Category Archives: theory

112 Scott Johnson Quotes: out of context and in no particular order. #rhizo15

“The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a ‘circle of certainty’ within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”

― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Marc Ngui, 1000 Plateaus drawings, Introduction, Paragraph 13

Marc Ngui, 1000 Plateaus drawings, Introduction, Paragraph 13

The alternative to someone like Dave is someone like us – and, importantly, we can imagine ourselves as teachers but I think it’s also an opportunity to recognise the importance of colleagues – the person at the desk beside us, or in the moodle forum, who says the things that make us think or move us from one concept to another.   I was thinking about this week four topic in #rhizo15, what happens if there is no Dave (no teacher), and realized that as I check my #rhizo15 newsfeeds each morning, a bit obsessively, Scott is one of the people I start to look for.   He’s part of the aggregate that I attend to and hope to participate in, as Sarah Honeychurch (another important part of my aggregate) has said: “Scott, maybe we should meme you.”  I knew them both a bit from #rhizo14. I didn’t know Dave Harris but he’s suddenly sprung up (like a rhizome!) and now I watch for him too.

So, thinking about this, on a night when I couldn’t sleep, I started going through Scott’s postings.  I have whittled these down to 100… oh wait no there’s more… a rhizomatic thing is that he keeps talking as I work on this list  (and just then I get a tweet-comic from Kevin Hodgson, another person I look for, about Scott

CElyegHW0AEt6vEand through the magic of web 2.0 i get to add it to this too)… It also just occurred to me that in effect I am transposing Dave’s handing over of the week’s question to Viplav by handing over this posting to Scott…

Thanks to Scott for not being too weirded out by this idea and giving me permission to pursue this posting.  There are many amazing voices in #rhizo15 – but I am interested in how Scott has enriched my experience of learning here.

  1. At one time it seemed preferable to be clear in what I mean. Now I’m not so sure. Contradictions matter though.
  2. I find connections suggestive of what I weakly understand as rhizomatic material. The community as curriculum extends beyond the academic community to less directed and unintentional sources.
  3. …finding connections to what I think D&G are saying in the words of others confirms to me that they are somehow understandable. This might be bad technique but it’s also refreshing to see people not let go of something just because it’s difficult.
  4. This wanders back to nomads and independent learning. Explaining to me feels like it falls into logos by association with institutionalized sense making and accepting definitions confined to the needs of the state. Propaganda, religion, advertising and political persuasion. So teaching as a form of explaining is presumably a structured description of reality yet there are times in my wanderings in self initiated learning where I hit a wall, For instance I can complain about D&G being deliberately obscure but really, I don’t understand them in the way Sian was able to make D&G accessible and I think it’s fair to ask just how independent are we? My having an “attitude” about Continental Philosophy is way different than understanding and then arguing against it.
  5. In school my inability to understand was considered a “failure” by definition of the state. Here the importance lies in the willingness to ask for help? Or maybe the freedom to choose the help I find helpful?
  6. The hurricane picture reminds me of the smooth and striated spaces where the outer mess is smooth and variable and the center resolved into rules that pretend to prediction but are just bossy orderliness.
  7. If objectivity is seen not as an ideal model of universal acceptance but simply a statement of the way things are then the rhizome need not be an abstraction but more a difference machine working the tension landscape of things-that-are and things-that-could-be?
  8. …being literally days ago when I wrote that post I have no idea what I meant.
  9. …a Simonizer would generate unpredictable outcomes appropriate the Rhizomatic zone of dis-similarity where nothing quite fits.
  10. Patrick’s mention of fear of the unknown suggests we need some way to relax around uncertainty so we can draw conclusions from things that have no reason or intention to match up.
  11. an unprovoked attention drifts

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 11.40.22 AM

  1. I’m not sure the lightness of random thinking is anything more than Brownian Motion
  2. …there will be none of the follow-through that distinguishes a course, only synaptic bilge-water
  3. though conservative governments may wish to shut down big education centres as dangerous gatherings of thinking people, online delivery encourages thinking to infect wider and more remote areas with ideas that befuddle the conservative message
  4. …imagination can be taught or at least cultivated. One form of evil is the discouragement of imagination, which may originate in the social fear of difference?
  5. The stranger is unpredictable.


  1. The idea of permanence is attractive yes though recent history for me is about dumping my past and that’s fun too.
  2. The tension in IT is over the predictable, do we need machines that think like people, or people who think like machines?
  3. Positive sides of ed tech: the IT department becomes lord over all content and though they may lack imagination, they at least aren’t evil.   Bandwidth hogs like D&G are cut down–more than 3 plateaus and you are out of here. Small tyrants running small minded institutions are exposed to the whole academic community and their “good-enough-for-our-students” course ware is now subject to merciless mocking and forced to meet almost modern standards.
  4. Some staff in our department won a Smart Table for the office and being close to the day care it act as both a baby changing table and electronic piano.
  5. …are thoughts and theories of academics the only source of validity. If the goal is to encourage me to think independently and I come up with my own method of discovering “truth” and am willing to defend that method isn’t that better than borrowing a recommended or approved source which I need not account for?
    1914, paragraph 5, drawing.

