Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Weeds, flowers, and mutually oppressive relationships #moocmooc

| 11 Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Trust me, there is a pedagogical angle coming up at the end of this, ok?

I have a soft spot for weeds. Ever since I got “into” rhizomatic learning, and found out that weeds are rhizomes, I’ve felt sorry for the poor things.

I’m new to gardening. I only started last semester on a shared plot our university offered us for a small fee. We plant the seeds/seedlings, and check on our plot (I share it with 3 friends) once a week, including doing weeding and checking for pests; and the university takes care of the watering (automatic) and organic pest control, etc. Then we pick the resulting vegetables when they’re ripe. It’s been fun.

I hate taking the weeds out. I know that if I left the weeds, they’d prevent my vegetables from growing. But it’s a mutually oppressive relationship, isn’t it? There is a value judgment that vegetables we eat are more valuable than weeds (for obvious reasons) but there is also injustice in killing the weeds that have done nothing wrong but find an environment in which to exist, thrive. The weed is a living organism, too. Why do we feel no sympathy for the weed?

Yesterday’s #moocmooc twitter chat was THE BEST TWITTER CHAT EVER! I don’t think I have ever had one so full of so many people with so many awesome ideas. You could tell that some people weren’t even intending to be there but found their twitter streams full of it, so jumped in anyway 🙂 and it was going sooooo fast (or was i going too slow at midnight? I think even Jesse couldn’t keep up) with so many awesomely rich threads.

So around 12:40 my time i decided i’m just gonna focus on one thread, and my favorite one was one related to flowers and weeds. I think someone started saying something about flowers and capitalism and I was perplexed as to what flowers represented (I love flowers) so I asked and then ensued a lot of really funny things people said about weeds and flowers… And then someone mentioned blogging and several people said they’d blog about it … So here’s mine 🙂

Here are some (reverse chronological; Tania Sheko called this poetic Freire):

Simon Ensor: one person’s weeds = another person’s capital

Michael Weller: one person’s weeds = another person’s medicinal

Sarah Honeychurch: my weeds are your flowers? Coz they ain’t mine

Nick Kearney: let a thousand weeds bloom

Sarah Honeychurch: my weeds oppress (stifle) my flowers

Simon Ensor: is a weed an oppressed flower?

Ok, but seriously. Back to the whole mutual oppression thing, which, btw, can also be looked at as mutual empowerment.

My point is, to go back to Ellsworth, and my favorite feminist poststructuralist critique of critical pedagogy in her Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering? article: the oppressor/oppressed relationship is more complex than reading Freire seems to imply, and applying critical pedagogy is more complex. We cannot keep talking about teachers as if they are oppressors and students oppressed. A minority female teacher is oppressed outside the classroom (as a society) by white male students, and there are power dynamics within the classroom exist. Letting students “go”, something I love love love to do, does not guarantee there is no oppression. It just takes away some of the teacher’s part in it as authority. There will still be micro-struggles within the classroom based on gender, race, sexuality, social class, and social status based on popularity, achievement, and strength of personality, right?

I was really excited to see Ellsworth mentioned in a blogpost here and on Twitter y/day – her feminist poststructuralist critique resonates with me big time, and how she contextualizes and reveals the complex conflicting dynamics of applying critical pedagogy vs the theory is what made me finally feel I could try to apply critical pedagogy in my own classes. I’ve written two articles on this, one of which is entitled similarly to Ellsworth’s post, and talks about why intercultural web-based video dialogue doesn’t meet its empowerment potential; the other is a hybrid ped article about the problems i face when I apply critical pedagogy. Also, bell hooks talks about the complexity black women face when aligning themselves with feminism, as if they would be considered to have abandoned the “race” issue simply for recognizing that a gender issue also exists… They’re not mutually exclusive. Obviously 🙂

Y/day in the twitter chat Jesse said how he kept re-reading Freire and hoping he’d “get it right this time” and my response was: that’s never gonna happen, because each context is different and so each time we have to adapt our pedagogy to meet that context and the complexity of the power relationships going on there. And of course our reading of a text varies each time depending on context.

