fiery thoughts

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…