    1914, paragraph 5, drawing. Marc Ngui


  6. Thinking of how school invaded my life declaring itself rightful judge and master suggests the rhizome has to break through many layers of assumption–so common and whole-worldly as to be unnoticeable (irresistible in its meta-normality). We are conditioned to respond only to the known and the crafty answers it displays to name itself correct (answering our question before we can even form it) which I guess is the Objective claiming the decided and posting itself as the apparent. This many stepped process is controllable with it’s structured needs and supposed neutrality while the Subjective only needs to make sense to itself. By any manner of ‘proof’ the Subjective skips through life unperturbed by the need for ‘evidence’ and though we might not like this loosy-goosy attitude, it does provide us with the opportunity for first contact with ideas our judgement will soon pick to death.
  7. Maybe we talk-over the voice of content.
  8. Thinking about content led to applying numbers to learning and how they are currently misapplied leading me to think about how important questions are and how difficult it is to construct a question that reveals a really meaningful answer which had me thinking about Jane Jacobs on urban planning and the way she inquires about the world.
  9. I’m not convinced that division of Pedagogy and Andragogy is based on anything more complex than the fact that adults are bigger and harder to push around.
  10. If something is unconnected to your life then it needs to be made compelling.
  11. We trip over the term “relevant” when talking about education because simply calling something uninteresting “important” still leaves us uninterested.
  12. I’ve been dealing with an institution that holds onto control by responding like a snail. Poke it in the right place with a meaningful question and it responds by withdrawing into its shell and issuing a meaningless policy statement. No doubt the shell is a useful and robust adaptation but the snail itself is useless.

    Gathie Falk, The Last Summer in the Old Eden Already

    Gathie Falk, The Last Summer in the Old Eden Already

  13. I have an image of content being selected for its completeness, correctness and decidedness. It displays as closed object to us–maybe with entry points though not really open. How do we engage with something so finished?
  14. How much of our life is spent as an improved and acceptable model to please others? And who are we learning for when not ourselves?
  15. Huge swing across the political spectrum from conservative to social democratic but I don’t think is represents change. Conservatives had been in office for 44 years straight and had gotten out of the habit of explaining themselves or feeling the need to explain their erratic actions. Strangely, there is plenty of wise and useful advice out there but people prefer reasoning to be simple, even if it’s wrong. What we want to hear rules us.
  16. With not too many more years of conservative government the places will all be turned over to concession stands
  17. did you not pay attention in Sunday school?
  18. It worries me a bit that system design is actually a profession on its own. How can people “know” everything except at the level of abstraction? Or should it be called at the level of objectivity?
  19. Most measuring seems intent on finding single indicators to describe a complex system. Boil down the details and a central truth will emerge.
    portrait of Deleuze

    portrait of Deleuze


  20. …in fact bad connections can spice up a network and make it more vital.
  21. I don’t see a problem with a system in contrast with itself.
  22. In fact it may be a sign of disloyalty to be an independent learner.
  23. It’s a mythology of totalitarian power justified by attaching it to the moral vacuum of business as an imaginary place where screwing each other is held to be a neutral and non-personal activity.
  24. …she gets that just-stepped-out-of-a-saloon look in her hair by dancing with balloons so she might be reacting to the latex?
  25. Is it possible for networks to induce emergence? Aren’t networks the sum of the parts endlessly summing their parts?
  26. I don’t think age is a factor here, more to do with curiosity and the willingness to engage the unfamiliar.
  27. The college she works for has been asked to create an OER course and it will be interesting to see how a totalitarian organization approaches openness.
  28. It seems that a form of management that replaces humans with predictable models that suit organizational goals has become popular in education.
  29. There will always be missing links in any network, things that are missed or even that prefer not to be known by the network. All knowledge is limited by being incomplete but some knowledge collectives seem content on a declaration of completeness. Does this over-confidence lead to more of itself, a lock-down of thought?

