Thursday, September 8, 2011

Local Learning: Talking Back to Seth Godin

I was reading Seth Godin's Blog post, Getting serious about your org chart and stopped when I read: "... when geography mattered more than it does now." Godin was asking readers to question their organization charts in order to determine whether the organization leverages the best people to get the job done. He makes the rather broad statement that geography mattered more in the past than it does now.

"Ordinary Angels."  Dun Laoghaire, Ireland. A bit south of where I was born. (Reilly, 2008)

I understand what he is pointing at given the ease of connectivity via the Internet. But I think that is a partial view of something far more complex. I am confident the issue of the local as situated in physical geography ought not to be confused with what technology allows us to do.  The former is about living deeply, deliberately. The latter is not.

The local is about memory and community and land.  Failure to recognize the complexity of local geographies will undoubtedly result in losses we simply may not be able to calculate especially at a time when we are still so dazzled by the novelty of global connections.

Does geography matter less, or perhaps more given the ease with which we may separate ourselves intellectually from the parcel of earth we live on? What happens to the local culture--the preservation of memory of place that is deeply (in)formed by earth or as Wendell Berry (1990) situates it: "the knowledge of how the place may be well and lovingly used" (p.166)?

In an interview with Jordan Fisher-Smith about the dead, Wendell Berry said:
Well, if you didn't know any of the past, you literally wouldn't know anything. You'd have no language, no history, and so the first result would be a kind of personal incompleteness.
But practicalities are involved also. If you had a settled, a really settled, thriving, locally adapted community, which we don't have anywhere, you wouldn't just be remembering the dead. You'd remember what they did and whether it worked or not. And so you'd have a kind of lexicon of possibilities that would tell you what you could do, what you could get away with, and what penalty to expect from what you couldn't get away with.
So the memory that a community has of its dead, and of the pasts of the living would be a precious sort of manual--a kind of handbook, a kind of operator's manual for the use of the immediate place. That's the only kind of operator's manual for the world that we're going to have.

As an educator, I try to relate what I read to what I know about learning and teaching and organizing occasions where one might do both.  I have borrowed Berry's idea of settled households as a metaphor for a place called school and coupled this with the idea of the rhizome-- a horizontal rendering of  communities of settled households.  The languaging that happens in households among seasoned educators, novices, and learners is a "kind of lexicon of possibilities."  It is not that these individuals are the "best at what they do".  Rather, and I want to stress more important, is that they are a collective force who shares and makes local history.  The lexicon is not born simply from "good" ideas, but is made in the physicality of living and remembering.
No ideas, but in things wrote William Carlos Williams and I think he might be right.

Whenever I travel to some place new, especially places where the landscape is shaped differently than what I normally experience, I am able when I return home to re-see my own small parcel of earth. This unsettling and resettling is not at first a thinking exercise,  but a "get out and walk about" exercise that reminds me we are of this earth. We are of place. Our self importance is manufactured and at best a distraction.

I want to suggest that given the ease of connecting with others who reside elsewhere, knowing our local geographies may be even more important than in previous times.

Works Cited
Berry, Wendell. 1990. What are people for?  San Francisco: North Point Press.

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