#rhizo14

An Awkward Encounter – Larossa’s Thoughts on Experience & Knowledge

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Jorge Larossa

I have been taken aback by an article I have recently read by a Spanish Philosopher of Education called Jorge Larossa Bondía. In his Notas sobre a Experiência e o Saber de Experiência (Notes on Experience and the Knowledge of Experience) he proposes that we think education in terms of experience/meaning, as opposed to either science/technique or theory/practice, which respectively represent mainstream pedagogical paradigms whose proponents fall under the category of either advocates of education as an applied science or advocates of education as political praxis. Larossa explores a set of words, for words are full of meaning, beginning with the word ‘experience’. He says that experience is becoming increasingly more rare. He establishes a difference between information and experience, saying that the contemporary obsession with information, as well as information overload, is actually a counter-experience, in that it has caused a shift from quality to quantity, from existential depth to fast processing. We have access to an endless universe of information, yet nothing really happens to us anymore. Nothing really touches us or moves us anymore. Larossa argues that in the so-called “information society” we have become fast consumers and processors of information, taking it all in and promptly emitting opinions about all things, as if learning, or at least the deep kind of learning, were actually taking place in that process.

Larossa quotes Heidegger’s definition of experience:

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…to have an experience with something means that something happens to us, reaches us; that it takes over us, throws us down and transforms us. When we talk about  ‘having’ an experience, it doesn’t mean precisely that we make it happen, ‘doing’ here means to suffer, to hurt, to accept that which reaches us, to the extent that we subject ourselves to something. To do an experiment means, therefore, to allow ourselves to be approached by that which calls upon us, penetrating and subjecting us to it. We can be transformed by such experiences, from one day to the next or over time.

Larossa, in exploring Heidegger’s choice of verbs, explains that one needs to be vulnerable and exposed to be able to experience. Experience is likened to passion by Larossa. His description of passion as being a tension between freedom and captivity, in the sense that what the individual really wants is to remain inprisoned, depending on the object of his passion, does bear resemblance to the kind of intellectual and existential suffering that one might experience while mulling over something. It reminds me of the type of discomfort and awkwardness that precede an insight, or the darkest moments of the night before the sunrise.

It might be that what Larossa is trying to say is also that education has lost its enchantment. We have been consumed whole by a homogenized discourse of pedagogy, throwing about words like ‘critical’ and ‘autonomy’ and ‘deep learning’ without really contemplating the experience that learning needs in order to become knowledge. Information is not synonym to knowledge. Knowledge takes passion, takes suffering, takes vulnerability and being open to risk, to danger – of being changed by it, of ‘dying’, so to speak. I believe Larossa’s critique of technology and its wonders is that we should not let it technologize us in our humanity. Instead, we must humanize technology, somehow subjecting it to our necessity of going through experiences. (Rhizo14, anybody?)

Musings on Rhizomatic Language Learning

I have recently attended a couple of very interesting classes at UnB. On the very first class, the professor talked about the curriculum, and the required readings, and gave us a historical and conceptual overview of the subject-matter, namely Approaches in Language Teaching within the field of Applied Linguistics. As the professor was exploring more theoretical grounds, presenting key concepts/constructs, a fellow student asked him the question: “Why is there a need to label things?”. She was genuinely curious, and so was I to hear his answer to that somewhat unexpected question. He explained that we needed to name constructs and concepts so as to develop a common code or language which would enable researchers to understand each other and to build up on the existing knowledge in the field. Academia is, among other things, a language, then.

The other day I had the pleasure of having a wonderful conversation with fellow rhizoer Simon Ensor. One of the things he wanted to know was whether I saw a connection between rhizomatic learning and language learning/teaching. Although I`d thought about the possible connections and applications of rhizomatic learning to my teaching practice, what I said to him had not occurred to me before the moment I actually heard someone other than myself ask me the exact same question I’d so many times before asked myself in thought. I said to him that rhizomatic learning resembled language learning, in that a specific language, or a branch/dialect of a language we might have already been familiar with touched the nature of my rhizo14 experience in a way. I mentioned a feeling shared by another fellow rhizoer Bali Maha. She mentioned how it sometimes felt like we were unconsciously creating exclusion with all of our reflections and writings and other expressions within rhizo14, and the difficulty with which someone not a part of rhizo14, or not being the least bit familiar with the language/constructs/concepts of rhizomatic learning might have faced in attempting to make any sense of it. Rhizomatic learning is, among many other things, also a language, then.