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 11.54.11 AM

  1. The notion that putting dull ideas on a screen will make them more interesting is the old lipstick-on-a-pig design model popular in politics. We seem to process images differently than spoken word but still a bad spoken idea can always be made worse with imagery.
  2. On collage: Being “art” understood by an adolescent mind it was always a soup of subjectivity, but it still was fun–especially because there was no fixed explanation for it. Any story would fit.
  3. the signature pedagogy idea seems right though for hands-on trades some mistakes can be allowed, just not too much blood the first time–tactile learners need all the fingers they came with.
  4. adult learning always felt precarious as in “everyone else seems to have gotten it and I’m here trying AGAIN.” Fortunately the we-get-it crowd don’t hang around places like this.
Foucault’s copy of Anti-Oedipus offered by Deleuze with drawings by his two children. Deleuze points to the drawings and notes in yellow, “Oedipus does not exist.

Foucault’s copy of Anti-Oedipus offered by Deleuze with drawings by his two children. Deleuze points to the drawings and notes in yellow, “Oedipus does not exist.

  1. …welcome to the whatever-it-is-here:-)
  2. it seem like rhizomatic projects involve a commitment to cooperation where convincing yourself of the value of participation is an attitude that seeks confusion over orderliness. To me, cats are open to decision making unconstrained by an initial need to make sense of the world. First rule is to chase whatever moves. The unfortunate outcome is that catching and playing with that which was chased kills it, at which point the cats disburse leaving a dead object ready for academic discovery.
  3. Hard enough deciding on who I am at the moment:-) Is it nomadic to be everywhere’ish?
  4. if we don’t worry wouldn’t we be less attentive?
  5. could we look at objectivity as a form of bonding such that trying to “keep up” is socially considerate while the subjective is inconsiderate? As open as I would like to appear it’s also vital that I stay intact and sometimes distort experiences to fit my needs. To have and cultivate bad “manners” and not give a rats-ass what others think. Can being nomadic also include being biased?
  6. It all plays to unexamined tacit assumptions or social mythologies that in a way are objective. To break through this level of “understanding” requires accessing a different part of the brain–maybe a less hurried part?
  7. those plant people are strangely appealing.
  8. at one time it seemed this MOOC would get simpler. That some strategy would kick in… it hasn’t and I’m thinking it doesn’t matter. Things just keep moving with each thought building on the one before by taking it apart and leaving us wondering how long the current one will last.
Bill Reid's Spirit Canoe at Vancouver International Airport, multiple exposure with Hipstamic app

Bill Reid’s Spirit Canoe at Vancouver International Airport, multiple exposure with Hipstamic app

  1. Being driven might be our natural state while others settle. My parents were artists and never mentioned end-points. There were places to go but they were never described as destinations. More like different base camps to branch out from. Have to think about this.
  2. Advice from your children is tricky because you never know if they learned from you and arguing against it is disagreeing with yourself.
  3. …like to at least explore a person’s thoughts on WHY something happened before the WHAT happened to get the personal feel before the analysis. People do things for reasons that may not be revealed in what came back at them.
  4. Cause and effect in human relations can be very difficult to untangle and our encounters with constructs like institutions can feature a sensitive and aware human encountering a cold and impersonal policy. The WHAT of what happened has no will or reasoning power–it just happened to a model individual unrelated to the real person who triggered the response.
  5. We give up our intuitions and insights in an attempt to be the dispassionate observer uninfluenced by beauty.
  6. …maybe just needing to be right we become wrong?
  7. good point about power. It distorts the objective to its own end of seeming rational because “everyone knows” disarms us because we need the social so badly. That’s my key problem with the medical system–they have sanctified themselves in the objectivity of the oppressor. And here I go after another rabbit.
  8. how about a list of the failings of objectivity if it were personified? ‘Subjective’ is a not-so-nice way to refer to the personal and tends to devalue experience as unreliable or a distortion of some higher understanding. If we enthrone objectivity as a higher state of experiencing the world then we are tasked with deciding which reality is most true? Fault #1, objectivity is a construct of naturally subjective humans who are notoriously unreliable.
  9. Here in rhizo it’s kind of “call us when you get there” thing where everyone smiles as you get on the wrong bus.
  10. that looks like the wrong wrong bus.Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 12.02.24 PM
  11. There was some disappointment last year that D&G never really got discussed. Some us, like me avoided the discussion by making up elaborate excuses and creating distractions (not to mention despairing remarks) and the whole thing became known as “The Tragedy of the Rhizome” as it on the scale of the sinking of the Titanic but went unnoticed. Sad really–though predictable in this crowd.
  12. Maybe D&G weren’t meant to be read?
  13. life would be so much easier if we all could just wiggle out of problems that won’t resolve . . . our current election campaigning features the corrupted logic of the managed argument that a candidate can be ‘for’ services to constituents while being ‘for’ lower taxes raising the problem of cutting staffing at the services to pay for increased services.
  14. Alternately, the rhizome allows you to adapt to changing conditions by frequently changing your mind.
  15. …a fixed outcome for a traveler could be an openness to the unexpected. This need not disorient the person but delight them in the strangeness of contrast. Traveling outside one’s comfort zone can erase strategies for learning and be quite uncomfortable but sometimes the safe linear stepping stones create a false model of the world as predictable as A followed by B and instead of knowing how navigate people just sail to the same place every time. What happens when expectation fails? What next?
  16. …a subjective is an unrevealed destination while a objective is an argument for not going there at all.Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 12.05.27 PM
  17. proof of participation seems different than proof of contribution but I’m unsure why? Being there isn’t enough, nor to my mind is the melding of voices into one. Can collaboration matter if it doesn’t leverage difference?
  18. The limitations, disagreements, personal interests and general unwillingness of humans to cooperate makes collaboration either close to a miraculous achievement or a forced march to nowhere.
  19. So the difference is my personal perception that collaboration is unproductive and personally invasive unless it allows for a range of differences which may make it practically too difficult to manage.
  20. Submitting yourself as neutral while simultaneously being investigator and subject can seriously mess with a person’s identity.
  21. the irresistible messiness of rhizomatic jack-foolery.
  22. we should let people go astray and not always worry them about bad choices. (And this doesn’t mean letting children run out into traffic). Maybe encouraging learning from all experiences including “mistakes” is the key. Saying “shit-happens” is really poor pedagogy and a huge loss of potential.


