The poem “Wodwo “by Ted Hughes has the flavour of the rhizome.
The concept of the rhizome interests me as a lens through which to look at learning. But how does this metaphor help us understand learning? In what ways might it be useful? Some times it is useful to explore a metaphor. Here are a few questions.
- A rhizome explores its enviroment in a search for nutrients and water, in the case of learning this search might be for the knowledge and understanding we need. What happens when we stop exploring? Can we stop, or is it in our nature? What happens to a pot-bound rhizome?
- The rhizome lives underground. Much learning is also hidden, largely invisible to surface eyes. What we find is often only explicitly framed as “learning” later, after the fact. What happens when it stays underground? Do we need to force it to surface, if that is possible? Do all the nodules spreading out under the surface feed the flowers that grow up from specific nodes? Or are there dead ends?
- The rhizome does not have a set path and its progress seems accidental. Examining the structure of the network that evolves can only be done when we dig it up, isolating it from the substrate that feeds it, but when we do this we find little explanation for the whys and wherefores of the turns and changes in direction, or why some nodes swell while in other places the roots extend onwards. Sometimes we can point to particularly rich places where the network tarried a while, or decided to sprout, but more often the progress appears to be serendipitous, resistant to easy answers. If we do dig it up and examine it, do we lose access to these rich places because we disturbed the soil?. Some rhizomes can be replanted after examination, but they don’t always grow so well after. How can we explore the rhizome, without interfering with it?
- The rhizome works to sustain the organism it forms part of. At times it is almost dormant storing the future plant within it, at others it exists to nourish and support the growth above the surface, which is where the plant flowers. Is the rhizome the main organism and the surface expression a brief flourishing? What makes the rhizome flower?
- There comes a point where metaphors break down. Teachers intervene to facilitate learning. Can we direct the rhizome? Should we? How would that work?
What do the answers to these questions tell us about education and learning?