A while later, Keith Hammon wrote a post inspired by a recent rhizo14 Twitter chat. He talked about the need for a rhizomatic rhetoric that would somehow help make sense of and communicate the personal accounts of rhizo14 experiences being shared on the various autoethnographies/surveys that are going down as a follow-up to the course. Keith explores the potentials of what a ‘rhizo-rhetoric’ might look like. If there is to be such a thing as rhizomatic writing, what rhetoric should inform a writing of this kind, Keith asks. He goes on to share with us a take on Deleuze and Guattari’s Introduction: Rhizome, pointing out that DL&G reject the idea of the observing by-stander, who offers explanations detached from the object of inquiry/investigation. I will not exhaust Keith’s wonderful post here, for it is definitely worth your while reading it.

Then there was a very interesting discussion thread following a post I wrote about learning. There was talk between Frances Bell and I of comparing the nature of the learning experience in rhizo14 to the experience of an ethnographer/anthropologist engaged in participant observation within a social group/tribe. Then Keith jumped in the discussion, bringing his ideas of BYOC (bring your own context), asking whether that might actually be part of the secret of rhizomatic learning, after all. He ventures into an exploration of a rhizomatic dynamic in which the learner would seize and exercise his ‘freedom of context’. I feel the need to share Keith’s words with you now.

“Traditional education too often strips the context from the object of instruction (language, math, science, history, etc.). At best, traditional ed may try to supply a one-size-fits-all context that students must find a way to fit into. Rhizomatic classes, on the other hand, encourage students to bring their own context (BYOC) to the class and to find their own meaning. Those students, or participants, who manage to do so find the MOOC engaging and rewarding. They find meaning within their own contexts, and then they find a way to enlarge their contexts by engaging the other participants with their contexts and meanings.”  ~ Keith Hammon

Traditional education. Rhizomatic education. Traditional language. Rhizomatic language. Must they always be in eternal opposition? Are we as educators, having been initiated in the rhizomatic rites, facing a duty of sharing that ‘linguistic’ knowledge with our learners? With everyone who crosses our paths? How about those of us who are already fluent in the language of academia? Are we up for the task of facing the challenge of blending academia and rhizome, creating a new language? A new educational culture?

I leave you with Scott Johnson’s fiery last lines of comment on this amazing thread.

“What bothers me about modern education is the student leaves no marks of their passing through the landscape beyond those selected as approved by the keepers. Keepers of things not theirs to own and trade. I think Freire knew education to be transformative by the sign it left on us as well as the marks we made to it.”  ~ Scott Johnson

And so, power, again… Which of those among us are willing to think/deconstruct/challenge? the powers-that-be with our rhizomatic language skills?

I have a box of matches in my pocket…

On finding my voice (part 2) #rhizo14 autoethnography

I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room when I read Bali Maha’s reflections on oppression. Little did I know that reading it would enable me to connect the final dots in the big picture of my life, where I came from, who I’d come to be, what choices I’d made which had boiled down to the life I had, the relationships I nurtured, my dreams and desires.

The culture within which I was born is known for its machismo, and even though women in my country have been increasingly more active in society in general, occupying positions of power which in the past would exclusively be the realm of men, it was the cultural background against which women from my generation were raised and imbued with society’s expectations towards the possible social roles we were supposed to perform. I have, however, been lucky to have been born in a family who treasures the autonomy and freedom that can only be attained by getting an education. Being the oldest daughter of an economist dad and a pedagogue mom, it has always been a family value to pursue higher education, especially in a country where good opportunities only seem to come along to the rich elite and a portion of the struggling educated middle class, the latter being our case.

My parents made a point of buying me the best education they could. I went to the best private schools in my city and was even sent in an exchange program to the U.S. in my last year of secondary school, at the age of 16. I’d been an English learner for ten years at the time, and the year I spent with an American family in Aurora, Colorado enabled me to develop a well-above-average fluency in the language. Back in Brazil, my dad pushed me forward in my education, as I was obviously expected to pass my college entrance exam and stay in touch with the English language, which kept me quite busy for a year or so, until I finally began my years as an Anthropology undergrad at the University of Brasília. My dad had, nonetheless, been less than pleased by my academic career choice. Anthropology did not (and does not) rank among the highest paying careers, no matter how intellectually fascinating or personally fulfilling it may be.

