Well that was bizarre #rhizo15

DividingRhizomesWeek 1 (maybe) #rhizo15

My son wakes up; he’s 16 and sometimes cranky. He comes in to see what I’m doing, but he doesn’t walk into the room complaining loudly so that’s a gift.

“I’m writing about learning objectives,” I say. “But I think I’ve gone off on a tangent.”

“A tangent? What are you, 16?”

“You think only 16 year olds go off on tangents?”

“Well they’re better at it, for sure. No one knows what you’re talking about.”

“Do you know what a learning objective is?”

“Hah! It means you have a learning objective, you’re dumb as fuck and you don’t know what you’re doing, so now you have learning objectives. It’s like a roadblock.”

“What? Why do you think that?”

“It’s not what’s really happening, it’s just what people are getting told. You’re essentially asking them to count the fucking sheep on the paper. I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t affect my ass, it affects their ass. It’s just people who didn’t have parents who helped their kids articulate what they’re really thinking, so they get caught up in the bullshit stream.” [parent: oh dear]

“What do you think a learning subjective is?”

“No one knows what you’re talking about. It’s like an addiction, saying things people don’t understand.”

Banksy, street art, "0% Interest in People."
Banksy, street art, “0% Interest in People.”

Dave Cormier’s instructions are to introduce yourself, to build community, get acclimated and this is the question of the week: “Build learning subjectives: How do we design our own or others learning when we don’t know where we are going? How does that free us up? What can we get done with subjectives that can’t be done with objectives?” There is also something about time travel that I didn’t understand but that’s okay, I didn’t know we were doing time travel and I’m not that interested, after reading The Time Traveller’s Wife – it all seems much too fraught.

So, of course we usually think of “learning objectives” when we take a class or engage in some learning or when we design curricula.   Even when one is proposing a workshop or lecture for a conference, one is asked to give leaning objectives.

This idea of “learning subjectives” kind of purposefully turns us around and gives us a chance to reflect on this idea, just as the rhizome concept does when applied to the idea of education overall. What are our objectives? About what are we objective? What creates the conditions for objectivity? for subjectivity? “Subjective” / subjectivity/ inter-subjective come up 37 times in Deleuze’s What Is Philosophy, 69 times in Anti-Oedipus: capitalism and schizophrenia and 68 times in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.   It was an important word for someone who thought so carefully about language.

Etymologically, “Subjective” is derived from the Latin subjectīvus – having to do with a ruler. In more modern usage the ruler is, of course, us. Thank you Descartes. “Subjective” means “existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought (opposed to objective)” or, and perhaps this is the dicey one, “placing excessive emphasis on one’s own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc.; unduly egocentric” and thus “relating to properties or specific conditions of the mind as distinguished from general or universal experience.” It’s perhaps instructive to look at “objective” – “the state or quality of being objective: He tries to maintain objectivity in his judgment,” to have an “intentness on objects external to the mind” or “external reality.” Again, a Latin word, derived from “objectus” – object: “anything that is visible or tangible and is relatively stable in form” or “a thing, person, or matter to which thought or action is directed: an object of medical investigation” and “the end toward which effort or action is directed; goal; purpose” (dictionary.com).

Conceptually, objectivity is the given condition we strive for intellectually, particularly in research, while also having to admit that each of us have certain leanings that might make it more difficult. In some disciplines and professions, the more one can let go of these leanings and the more objective one can be, the more “professional” – the better. For example, in my own field of disability supports, one theory is that one should have a certain distance from those one supports. When I started supporting people with disabilities my trainers and mentors would say “You don’t want to burn out.” The implication was, of course, that these people – the “other” in our worlds – would be a drain. The instantiation of this idea is found in studies of the support networks / friends of people with disabilities those who are paid for some of their hours of support are discounted. In some states, staff are not allowed to fraternize with those they support outside of work hours. In fact, in some workplaces “staff” must be off the premises within 15 minutes of being off shift. Why is this?

I was 25 years into my career when a colleague said to me, When I look at my life and what I like about it, I realize that most of what I love about it has come out of my interactions with people with intellectual disabilities – they have brought layers of richness and strengths and I can’t imagine not knowing them as friends, colleagues and employers. I was 26 years into my career when I began a training workshop about supports for people with disabilities with the question “Who do you love and why?” I began, instead of “telling” a group of community members “about” disability, to ask “Who do you know? What do you know about them?” and, instead of writing down various etiologies, they engaged in a conversation about people they know and care about. Afterwards, they came up to say that I had allowed them to own their feelings for their neighbours, siblings, uncles, co-workers and folks at Starbucks they saw every day, who “make my day.”

