…
      so… here it is… responding to you has made me think that maybe the most important aspect of the autoethnography part (for me personally, I do not speak for others) is the “participatory” research part. That’s the kind of value I took out of my PhD research: is that I wanted my future research to be “participatory”.
      I have just seen Jenny/Frances’ blog posts on how they plan to use other people’s blogs and they plan not to ask permission since these are public. In that case, in the collab autoethnog, maybe we could use any rhizo14er’s blog by linking to them and quoting parts relevant to analysis – possibly as authors ourselves commenting on how their blog posts affected us? In that way, we’re not imposing their participation, but as “authors” we are using their blogs as part of our story… How does that sound?

  3. What I take from this that it can be useful to try to clarify how information will be used at the the point of collection if possible, and at the point of use. As a point of clarification as you name our research, we won’t be using direct quotes from blogs without permission as I hope we make clear here

  4. P.S. Maha, I wasn’t telling you what you should do.

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