Saturday, April 11, 2015

Please push with care.

"By all means push people's ideas...
please do not push people..."
Dave Cormier

Participating in the pre-course warm-up for Dave Cormier's #rhizo15 course, I am already beginning to ask myself questions.  

(Not that I ever stop asking myself questions.)

It was these lines from his 'Practical guide to Rhizo15' which caught my eye:

"One of the central narratives of rhizomatic learning is the idea that learning is at once a deeply personal, individual process and something that only happens in collaboration with others. We are all different, but we need each other.
By all means, push people’s ideas… please do not push people.
Connect with everyone. Try and understand what they are saying and why they are saying it. And, on the other side, understand that when people push your ideas, they aren’t pushing you. We do not need to agree with each other, to learn from each other."
So can you really separate people from their ideas? 
Is it really true that: "We do not need to agree each other, to learn from each other."?
How do we know what the acceptable idea-pushing limits for people are?
We can perhaps look at extremes:
It would be not advisable to challenge the ideas of some people in power. 
They might respond to any such challenge with violence.
"I am only pushing your ideas..."
It might not be advisable to challenge some people's beliefs:
Moreover, how do we separate ideas from beliefs? 
If I have ideas about your beliefs, to what extent do I have the right to challenge these beliefs? 
Clearly, that will depend on the country in which I am doing my challenging, and in some cases even using my right to challenge them will not protect me.

"We are all different but we need each other." 

I am not sure that we need to be with some people - rather the contrary.  
I think it would be fair to say that we do need to agree on some basic rules of behaviour before we start upsetting each other. 
So yes we do need to agree with each other to learn from each other...up to a point.
We do no doubt feel confused, upset, at times when working with other people.

We all have different limits which are often unknown to us until they are tested by others.
"We’re going to take a look at some of the practical implications of saying that learning is messy and uncertain. It can be confusing. It can, sometimes, be upsetting. It’s super fun though, and it’s a great way to push your thinking with the ideas of folks from around the world."
What might appear 'super fun' for some people will definitely not appear 'super fun' for others. 

That's unfortunate, we don't all love jumping around in a mosh-pit. 

It is normal that the music will just be too loud for some of the people who turn up. 
We surely don't need to stick around with everybody being all Teletubby inclusive - that might limit learning.  
"It's super fun..."
People need to find others that they can learn with safely. 
"We need each other" but not in the same way. 
I don't believe you can separate people from their ideas.  
I suppose that that is what articles in scientific journals try to do by  'being objective". 
I think that that idea (that you can separate people from their ideas) is of itself potentially dangerous for people.
I think that the focus on the word 'ideas' already says something about expected interactions.  

  • What about media? 
  • What about language? 
  • What about spaces?
"Saying that learning is messy and uncertain." is indeed a potential recipe for tension and conflict. 
What mess is acceptable?  What constitutes mess? 
Answers to those questions can only be subjective.
"Saying that learning is messy and uncertain." is one thing but saying that education should embrace messiness and uncertainty is quite another.
How much mess is acceptable? What constitutes mess?
"Saying that learning is messy and uncertain." is one thing but saying that knowledge can only be fuzzy and uncertain is quite another.
I finish with another question about rhizomatic learning.
"One of the central narratives of rhizomatic learning is the idea that learning is at once a deeply personal, individual process and something that only happens in collaboration with others."
I am far from sure that learning 'only happens in collaboration with others'.  
I am far from sure that most of my learning during rhizo14 (the course before rhizo15) was done 'in collaboration with others'. 
Certainly I learnt much in interaction with others, in cooperation with others and sometimes in confrontation with others but not really so much 'in collaboration with others.' 
I think I learnt much about different people's limits as to what constituted acceptable 'play', 'learning', 'knowledge', 'language', 'education'.

Those limits are never clear from the outset and inevitably depend on the relationships between people. 
People will accept things said by certain people but not by others.
What I can take from my friends, I won't take from anyone, particularly someone who I feel no affinity for.