  1. To me, the whole structure of education was / is centred on discovering what someone else already knows. There’s no invitation to genuinely participate–only to go around collecting ‘appropriate’ answers that can be traded.
  2. When I’m asked to remove my self to be ‘objective’ I find my thoughts push all the learning from experience that built me away and I need to operate as channel for ideas that are borrowed and not of myself.
  3. …like a herd of freely associating, autonomous cats.
  4. I remember libraries as attempting to confirm reality by displaying so many versions of it that it couldn’t not exist. From there you were on your own to pick one, some, or just start your own.
  5. in school it often seemed the teachers were crushed if you didn’t “learn” something measurable. It wasn’t for their selfish needs, though they might have felt it a personal or professional failure to have not “gotten through” to me. The need to demonstrate learning has been reduced to cause and effect–take math, learn math, exhibit math on tests. What you can do with math is limited to what you’ve been given to do. Not knowing where we are going and going anyway is unresolved at the start and maybe we are averse to begin without knowing how it will end?
  6. I think people who believe in equity will act with fairness but most people have to be hammered into awareness.
  7. How do we get past mistaking contemplation for passivity?
  8. introverts as change makers feels like something difficult to measure.
  9. This is a free service by the way:-)
  10. No one likes hard topics, though I suppose a discussion over why the Tooth Fairy pays less for girl’s teeth might catch on:-)
  11. But I do worry that we’ve become immune to what measurements tell us by their overuse. Maybe we need to feel the inequality first and then the numbers confirm it?
from David Fullerton's

from David Fullerton’s “I’m Sorry” series.

  1. I do like the notion of thinking systematically, creatively and critically being measured by schools as institutions. It gives the impression that these qualities are a public value to be judged by experts. Something else to fail at in the eyes of the state.
  2. There’s a close relationship between locality as a space between the imagining of nodes. Locality seems less fixed yet more understandable by its chance to be variable and living while the node is an object or artifact needing a single identity to hold its position.
  3. neurons form pathways to favorites or groups of faves and though these affinity groups may evolve they tend to evolve together–maybe as a loyalty to the rut they all share? In a way this a self limiting system. In Viviana’s nodeless rhizome concept we have lines without the need for destinations. Things appear and often vanish leaving you to explain…what?
  4. Networks seem like an artificial model conceived by humans and then applied to nature. And then we turn and take the biological rhizome and apply it to human learning, then as George Seimens mentioned rhizomes act as generators of copies and we’ve been talking about them (I think) as instigators of diversity–or as I prefer, signal jammers and suggesters of alternative pathways.
  5. The rhizome waits for no one.
  6. The problems were solved by getting rid of all the “difficult” students, their teachers and having nightly inspirational talks on the actual meaning of the word “Wonder” as applies to doughy whiteness in a loaf of Wonder Bread.
  7. When objectivity becomes a form of publicly accepted bullshit it needs challenging or it becomes further embedded.
  8. we still need to go out into the mess or we’ll run out of things we think we know.
  9. it does feed my interest in how things fail so it’s interesting to watch
  1. When the city paved our street everything grew wheels.
  2. . . . the world repackaged in tedious explanations passing for understandings. Or maybe there’s process we can learn for seeding ideas that we can stand away from and not feel the need to intrude and direct? .
  3. We need a Pleasing Number Generator that could take any data and make it agreeable to the receiver.
  4. Why do we suppose taking things apart will reveal something about the world?
  5. for as often the term ‘free range’ comes up on the menu these days it might be better for us chickens to do our thinking inside the barn where no one is looking for us?
  6. Content is insecure completeness.
  7. During a brief career in education I realized that I’d always found learning vital even though school pushed me away.
  8. The online world has made them accountable beyond their tiny empires and that matters a lot to students here who deserve more than shit for education.
  9. I feel compelled to provide transitions between boundaries which almost feels like a slavery to content.
  10. The idea of waiting until we are deep into the mess to start on a strategy of sense making beats avoiding the mess to be safe. That said and notwithstanding housekeeping tips from an anarchist, I think I’ll stay out a bit longer.
  11. educational technology is developing theories though it seems to be mostly trial and error at the moment and hasn’t reached magnificence of a philosophy.
  1. the level of trial and error beats resolved theories and makes for more interesting discussions.
  2. the idea of renewal and shedding old baggage is essential–I won’t say essential to progress which I wonder about o I’ll say essential to allow new voices to be heard.Rauschenberg, Express, 1974
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What if Dave is Batman? #rhizo15

