I love gardening, and I am also fond of gardening metaphors. It’s one of the many things I like about Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphor (?) of the rhizome and Dave Cormier’s rhizomatic learning – the botanical themes that run through and produce fruitful (pun intended) images for me to explore. I was going to link to one of Dave’s blog posts – he has one where he describes explaining something to his son by analogy with his fight against the Japanese Knotweed in his yard, but his blog is down so I’ll link to this instead, where both Dave and I reach for similar metaphors to try and explain what rhizomatic learning is.
In my garden at home I have a constant struggle to keep down the weeds. Although Maha hates removing the weeds from her garden, I see it as necessary for the greater good. Some might think that I’m an elitist about plants – but I am really not. I buy the theory that one person’s weed is another person’s flower, that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place, all of that can be true. But in my garden if I do not remove (some of) the weeds my pretty flowers and tasty veg will not be able to thrive. So I have to remove the pernicious weeds in order that the most pleasing and useful can survive. (Where I do have problems is in thinning out plants – once my tomato seedlings start to grow I cannot bear to sacrifice any of them, but that’s another story.)
So what is my educational point? Well, I guess it is something like this. Teaching and learning is a bit like tending a garden. We provide a suitable environment (or do the best with the one we find ourselves in), we prepare the ground, plant the seeds and do our best to nurture them as they grow. We try to stop the weeds from choking them and the slugs from eating them, especially when they are tiny, and we provide some structure for them to grow into.
Deleuze and Guattari use the metaphor of the rhizome as a story (poem? free form jazz performance?) about what knowledge might be like (and Dave and Keith Hamon have done a lot of writing trying to tease this out). This is a reminder that rhizomes are not always pretty and easy to digest. They work underground, building their connections and moving in directions that were not anticipated. They can rear up at any time and in any place and are incredibly hard to eradicate. That’s the dark underbelly of all of this, and it both gives me hope and makes me afraid.
There’s also a phrase I say a lot, at least to myself, that I think one of my sisters used to have on a poster in her bedroom (you know the sort I mean – with cute likkle animals and platitudinous slogans), about taking the time to smell the flowers. In my head, it’s a reminder to myself that I need to enjoy my learning journey, and pay attention to voices that are singing different tunes from mine, because they can enrich my thinking in unexpected ways (those unknown unknowns, as you might say). so at some point during the #moocmooc chat last night, I replied with this:
— Sarah Honeychurch (@NomadWarMachine) January 21, 2015
…and then, a whole conversation ensued, which I have storified here.