baby birds and the enforcing of independence #rhizo14

“Clarissa had a theory in those days – they had heaps of theories, always theories, as young people have. It was to explain the feeling they had of dissatisfaction; not knowing people; not being known. For how could they know each other? You met every day; then not for six months, or years. It was unsatisfactory, they agreed, how little one knew people. But she said, sitting on the bus going up Shaftesbury Avenue, she felt herself everywhere; not ‘here, here, here’; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere. She waved her hand, going up Shaftesbury Avenue. She was all that. So that to know her, or any one, one must seek out the people who completed them; even the places. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoke to, some women in the street, some man behind a counter – even trees, or barns.”
― Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

StarRaftProjectHowDidThatFeelIt has been a surprisingly hard week of work, and connecting all over the place.  I am lucky to have (or I have worked hard to create) a job in which my interests all get to resonate and work together.   So its been hard to keep up with all the posts on “Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum.”   This weeks topic is the enforcing of independence – as in, how do we support students who have been taught within a system that is based on a “whole set of power structures that create a reliance on the teacher for setting objectives, assessing progress and giving direction” to learn independently.  

However, first I want to apologise to the fellow in the meeting I was in the other day who said, “I like microrhizomatic structures,” and then was so patient when I started to discuss education, pedagogy, networks and online learning environments and Deleuze and Guattari and reading them or not reading them.  I should have been listening better and realized, as you said, that you were just saying you liked mushrooms.  We were talking about gardens after all, it was totally my mistake.  And you really didn’t need to spend the rest of your afternoon avoiding me as you seemed to be, once I was clear I would not have continued on, I promise.  

welcomeBut I am really excited by all the great thoughts in this #rhizo14 class,  that are in so many places, by so many people – and having a lot of trouble keeping up, and contextualising, and making sense of it all.   It’s related, for me, to a stream of literature in disability studies, on the idea of nomadology and disability as social construction, informed by Foucault and others.   

My two areas of interest are in supporting people with disabilities in growing interdependence – relationships that lead to increased leverage and access and knowledge – and in supporting those who support them to learn more about how to do this.  I like the conversation that is happening in rhizo14 about “community” – what does it mean?  It’s a concept so frequently thrown around, often for reasons that don’t have much to do with community but are kinds of marketing, that it has become meaningless and suspect.   Often “community” indicates us, not you.  Who has ben left out? 

Interestingly, in two of the meetings I was in this week, where I was acting as a graphic facilitator, people suggested we stop talking about “community” as something slippery and talk instead about networks and webs – people we know, in various ways.   A lot of the work I’ve been doing has had to do with clarifying in my field what “community” is, given that it is called “community living” – the support of people with disabilities to be part of their neighbourhoods etc..  But there’s a lot of confusion around “community” as geography (a place we go to, like a mall) and “community” as belonging (places we go to where people know and care about us).   Even the researchers who inform the funders who inform the services they pay for are confused.   In a lovely paper, “Community participation of people with an intellectual disability: a review of empirical findings,”  Verdonschot, de Witte, Reichrath, Buntinx4 and Curfs found that of the nearly 3000 studies over a ten year period that they looked at on “community participation” only about 23 met their criteria and defined community, defined disability and participation, etc..  In the end they suggest, 

It can be concluded that on the basis of empirical research, published within the time frame of this literature search, little is known about community participation of people with ID. Many researchers did not clearly define community participation or restrict their study to limited aspects of community participation. A valid conceptual framework is hardly referred to. 

They go on to say that hardly any of the studies dealt with the access of people who had more significant challenges and mostly they dealt with people with mild disabilities, and “The use of ad hoc questionnaires outside a theoretical framework is the rule in the selected studies.”   


One of the things I run into in my work is the targeting of staff who “don’t know what they’re doing” – how have we paid them this much money (in B.C. the budget for adults with developmental disabilities was 745 million for supports, most of which is directed at staff) and for what?  Those staff work for managers who work for coordinators who work for directors who work for executives who are informed by funders who depend on research that…  is mostly problematic.   It’s a cycle that comes out of education I think, in which we don’t really understand, as one mom said in a forum I was looking at, how typical learners learn much less how people with disabilities learn.  Instead of reflecting on this, deciding together on some trials if we must do something, and then pursuing evidence of how things work – everyone rushes headlong to the next thing, with little reflection and little evidence on which to pin their plans.   And a great deal of blame directed in all directions.  