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The question of week 4 in #rhizo15 is what happens if we don’t have Dave, the professor who dreamed up and organized the course and creates these great questions that initiate some of the best discussions I’ve been part of, on blogs, on twitter and on Facebook.  I’ve even been compelled to take Google+ more seriously because I think I am missing out somehow. Something shapes us.  Someone.  Some event.  The theory of Batman is that he is taught by his experience of a violent crime and the death of his parents to become the saviour of Gotham.  If you prefer the video version, published here under the excellent title, “Seriously, Though, How Many Times Do We Have To Watch Batman’s Parents Die?: Stories overlaying stories over stories… voices and ruptures and testimony.  It is with the deaths of Bruce’s parents that his story begins.  Prior to them he’s just another kid with his parents watching the movie Zorro – if things had continued on he’d have started refusing to go with them, “OMG you’re so embarrassing…”  But, after their witnessed deaths he becomes, in effect Zorro-like. Is it all inescapable?  Are we shaped like bonsai kittens? BonsaiKitten But how many times have we met people in roles that we felt were completely unsuitable and yet they seem trapped in those roles?  How did they get there?  Refusing to move, and creating further vulnerabilities for everyone around them. I remember a teacher I worked with once, and as I went through the graded workbooks of one of her students, anxiety ridden and full of self-doubt, I started to snap photos of her comments to him over seven months, and then put them together on one big sheet of paper to show her that she’d given him consistently negative feedback, no matter what he did.  She said three nice things about his assignments in ten months.  He was ten.  No one could figure out why he didn’t want to hand things in anymore. She was as sincerely shocked and horrified as I was to see this, but I’m not sure what happened after – did she free herself from the bonsai jar and move on into some more suitable career?  I use that story and sheet of feedback in workshops and people are always appalled – they would never do that – but it requires some intentionality, forethought and carefulness to not do that to each other…  to remember to priorize relationships, to refuse to get caught up in the power dynamics of the settings.  Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 7.35.19 PM If we use Joseph Campbell’s model of the monomyth that is the Hero’s Journey, the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents is the call to action, their ghosts his guide, and then through various versions of the story he is trained as a detective and fighter by the assassin’s guild (maybe) and his revelation is that he is responsible for Gotham.  He then transforms into the Batman and begins a process of atoning.  Answering the call of the bat-signal no matter what the hour or weather; watching over his city from the roof-tops.  Whether Catwoman is or isn’t the Goddess of Campbell’s visioning is a debate…

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The first variation of the Batman story  – the first death of Bruce’s parents, the first declaration that he will spend “the rest of my life warring on all criminals” – was published in 1939.  Those deaths engender his future fate. Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 7.13.08 PM How much are we shaped by events / teachers / books when they come to us at the right time, when we are most receptive to whatever they bring.  Or the wrong time.  I find it interesting that these days one of my favourite things is reading philosophy, even though it was such a difficult subject for me as an undergrad.  My first paper was returned with a red “F” and a one word comment: “solopsistic.”  I was wounded for years and imagined myself unable to read philosophy.  People would talk about Wittgenstein and I would sigh and wish, “If only I could read Wittgenstein.”  Then, by accident, I ended up in a philosophy course at grad school and loved it.  One day, looking for some background to a problem we were examining, I searched out my old philosophy text and when I started leafing through it, I was amazed at all the scribblings and questions: “What does this mean?” “What???” “Who says this?”  “WHY?” “WTF?” “How so?” “WTF?”  “WHAT???”  30 years later the things I hadn’t understood were all so clear.  For a moment, I couldn’t understand how I had not understood those things.  And then I remembered that I was no longer the person now reading those notes.