That was when teaching chose me. I’d taken a teacher training course at a small English institute in Brasília, and by the end of the six-month training, I received word from my tutor that I was what they called “a natural-born teacher”, offering me a job as a substitute teacher. I was about to turn 21 years old and was more than happy to begin earning my own money, doing something that I really enjoyed: being with people, communicating and connecting, every day.  18 years later, I look back at my path and I feel I’ve been lucky in so many ways. I survived a broken home, with my parents’ divorce at the age of nine. Not that it didn’t take its toll on my future relationships, but I have become a stronger individual as a result of this and so many other hardships I’ve come up against in my life.

There I was, reading Maha’s instigating thoughts and questions on the subject of oppression. Something inside of me began boiling. It began to dawn on me that I, too, had been in so many ways oppressed. Oppressed by expectations, by the threat of failure in not being able to find a worthwhile career that would keep me from sharing the fate of the vast majority of the population of my country, with no opportunity, no future, no dignity. I had been very well educated alright. It had all been funneled down to me, and it had somehow sunk in and taken the shape of an education that worked at its ultimate purpose: getting me into a federal university, a luxury (still to this day) to a select few, to an intellectual elite, to the middle-class kids who were (and still are) pushed to make a career choice many a times too soon, one that they’d very likely not practice in their professional future, one that they’d probably just drop midway through college (those who were brave enough to stand up to the status quo, that is).

What emerged from within my deepest inner space was a realization that I had spent most of my life oppressed by other people’s curricula and agendas. I’d been oppressed to conform and fit in the mold that was made for kids with my cultural background and my social class. I had turned into a teacher in my own right, but how much of my teaching persona had also become a replication of what I had experienced as a learner during my school years? I had been questioning beliefs that I thought were so solid, principles so sound. I had been experimenting with my intellectual abilities via my own devices, and it had all been happening in connection with others. I had been allowed to revisit and revive that exhilarating feeling I had experienced when I first began teaching, a feeling that it was all worth it and that so much meaningful learning happens in becoming part of a network, a community, in connecting with others (and with otherness) regardless of your social class, your cultural background, your formal education.

Never before had I seen so great a part of the big picture of my life, of what it was, has been, and of what I truly want it to be from now on. I really might have been working my way around oppression, tolerating it, accepting it as the only viable pathway. It is as if I have been through the kind of consciousness shift that only a powerful education, aiming at freeing the individual and allowing him to (re)create his own reality, ultimately impacting the society in which he is inserted, making it fairer, more humane, is ever capable of fostering. I might have gained greater critical consciousness, in that I have found new perspectives, explored new perspectives, and all in my own terms, working with my own cosmology/context/history.

I have experienced an existential breakthrough. I have been deeply changed by the connections and exchanges that took place during rhizo14, and not only with others, but also via others and back to my own self, allowing otherness to reverberate within my ‘uniquely furnished room’ and checking to see what possible chords would spring up. I owe it to this network/community/connections/people. I deconstructed my oppressions, and never before have I been able to see inside myself with such clarity. Not that it has given me any promises of certainty – much to the contrary. I had never cherished the unknown. I had always been afraid of not knowing the answers when the time came for me to show that I did. Never before had it been so pleasurable to learn, and to stretch my intellectual (and even artistic?) legs.

I have finally owned my education. I have made it mine via the connections with other individuals who care about owning their education as much as myself, or even more. I have learned the meaning of agency. I have had an insight into what Paulo Freire advocates in Education and Change. That education is not a mere adaptation of the individual to society. That we must transform our reality to transcend. That domestication is the opposite of education, and that education is more authentic to the extent it entices our curiosity to learn, to create and recreate reality. The learners must be themselves.

My pedagogue mom’s words on what she believes to be the core of Paulo Freire’s pedagogy:

“O homem deve ser o sujeito de sua própria educação. Não pode ser objeto dela. Por isso, ninguém educa ninguém. O homem se educa em comunhão.”

“The individual must be the agent of his own education. He cannot be its object. That is why no one educates anyone. The individual learns/self-educates in communion.”