Some people are better than others in judging how to say things to others. 
I think that is what learnt most from rhizo14 - that you can't hope to learn in pushing peoples' ideas without pushing people themselves, unless of course what you say is unheard, or what you write is unread.
Perhaps that is the most important thing to try to learn from these courses: how to push ones' own limits and continue to live peacefully with others who challenge them.


  1. What I find intriguing is that the "push" or better, "the nudge", is that it takes some time to take root, to take hold, to become the thing I need to be nudged into. Taking steps forward also takes some gentle, respectful pulling. Creating an open community that allows folks to make their decisions is the crux of good community design, and awfully hard to create (ask Blackboard LMS how to do it all wrong).

  2. Thanks, Simon. You ask the main questions here, and it will be interesting to see how the answers emerge over the next several weeks of Rhizo15. Let's hope the Rhizo14 folk can weather the storm, especially if a different storm emerges than the one we expect.

  3. another factor would be what constitutes "individual" and "alone." I like this idea of Kenneth Gergen's, "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." (Relational Being)

    1. I really like Kenneth Gergen's quote. There are some people that are with me all the time in my thoughts that I need rid of. I would like to be the tolerant person I think I was before meeting them but what to do with people who's ideas of us are "wrong"? That their "objective" assessment is based on a mistake we made and then distorted in their mind to fit their crummy needs. Sometimes a relationship needs to stay adversarial to be healthy. They need to see you as it suits their model of the world and you need to tell them they suck. This is an odd obligation to each other but seems operationally sound.

  4. Hi Simon, wow this post is packed with a tonne of thinking...had to read it a couple of times. First reading gave me that distinct feeling that there is a lot to comment on...but didn't really know where to start. Second reading...and this line definitely stood out for me as the crux: "Those limits are never clear from the outset and inevitably depend on the relationships between people."

    "...People will accept things said by certain people but not by others."

    > I think there is definitely something in this - relationships are so important - it's almost like they act as a filter by which people interpret information. This is likely why there are so many trolls on the internet - it's much easier to push someone if you don't know them and they don't know you; you can't see each other, or get a real sense of how they are reacting and what they are feeling. It's essentially - (as you suggest), detaching the ideas / comments from the Person.
    Likewise, I guess, when interacting in a large online community where you don't have an established relationship with people, you come in with your own expectations about how to behave and interact - and I think assume that others share the same expectations. But these expectations are largely a measure of your experience, mindset, attitude, comfort, and skill in online interaction, learning and networking - not to mention possible cultural differences that can create differences in expectations of what is acceptable to say and do in a public space.

    I also think your concluding points are significant: "I think that is what learnt most from rhizo14 - that you can't hope to learn in pushing peoples' ideas without pushing people themselves..."

    This goes to the idea of deep and meaningful learning being challenging, confusing, and uncomfortable. Not everyone is prepared to engage in that type of learning, especially in a public forum. And I think it's important to acknowledge that's ok too - and either find other, gentler ways of nudging / engaging them (this might mean taking the discussion into a more private forum), supporting them to become more comfortable learning this way, or just letting it go, and accepting that they're not ready to engage in this way.

  5. If I try to cut a tree down in this wood will anyone hear it? How about planting a seed?

    Pushing learners (ie. all of us) and our ideas is absolutely what Merril Swain was talking about in 1985 in her theory of language learning, popularised as the 'pushed output hypothesis' (in opposition to the somewhat passive 'input hypothesis' advanced by Stephen Krashen 1980). Swain had found kids in bilingual schools who weren't pushed did not perform well in tests or acquire language although they were fully immersed in it.

    So thanks Simon for openly wondering about language. Merrill Swain's ideas on the topic inspired many of us language teachers towards pedagogies like Task Based Interaction and Learning, but Swain's ideas themselves it seems were pushed come the neo-Vygostkianism of the 'social turn' in Second Language Acquisition theory when she re-imagined some of her ideas in terms of a socially co-constructed view of emergent language: 'languaging', where learners create their own identity as well as language through interaction.

    Soically rewarding perhaps, but maybe still more pushed than comfortable. Doesn't life and learning begin at the edge of your comfort zone?