I really like LOVE this part of Dave’s blog from week 3, about the power of stories and have been thinking about it since reading it:

If we are journeying through the ideas that are made by different people, it doesn’t really matter where we start that journey. We start from the people we know, from the people we are familiar with… from a touchstone that grounds us in who we are. From there we grow out to the next piece we find and the next. The job of a teacher/instructor/guide/mentor is to continue that process of introduction as best we can manage. We may not know all the people that you might want to know, there may be two different people with the same story to share, but that’s not hugely important. We introduce you to a group of people who believe a certain way, who have a particular story to tell…

What is important is that you come to know enough of the stories of a particular field in order to be able to function in that field. As you continue to learn, you’ll acquire more stories, more ways of looking at things, more people to grow your own story with. This could be the story of how you see the points of tension in your medical profession (things like prevention vs. medication), how you look at management, how you apply your own ethics to the way you vote or how you parent. As we become part of a community of knowing, our stories continue to grow. The community is always the curriculum. (italics mine)

Community / Curriculum / Continuum… And now I want to swing away from this idea of superheroes shaped by stories / events / people / moments and through this idea of a growing sense of “story” in one’s field of interest that, I keep thinking, turns into mastery.  I’ve had many great teachers and mentors – I’ve been incredibly lucky, in that way that what “lucky” really means is interested, showing up, listening, asking, following through, reading ahead, being proactive and priorising relationships.  But it was a sessional instructor, Dr. Rebecca Lock, was the person who kept asking more of me and helping me figure out what I was capable of, and led me to this realization that my work was part of a body of knowledge.  Prior to that, I had done well in lots of classes, but they were things I took… they were over there, a teacher or a prof was at the front of the room and I was in my place, in a group of ten or a group of 400 or a moodle… waiting to learn.  Rebecca made me feel I was co-constructing the body of work we were delving into. So, was she necessary?  I once told her she was singular and she said “Why do you think this?  How is this true?”  I should have known she’d have asked that.  It was because she asked good questions, ranging from “How can you make this shorter and more accessible?” to “How can you make your reader more certain of your sources?” to “Have you read X or Y or Z?  because they speak to your subject from a different perspective – you should know the opposite theory as well as the one you prefer.” So now I want to swing in a different direction, into Nel Noddings’ ethics of care in education:

Dialogue is implied by the phenomenology of caring. When we care, we receive the other in an open and genuine way. I’ve called this receptivity “engrossment,” but that term is not meant to suggest infatuation, obsession, or single-mindedness. It suggests, rather, a nonselective form of attention that allows the other to establish a frame of reference and invite us to enter it. As dialogue unfolds, we participate in a mutual construction of the frame of reference, but this is always a sensitive task that involves total receptivity, reflection, invitation, assessment, revision, and further exploration.  (131)

So do we need Dave?  Did I need Rebecca?  Or Dr Gloria Filax, who answered every single email I ever sent her before, during and after I actually took a course with her, from Mexico, from the gulf islands, from wherever she was, no matter what she was doing.  Or Dr Ken Banks who, when my thesis advisor suddenly went awol the month my dissertation was planned to start, emailed me back within hours to say “I am on sabbatical, I am in Toronto, I am painting and spending time with my family and I won’t be back to work until September but of course I’ll be glad to do this.”

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Part of what I like about Nel Noddings work is the mutual respect for the carers and the cared-fors and I’ve been thinking about this in terms of teachers, professors and trainers.  Why not get attached?  Why not invite them into our lives?  Why not hugely respect them for what they offer? I think of my favourite quote by social constructionist Dr Kenneth Gergen, one of my latest mentors (I’m not sure he knows it but I’m sure he will):

My hope is to demonstrate that virtually all intelligible action is born, sustained, and/or extinguished within the ongoing process of relationship. From this standpoint there is no isolated self or fully private experience. Rather, we exist in a world of co-constitution. We are always already emerging from relationship; we cannot step out of relationship; even in our most private moments we are never alone.  (From Relational Being)

My teachers have been an important part of that co-constitution of my own world.  Sometimes I meet people who seem to naturally think in ways that are not natural for me.  They can see the answers.  I need company. As a teacher, it was the intentionally brief interactions that made me decide to go do something else.  I would have terrific students and we would have great conversations and learn together (contemporary poetry!) and then the semester would be over and when I ran into them they barely recognised me.  They were so concerned with their new set of classes and what they needed to keep up with.  I didn’t want want to be part of a culture of scheduled distress. And, swing again.  Gentle Reader, you might notice that, oddly, I am reading comics.  I’m not sure how I missed them for the first 56 years of my life, but I’m enjoying them now.  My new favourite is Paul Pope’s Berlin Batman, featuring a rather Cabaret-eseque Jewish Baruch (Bruce) Wayne who in his alter-ego takes on the Nazis:

