Friday, July 13, 2012

Cue the Rhizome: A Post-Better World

Pershing Square (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
So I was reading Will Richardson's latest post, Redefine Better in which he quotes from Umair Haque's recent HBR column, Declare Your Radicalness:
But to do it, we can't merely call for a set of broken institutions to work slightly better, to restore the present to the state of the past. We've got to redefine better; to redesign the future.
I read the column next and both Will's post and Umair's column got me thinking about what some of the conditions of a redefined better might be.  A quick thought that emerged is that perhaps a central tenet of a post-better world is that institutions can no longer be positioned as being containable--as being able to be represented as a single set. The idea that there is a set called school needs to be rethought. If we are continuously trying to make that set better, we will never find ourselves very far from the boundaries that have limited our vision.  Operating within the narrow little box we have called school, will at best get us surface changes as the borders will remained fixed and with them the opportunities to rethink, re-imagine, and express our radicalness.

This is a chief difference between understanding power as epic hierarchy and conceptualizing power as possibility that is rhizomatic. The old order that Umair writes about can be nothing more than an epic construct.  Think Race to the Top.  Is it nothing more than a new NCLB?  The old order is by definition and function: untouchable, self contained, closed.  It derives and maintains power by adhering to these very attributes.  So when Will writes about the need to think of different, not better schools--I begin to see this challenge visually, as closed sets no longer work.  

Declaring our radicalness begins with understanding that the way we have progressed--the very place where you can still almost see your breath--does not offer a viable method of continuing and must be boldly abandoned.  The set we call school is broken.   Reassembling those pieces into fixed re-presentations is a losing method.  Looking beyond that set is a worthy task that many are doing.

Cue the rhizome.

         the set.
Boldly step
                  into new definitions of learning

(that are not sanctioned by governments, municipalities, fortune 500 types).

It is not a big engine we need to make such movement.  Rather it is the anti-big engine powered by you, me, the guy over there, the child with an idea, the artist with a brush, the woman with a storefront, the connected group that meets, the happenstance we cannot predict.

It is about expression that pulls others to it,  not out of coercion like NCLB and RTtT, but out of desire.

Instead of a single place called school that is reiterated, imagine multi-expressions of learning that cannot be contained: we are a river that overflows, recedes, breaks, moves on and over.

Imagine a bit.

And then let's see how we might connect and break along the way.


  1. (It's cue, unless you're using que on purpose.)

    I agree with you. I'm wondering if there's any way for us to use government to assist in the education of those with less resources, in this rhizomatic vision.

    1. Oops. Thanks for catching that. The government should work on equalizing income.So many of these issue would be less dramatic.

  2. que'd.

    disrupt ourselves..


  3. I really needed this post just now, Mary Ann. I've been struggling with the issue of how to redefine definition so that we focus not so much on the boundaries that separate us (epic hierarchy) but on the boundaries that connect us (rhizome). It's a cool, fresh wind that blows here.

    In a practical sense, I think what you are discussing touches very much on the recent discussion about MOOCs in The Chronicle of Higher Education, which seem determined to misunderstand the rhizomatic origins and structures of MOOCs in favor of the epic hierarchies trying to put the MOOC genie back into the bottle.

    And by the way, I think MOOCs do use government to assist in the education of those with less resources. Want to do a MOOC using completely free resources? We could explore electronic, rhizomatic writing, or another topic of your choice. Could be fun.

    1. Thanks Keith. I have never participated in a MOOC. Would be interested come fall. I'm too busy right now to take anything else on:)