I like this analogy by Andre Oides of birds leaving the nest but am struck by how it is a rather more complicated metaphor for me.   When we were once holidaying with friends who had brought their horrible teenagers, my partner saw how frustrated I was getting and said that they were like birds leaving the nest in that they needed to collect enough energy to get volitional, and they needed to demonstrate to themselves that they were too big to stay there any longer.  I found it very calming 🙂  (now that my son is in the same state, it is less calming).   I also think of this idea sometimes when I am supporting people with disabilities who decide to try some form of support in which they are more independent, and thus somewhat more vulnerable.  Here, baby crows leave their nests and need to wait a day or two before they can fly themselves, and their parents stay guarding them but they often don’t make it.  folks with disabilities often find that their connections increase as they move out of situations in which they are protected from almost all risk (at least in theory).  Those connections often lead to more opportunities, so that they begin to see the risk-avoidance of the systems they were/are part of as increasing their vulnerabilities instead of decreasing.  I think learning is sometimes that simple and that complicated – there’s a repeated moment that runs through the literature and stories of people with disabilities where through some often accidental means they end up at a conference that is partly about their rights, and then as part of a group of other people and they discover a commonality of experience, and this becomes a moment of complete transition for them, and often leads to a kind of numinous career in advocacy.   So it might be as accidental as that their name begins with a certain letter and the people with that letter in their name get to go to a conference, and then this meeting happens, and it leads to endless questions about identity, self concept, rights, social constructionism, etc. and also a sense of reciprocity in that they realize they have something to offer their friends, peers and their community.   Often in these same stories they will talk about how this led them back to education after what was almost typically a disastrous experience of special ed classrooms.  

I just did a study of a group of folks with disabilities and a theme for them was creating connections that in the light of some future opportunity, which they were unable to predict, would become meaningful, often in response to some event which we might not think of as meaningful or important.  The other interesting aspect of this group was that they’d been facilitated to take charge of their own life long learning, and they did so in informal and formal ways.  Some of them went to college, some of them went to museums, some of them watched documentaries or t.v. shows and talked to their friends about their conclusions.  

StarRaftScheduleOver the last year my work team has supported a group of self advocates to help them design their own learning plan and then invite in people from the community who knew what they wanted to know, and then process that information with each other, which has led to interesting connections and outgrowths (rhizomes!).   I was trying to imagine some variation of Dave Cormier’s student learning contract  that we might have used with this group.   We did generate a list with them about what they hoped to learn and how they would demonstrate that learning.  

And I really liked this post by Terry Cecil Elliot,  “I KNOW NOT WTF: SOME SHALLOW, ARBOREAL LEARNAGE,” from fellow learner on his Impedagogy site

Singing and singing and singing.  Listen to Brother Solomon Burke sing it.  I think he understood and I hope you will, too.  And know that his anthem is about  connection and care and freedom.  Is that rhizomatic learning?  Yes, but I think I will just call it love.

His blog posting ends with Solomon Burke singing “None Of Us Are Free”:  “It’s a simple truth we all need, just to hear and to see. /  None of us are free, one of us is chained. / None of us are free. / Now I swear your salvation isn’t too hard too find, / None of us can find it on our own. / We’ve got to join together in spirit, heart and mind. / So that every soul who’s suffering will know they’re not alone.”   

Yet I am confused in this course, as I am in my work sometimes, about what seems to be the intention to be alone, or to be with *some* (but not all) others in an us and them kind of fractiousness.   There was a conversation on Facebook about reading the source material, Deleuze and Guattari, which I read originally as a bit of joy in some who enjoy this reading finding others who were also interested in some thinking that is quite difficult.   However, it was quickly interpreted as privileging academics and as somehow dissing those who didn’t want to read D & G, in posts that went on forever.  There were maybe a dozen paragraphs suggesting that reading the source material could be fun and interesting, if hard, but I tried to count the number of references to that idea as privileging and lost count at 35.  Well, I got bored.  

IntersectionalityI really liked this post, “Teaching through Community Organizing: Being the Unacademic,” about the different roles we take on and intersectionality as a learning tool.    I want to think more about interesectionality as it has been a useful if complex discussion with people I support, but they’ve been really excited about the ideas.  

One of the most important aspects of my study was hearing about what constituted education for people with disabilities – and in some parts of the conversation how “learning” was one thing (“we like to learn”) but education, because it was in schools and there were power constructs that were marginalising and denigrating, were another thing.   One said “I like learning and I like school, but school is hard.”   So I was excited by the clarity of this bit of a post by Bonnie Stewart which nicely contextualises why this class’ ideas are so interesting to me: 

I see rhizomatics as a potent metaphor for conceptualizing the process of learning, and for approaching how we go about learning and working with learning. The value in the idea of the rhizome, for me, is the way in which it foregrounds the unpredictability, the messiness, the connectedness, and the multi-directionality of learning, knowledge, and educational research. I see rhizomatic learning almost as a lens, a pair of glasses one learns to put on in order to view the educational landscape.

These rhizomatic learning lenses are not intended to make you see more clearly, per se, though you may or may not come to that conclusion about their effects. Rather they are intended to make you see differently.

We live in a culture and time where our minds are colonized by education. Most particularly, by education as a system. We go to school, almost all of us, and are taught from an extraordinarily young age that school equates with learning. Our cultural concepts of education and learning are intrinsically interwoven with notions of schooling.

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