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And there is something about these comics that is helping me be more discerning about the realities we walk in and out of.  Was Bruce Wayne’s pathologically heroic response to the tragic killing of his parents necessary?  This cartoon asks the question in a different way: Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 7.16.11 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 7.16.24 PM Deleuze and Guattari offer us ways of examining the shaping that we undergo as something always in process, which might be interrogated, interrupted and questioned, even subverted.   Dr. Scott Jeffery, in his PhD and writings, explores comic superheroes through post-structuralist philosophy.  In his paper, The Silver Age Superhero as Psychedelic Shaman, he writes:

Carstens (2005) writes that the kind of boundary dissolutions engendered by psychedelics constitutes for Deleuze and Guattari:

An example of the shaman’s tapping into and traversing of a “higher disorder” of nature…For Deleuze and Guattari the distinction between nature and culture is, in any event, redundant…only shamen and other “unnatural participants” (such as cyborgs), they argue, are able to perceive this (2005:9-10)

In other words, the shaman’s “unnatural participation” in the world understands that technology is as natural as earthquakes and whirlwinds, and that understanding this is necessary if we are to, “…engender new and potentially less devastating technological conceptions” (ibid). Deleuze and Guattari own description of the concept of ‘becoming’ could serve just as well as a description of the psychedelic experience:

To participate in a movement, to stake out a path of escape in all its positivity, to cross a threshold, to reach a continuum of intensities that are valuable only in themselves, to find a world of pure intensities where all forms come undone, as do all significations, signifiers and signified, to the benefit of an unformed matter of deterritorialized flux, of non-signifying signs” (quoted in Bruns, 2007:704)

The new Batman, unlike the old 1940s and on version, can no longer just hang out on top of a building and listen for trouble.  Perhaps Gotham is bigger now, or the criminals are quieter, or, most likely, things are just way more complicated.  He is probably on twitter.  In the 60s he was assisted by the Bat-Computer (and he and Robin even kept their schedule on the Bat-Calender, way before synching iPhones) but now he also has Oracle, Barbara Gordon, now in a wheelchair and constantly monitoring banks and banks of screens and data picked up from everywhere.  Surfing…

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In these new versions of Batman, Catwoman points out to him that even though he positions himself as a loner who needs no one, he’s got a lot of people in his network… Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 10.05.40 PMWe all need to connect; we need to be known, to have strings…  in some ways these mentoring / teaching / leading relationships are one of the last places where that relational focus happens.  And it’s an itch that’s not going away – even in 2039, a hundred years after his conception as a gothic hero, artist and writer Paul Pope’s compelling vision of Batman is as one who needs others….

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And, finally, one last image, as we consider the question, What if Dave is Batman? BatmanShirt

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What is the work?

a drawing of some ideas about what work might be

Dan Pontefract, author of Flat Earth: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization, was having a contest.  

It is over, so I won’t win a book, but I’m going to go buy his book anyway as I really like the way he is thinking about work and connections…  and it gave me a chance to process some of what I was thinking about over the last weeks and last week in particular.  The question he’s asking is “How do you define the word ‘work.'”

I was in Toronto taking a refresher course in a planning method we use a lot for folks with disabilities, their families, groups we are part of, projects and assorted other things.   The space was held by Lynda Kahn and Jack Pearpoint of Inclusion Press.   The processes are called PATH and MAPs and, as Jack said to me at one point, there are 25 ways to skin a cat and they are all related and part of the same conversation about person centredness and working together.   In B.C. my facilitation partner Shelley Nessman and I, and our friend David Wetherow, are known as the West Coast experts in this process – so, in a way, it was a bit odd to go somewhere and sit in a circle of learners who are new to it: a huge wonderful luxury.

I kept saying to Shelley (and Jack and Lynda), “What a gift to be part of the circle instead of in the centre of it” and then I would say “What does that mean?”  It has been a gift to be part of so many circles of people planning together in a new way but in this circle I was a learner.  So this is one of my perennial questions – how do I stay a learner in all I do?  At the opposite end of this question is the idea of a professional with all the answers and, particularly in my field where success has been so problematic, this idea of knowing the answers is a dead end.  It’s not that we don’t know some good things that are helpful but for the most part people we care about are disconnected, under and un-employed and many of them are unknown in their communities – the research demonstrating that the more we support and serve them, the less known they are.

PATH was a transformational response to the history of planning for folks with disabilities, in which a big table of professionals would gather with big stacks of papers that the person could not read, and sometimes the family or a family member or sometimes but not often the actual person with the disability, would sit hunched on one side of the table and listen to the litany of the history of their problems and challenges and to what they had done wrong since the last planning meeting, to create a new plan to address what was wrong with them in the coming year or so.   PATH gave people a new vision – a picture – of what person centredness and planning could look like.

