SMITH: Your work has a deep sense of privacy to it. But yet you’ve often collaborated with others and you have assistants. There is a comfort in having people to work with. And now you’re even using other people’s language in your works.
HOLZER: It can be kind of gruesome at times, making things alone. [laughs] I don’t want to be too dramatic, but it’s hard. It’s necessary to start most work alone. But I’m tickled to death when I can pull somebody in or join someone, whether it’s borrowing poetry or traveling with an associate. Company makes my day.
We are at the end of the online P2P class Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum in which people from all over the world came together to discuss, debate and think about ideas derived from Deleuze and Guattari’s 1000 Plateaus. I’ve enjoyed so many of the virtual conversations and had great experiences sharing parts of the ideas in my working life…
This course came at an odd time for me – it popped up in my blog reader, which I rarely look at, just as I was finishing up details around my thesis research, graduating, embarking on a course of group coaching based on visual charts and, to my surprise, taking a class in improv. “Yes, and…”
It’s all seemed a bit hallucinatory.
Yes, and my son turned 15. And as he rifles through identities that are not ours, becoming his own person with a kind of spasmodic intensity, alternately shocking and poking and prodding us to rethink everything we thought we knew and everything we thought we were… he wants to go shopping and buys a t-shirt that says, in text made of flowers, “The Future is Stupid.” I am having a love/hate relationship with this shirt…
And with this stage of his life. As my mother did when I went through it. As Gary’s parents did when he went through it. But it seems odd to be so liberal and so invested in social justice and alternative, critical thinking – to be one of the first gay couples to marry and adopt a child – and then be dismissed over the dinner table as some kind of version of a 1960’s sitcom family who want to just pretend everything is okay… what? what? How did this happen? And when did he get a mohawk? No, you cannot get a piercing.
Yes, and… deep breath. Listen. Openly. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill
I’ve started writing this blog a dozen times but keep getting distracted.
This course has made me even more thoughtful about some aspects of adult learning. I have been working on a “visual CV” – as I drew the institutions I’d studied at I was thinking about who I’d met and been influenced by in those places. It wasn’t about the brick and mortar place. I realized that many of the teachers the institution would have though were most important were not who I had learned from – in fact, I could barely remember what they’d taught. But I remembered a tutor who wasn’t even that well thought of, and a guest lecturer who showed me a whole magical way of being and thinking about our subject, and of being “aged,” and a sessional instructor hired in for just one semester who made me feel part of a great conversation for which I was partly responsible. This led me to thinking about who else was in those places – the other students who also taught me things that influenced my life even more hugely than the learning. In the drawings I started clustering these names, adding them to the lists of professors and influences… and then started thinking about books – my discovery of Paulo Freire transformed the possibilities of education and gave me a new language. But what about the artist Gathie Falk and a show of her work that I can’t even explain the impact of but I felt like grace was present and possible…
Yes, and… rhizomatic. Not linear; moving where it is welcomed; each bit that splits off becoming a new plant… creating new ecosystems.
In our improv class our amazing teacher demonstrates through an exercise how we are all of us creating stories about each other and everything that happens all the time. In this class, essentially, he tells us to question another classmate about a story we think they hold. They answer our questions and we accrue the story from their answers. Later we discover their answers were random – the story that accrued was a story we made, because we wanted their answers to be a story – we expected a story. This builds on earlier classes, in the first of which we “sent” each other messages with intention and then looked at how part of the action is about sending the message but the other part is about receiving it – that the receiver has a equal responsibility… in the end, the person on the stage is only responsible for their intention, and the audience must be accountable for their part.
He explains all of this much better than this, of course – I am just a fascinated amateur on wobbly baby-learning legs.
Who is made safe enough by the intentions of the instructor and the other students to stretch myself beyond anything I thought I might do, in different directions than I thought I might go. So, in the middle of a difficult conversation at work I begin channeling my Italian tour guide happily married to my colleague who drives the bus given that I’ve lost my license and I am trying to share my fascination for cathedrals because my immigrant parents, who are actually Gypsies but I don’t want you to know that, took our family to Northern Europe and got caught up in wars there and the only thing that I could trust were the churches where we were safe from the bombs. It is all I can do to not take on an Italian accent. Instead of trying to end the conversation, which I did not want to have, I reflexively say, “Yes, and…” and hold my responsibility for deepening the learning, the relationship, the potential. Quite quickly we both admit that we had misunderstood things, and that we should not have got positional, and that we can easily see a shared solution. Amazing.
