Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why I Tweet (Unlearning and Unfixing Beliefs)

It seems somewhat surreal that I (one with little faith about Twitter) should be authoring a post about tweeting. I  mean a mere month ago I was highly skeptical about Twitter and posed the question in a blog: Where would Emerson find his (wo)man thinker on Twitter? For the last month I have followed and 'unfollowed,' and in doing so have begun to make sense of how tweeting helps to (in)form my practice as an educator by nudging me to unlearn and unfix tenets of learning I have privileged. I had the pleasure to listen to and interact with Will Richardson this last week when he helped the school district I work for open its year.  He talked about his children and through them his hopes for education and educators, inviting us to embrace a goal of guiding students to become global citizens. It was a thoughtful, unhyped, commentary. Poetic.

He then met with administrators for 90 minutes to discuss what we are privileging with regard to learning. He was largely quiet, occasionally interjecting to refocus the conversation. I admitted that day that I initially found Twitter to be a rather foreign landscape with lots of irrelevant commentary and I heard Will say, Ouch.  I've been hearing that ouch over and over again and wanted to expand.

Twitter is helping me to understand that a different concept of learning (and teaching) is required in 2010. Whereas, I have read numerous accounts that students from the class of 20xx would need to be continuous learners, would need to be able to make x number of career changes, and so on, there was a comfortable distance between these fictitious students and me.  In some ways these predictions helped to distance me from a far more intimate discovery: I, at the half-century mark, would also need to adopt new ways of learning and given the economic uncertainty of these times, might also need to change careers. 

I don't think I'm alone in this discovery: The very comfortable ways I have been learning no longer represent the totality of methods I need to use in order to continue to learn and teach.  The landscape is moving at such a rate that it is difficult to discern foreground from background.

Now to be clear, I deeply believe that the theorizing I was privileged to do en route to a doctorate is extremely valuable.  My professors (especially Ruth Vinz) and fellow students at Columbia helped me to turn a sharp eye at flashy educational trends, understand and apply Dewey, Bakhtin, and Deleuze to educational matters, and in doing so conceptualize progressive schooling.  My 25+ years as a public educator has helped me to actualize these theories into local practice.

I still believe it would be better for students if we read more Bakhtin and less Ed Leadership, but here's the rub: it is not a question of get on board with Twitter and its equivalents or tread water.   There is no water to tread as that metaphor has dried up.  The real dynamic is:  breathe or become irrelevant. 

Tweeting is random breathing, an embodiment of self and other represented in the "tweets" that sound.  A few minutes ago on my "TweetDeck" a tweet about Yoshitomo Nara's White Ghost sounded, sandwiched between a link about an abducted journalist tweeting from the captor's phone and a link that took me to an article about Mozilla's plug to play games via its browser that ended with these questions: Are native apps really where it's at? What do you see in the browser's future, and do you think Web games are a good way to get there?

13 years ago I composed a theory about learning and randomness in the guise of a dissertation, and titled it Courting (In)Stability.  Tweeting is all about instability, stability and the movable spaces between where learning happens and I want to suggest here, where teaching needs to be situated.  I am reminded here that at the end of Milan Kundera's novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the narrator says that happiness is the longing for repetition.  I have thought about that phrase for a long time and composed a piece (see below) where I attempted to (re)present that idea:

Happiness is the Longing for Repetition. Image by M.A. Reilly (2009).  

Kundera is clever. He knows happiness is not repetition, but rather the longing for repetition.  I had forgotten how it feels to be unsettled and how necessary such imbalance is, as is the longing for repetition.  Tweeting has reminded me that everything is really in flux and that there is something oddly soothing about the repetition of tweets twittering.

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