What if, said Jack and his late wife Marsha Forrest, their friends John O’Brien and Judith Snow, we formulate a new way of planning that is based on talking to the person about their dreams?   What if we have that conversation in a way that is comfortable and hospitable and use pictures to make sure that all of us, even if we cannot read and are afraid of these stacks of papers that pose as our histories, are on the same page?   So they developed a template to be facilitated by amateur facilitators with just a little training – the scene is set with food, music, hospitality; the PATH is drawn in colorful graphics – whatever the person says is their dreams goes up on a big sheet of paper; only what the person agrees with goes up.   It is an approach based on giftedness – what is the person good at, what do they love, what have those of us who care about them noticed is important and valued by their community?  What connects them?  Increasingly, with our friend David Wetherow, it is this question of connection that matters most – who do they share this gift with?  How could they better connect?  How might the connection compel more connections, more success, more of what makes their hearts, and the hearts of those who care about them, sing.

So in Toronto we did a brief workshop on the idea of introduction and invitation in these situations – You Had Me At Hello!  and then we went to a workshop by an amazing woman from India, Malina Chib, who, with her mother and some allies, has changed the way that disability is considered there – not least by writing and publishing a book called With One Little Finger.   Her book is about many things, but not least of these is how to be loving and assertive when you are surrounded by those who priorise your vulnerability.   I think we cannot imagine this, although meeting her and listening to her and reading her book gives us a new sense of it.   What is it like to say, my dream is X and have someone respond with all the reasons why that is not possible for you?  Again and again, and, again and again, to respond that you have thought this through, you have figured it out, you are about to embark…   And with every movement forward those who believe in you – your family and allies and friends – take what they’ve listened to, take your questions, and they begin to build supports and services that change the lives of all the people in your country.   Children who were assumed to not be able to go to school, go to school.  People who were assumed to have nothing to offer, get jobs.   The person who is assumed to be inarticulate comes to the front of the room and begins to speak and everyone sits quietly, listening to a new voice that has a new perspective on who we are and what we might do.

And this idea of who we are and what we might do has been my passion for the last several years in my field – and it’s really about all the questions.   It is about what Charles Eisenstein has recently written, in his book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible (Sacred Activism):  

“What is that hurting thing, that takes the form of cynicism, despair, or hate? Left unhealed, can we hope that any future we create won’t reflect that wound back at us? How many revolutionaries have recreated, in their own organizations and countries, the very institutions of oppression they sought to overthrow?”

People come to supports for folks with disabilities out of a sense of social justice and excitement about new voices and new ideas about community, but are often stifled in their work with organizations and governments who base their work on risk aversiveness.   Those they support are not like Malina Chib, constantly lovingly returning to an ongoing conversation about possibility and potential as she travels to London and through India and gets one degree and then another and another and moves to the front of the room, surrounded by those who she has convinced.   Perhaps they cannot talk, or they have like a friend of mine, been “wrung dry” by a system which even at its best, she says, requires her to explain her dream to seven layers of a hierarchy.   “I know, when it gets to you, you will help me make it happen when you understand what I am saying.  But it’s tiresome and I am 70 now.”   One of the disasters of community living is that it attracts those who yearn for change and turns them into automatons who have no space to ask better questions.   As Pontefract says, in another blog entry on the changing values of leadership and the correlation to quality of life for all of us, “If employees are enthusiastic, committed, passionate, and generally into their work, isn’t it time leaders of any stripe, at any step in the hierarchy chain, acted with more humility and were less parochial?”

One of the changes to the PATH process since we learned it, which we went to Toronto to learn more about, is the idea of a scratch pad – a big sheet of paper placed at the side of the PATH plan on which as someone talks, you draw their dreams, but only as placeholders and tentative ideas – and when it is time you ask them, what is the central image here that best expresses your dreams?  Of all of these drawings, what would you like me to transfer to the PATH plan?   You hold the space, the question, the negative capability that Keats talked about:

. . . Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason – . . . from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge  . . . [which] overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration . . . 

One might think that the scratch pad idea is only about becoming certain of what the person dreams and wants, but this is reductive.  The scratch pad is also a holding space – it sends a clear message that it is okay to generate just the best questions, the greater wonderings, without being pinned down.   It says, our work here is to support you, not, our job here is to figure out which box you will fit into.   It is, in this new conversation about education I have been excited to be part of, “rhizomatic.”

Tomorrow Shelley and I are teaching this slightly changed process for the first time, and very excited about it.   The workshop is full, but the next one is in September and there are spaces left for those who wonder and want to be part of a new conversation.   The very idea of PATH is a signal that we are being called not to define what work is, but to wonder about that.

More later about some of the amazing folks in the workshop.

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