Back to mutually oppressive relationships. It occurred to me while writing that thought that i am living right smack in the middle several of these 🙂 People I love and who love me (I think!) but where one of us exerts power over the other, and the other, while resisting (because the other is not powerless) is also oppressive in some way. It reminds me a little of the whole oppressed behaving like oppressor thing, except that, for the most part, i don’t think the oppressed person is completely oppressed. Its not just agency, it’s that we all have some power of some kind in some context, and we can end up abusing that power to oppress others as we resist. It’s a normal human reaction, but it is not an empathetic response, which we should strive towards, if we are to move forward, constructively, I think. In bell hooks’ A Will to Change she talks about how men are themselves oppressed by patriarchal society that makes them feel compelled to behave in ways that are oppressive to women and destructive of their ability to place themselves fully into a healthy emotional relationship. She also talks about how some women are themselves perpetrators of patriarchy (yep, we know quite a few of those, don’t we?). Next week in #moocmooc, i’m co-facilitating a feminist perspectives week with Jesse Stommel (a man). See?

There is also, always, the possibility that we may need to take something that already exists and resist it from within, by reinterpreting it… Take for example digital badges. I love what HJ De Waard has done with them in her blogpost: I was really struck by this phrasing and argument ( i used to really dislike digital badges until i read her Deweyian interpretation yday):

One current trend, that of digital badging, creates images of collecting coins as the currency of learning. As with earlier banking models of education, this trend can be a form of oppression unless the ownership of digital badges becomes part of an individual’s life-learning story. Collecting digital badges, just as collecting marks, can become the bitcoin version and driving purpose of education. From the Dewey model of education, digital badges have the potential to be images that tell the story of efforts, struggles, failures and triumph. Claiming the coin (or digital badge) and keeping the collection should be in the hands of the learner rather than the digital data banks that could deny or hoard educational opportunity.

So i’ll end this on that positive, optimistic note :).

Thank you for the best twitter chat of my life (noisy drilling sounds notwithstanding)

Update on Terry’s request to add storifies (i think there were 4 of them):
By Olavur
By Greg McVerry
By HJ De Waard
And by Sarah Honeychurch

Oh and here is a TAGS Explorer i made

11 Comments

  1. I just have to say, Maha, that it is not, and cannot be, 5 minutes reading time for me. Your post is so full – no, so bursting – with things to things about, research and read further. How do you do that? And in a conversational way? I’m learning so much from your posts, thank you.

  2. Love this, Maha. So much to think about after that chat.

    I’ve been pushed to think more about how oppression just can’t be understood as binary. As the professor, I wield a great deal of power, but I’m reading research recently that students consistently rate women lower on course evaluations, and that has real implications for my standing in my program. And, while we talk all the time about “white males” dominating classes, I’ve come to learn slowly that many of the white males in my classes are from poor or working class backgrounds and simply referring to them as as “privileged” in the same ways that the very entitled men are lets everyone off the hook from talking about deep social class inequities. TIm Lensmire and his colleagues wrote a great piece on this in the Harvard Ed Review last year.

    This is intersectionality 101 , of course, but I think that we can romanticize “everyone is heard” when talking about critical dialogue in classes when what we’re hearing in their pretty deeply socialized *student* self and they’re likely hiding much of the rest of themselves, unsure of those things even belong in academic discourse. And Ellsworth was so great in reminding me that some people need to be quiet and listen sometimes.

    So thanks for complicating all of this in this post and in your articles (will read later. Thanks for linking).

  3. Thanks for posting the link – I was on the run this morning.

  4. Thanks for the connections and comments. Your post is sending my thoughts into some ‘rhizomatic’ directions – some will be weeds! I won’t pull them out but let them live in harmony with the flowering ideas! 🙂

    I’m glad you found my thoughts about digital badging of interest. I’m struggling with the power, authority, control and oppression that is the flip-side of the coin. I’m trying to see the other side of something that can be viewed as a device for controlling learning. The potential for badges if, like all great learning opportunities, it is in the hands of the learner, then I can see the joy and celebration in these records of accomplishment. It’s a ‘flip of the coin’!

  5. Has anyone done an archive of the chat or curated it on Storify?

  6. Thanks for posting the link –

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