Yes, and…. in the coaching course I am drawing “life maps” – where was I, what happened, who else was there, what were the conditions like? And I begin to see, at this late age, that some of what I’ve always held responsibility for as mistakes I’ve made, were the results of a kind of avalanche around me – I was pretty much directed to those events and I didn’t have the skills to move out of the way… and when I began to gather those skills through various kinds of education, I began to plan for and set off my own avalanche bombs – so that the energy was directed in ways that worked better for me. One of those “bombs” – a thing I can depend on whether it is there when I begin or not – is that I will always meet the right colleagues in the places I go to learn.
Yes, and…. I begin telling people I work with and people in my field about this idea of rhizomatic learning – how do the staff we hope to train learn what we want them to know? I am working on a survey that asks them this, without preconceptions of what the answers might be. What I find interesting in this tiny project is that there is nothing like it in my research. There are assessments of how learning objectives that were trained for were successful or not, but there is no open-ended assessment of how people really learned a skill that is probably the most important in my field.
In Week 4 or 5 Dave Cormier talked about the idea of declaring intention. I haven’t gotten around to this yet, so here it is. I was really excited about this blog entry by Steve Wheeler about PLNs and COPs (Personal Learning Networks and Community of Practice groups). I’ve been a bit mistrustful about this idea of community of practice in my field and it is for just this reason – the assumption of expertise. Supports for people with disabilities are, after fifty years, only really successful in terms of their stated intentions in a very few places. There is no expertise. There are events that worked, but which haven’t been harvested in holistic ways, and instead are kept in silos of interest. There are some people with great ideas they have put together in credible ways, but whether anyone listens is hit or miss because there is always another accreditation, another survey, another required proficiency that has little to do with actual quality of life. So then there’s now a quality of life survey… and experts in its implementation and documentation. *sigh* I think they should be required to read this book before they declare themselves but probably it wouldn’t help…
So this idea of a Personal Learning Network of people who are not experts but are learning together interests me – so immediately I declared that I was going to spend a specific week on a learning journey and not book myself into anything that would distract from that (April 14 – 17 if you want to join me!). And others wanted to join me and want to hear more about rhizomatic learning. This led me to fly an idea about a weekend of emergent curriculum around leadership development that would be based on the things that had inspired us to enter into this field – social justice and a deep sense that everyone could belong and be treated respectfully and that people with disabilities add to the world and are not a burden. I think many people come into this work wanting that and then get buried in paperwork and system needs. No one shows up and says “I can’t wait to get started writing all those reports and filing things in triplicate!” Well, not very many, and when they do it’s not a good sign. And yet it’s what my field does to people who light up when they see that someone with a disability has a gift that can be expanded and brought into the right affiliations where people love that gift and share it. Excitement ensued. What if we got together and said things without editing them? What might we teach each other? What might we learn from each other? So those were the three “outcomes” (aside from learning a few new technologies) of my studies here over the six weeks.
Yes, and… I must come to a close. I have to move on to some other things but I hope that this course runs again and I will keep using the hashtag #rhizo14 (or 15 or 16 or…) when it seems to apply.
Yes, and… the future is stupid. What does that mean? It is hard not to be offended by it and then I realize that he has way more invested in the future than I do, even if I feel like I’ve spent the last quarter century working to improve the prospects of it, just a little bit. Maybe. And his experience of schools has been mostly appalling, with some shining moments… that had to do with shining people. And he is surrounded by people saying he must do this to go to that college, or perhaps a trade school, or read that book or he might like to go to university and learning a language will keep his options open… it is incredibly hard not to join the chorus. And there will be tests, increasingly, standardised tests, and accreditations and surveys and… things that are piled up now like a house of cards will continue to be piled upon.
There is this hope, though. I love his new school and the staff there. At a recent meeting the Principal said, “Let’s face it, the job that he’ll love most in his future has not yet been invented. He may have to invent it himself, and his capacity for rethinking what we think we know will be a strength.”