In an objective research paper, for example, a number of cases of persons might be aggregated to create a theory about what’s common to them, but there would also be at the end a section on limitations and perhaps another section on disclosures.   If the persons studied were aboriginal and defending a land claim somewhere that oil companies wanted to drill, theoretically the authors would have to say if oil companies funded their research or their university and if their belief was that Colonialist values were better than aboriginal.

Of course this doesn’t happen. In my field, disability studies, one often finds aggregates that are de-personified and then the research itself replicates the processes of control through knowledge.   Or, as Rob Kitchin writes, in a paper, “The Researched Opinions on Research: disabled people and disability research”:

. . . some disabled activists and organisations have declared that existing research has largely been a source of exploitation rather than liberation (Barnes & Mercer 1997b), reproducing current social relationships, and perpetuating the dichotomy and unequal power relationships between non-disabled and disabled. As such, critically-formulated research (that with an emancipatory, political agenda) which adopts an expert model approach is paradoxically seeking change at one level (society), whilst at the same time reproducing unequal social relationships at another (within the research process; Kitchin, 1999a). (26)

and, he ends,

In this paper, the results from 35 interviews with disabled people concerning their general opinions of disability research, how disability research should be conducted and by whom has been reported. There is much support for the arguments advanced by academics such as Barnes, Finkelstein and Oliver, that disability research is alienating and disempowering. Such feelings are generated because disabled respondents feel that their knowledges and experiences are being `mined’ and suspect that little action is being taken on the basis of findings. Moreover, many interviewees felt that research conducted by non-disabled people may be unrepresentative and may not be serving the interests of those participating. (Kitchin 45)

So, the whole positing of a concept of objectivity is in itself questionable, and particularly in the work I am surrounded by, which is always riddled with unexamined, unstated economic prepositions and assumptions, as if the involvement of money and budgets is always a surprise, when in fact it rules.

This iteration of the #rhizo15 MOOC focuses on the question of “Rhizomatic Learning – A practical discussion” – and, for me, the locating of a discussion about what I do and care about in the rhizomatic conversation has allowed for new ways to honor the kinds of learning that people with disabilities engage in when they are dis-allowed and dis-couraged from participating fully in our school systems, even if those are labeled as “inclusive.” It allows for thinking through the very idea of a privileging of a certain kind of testable intelligence over other kinds of intelligences, and giving respect to people who might not be able to read a spreadsheet but can walk into a room, gauge the inhabitants within moments, go to the people who can assist them, and very quickly develop allegiances.   It makes sense of the woman I interviewed who has Down Syndrome and is nearing the end of a regular 2 year college program which took her four, but was a complete surprise to everyone in the school she’d studied in, which didn’t see her as having scholastic capacity: “They tried to teach me things I didn’t care about, in ways that didn’t work for me. It was a waste of 12 years and then they said ‘You can stay and do grade 13,’ like that was a good thing. I said, ‘No thank you!’ I graduated and I said, ‘Well that was bizarre,’ and went to college.”

So, the question turns. Who, in the objective evaluations of her schools and the kinds of supports that exist for children and adults with disabilities, was really objective enough to think through some other ways of gauging whether the needs of these young and adult learners are being met.   Was objectivity ever present? Is the focus on tools for teaching that don’t work for people to teach them what they don’t care about really objective? Or a way of further marginalizing some people?

He comes back into the room.  “When I get a bike [motorcycle] I’m taking off the license plates; who needs them?  They’re Darwinian.”



Rob Kitchin (2000): The Researched Opinions on Research: Disabled people and disability research, Disability & Society, 15:1, 25-47

4 thoughts on “Well that was bizarre #rhizo15

  1. “You’re essentially asking them to count the fucking sheep on the paper.” This was a pleasure to read 🙂

    It seems that each field has its dominant myth that, when explored, just ends up being the way people thought they could cope. Not necessarily a good way of coping… but coping.

    Give your son a high five for me… if he does that sort of thing 🙂

  2. This is a key idea for me: “the privileging of a certain kind of testable intelligence over other kinds of intelligences.” The testable intelligence is supposedly objective, both privileged. Hah. Your son and those children with different abilities deserve our attention. Cut right through the bullshit.

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