Some notes on turmeric

Turmeric is a flowering rhizome.

The name appears to derive from Middle English/early modern English as turmeryte or tarmaret having uncertain origin. There may be Latin origin, terra merita (merited earth).[9]

The active compound curcumin is believed to have a wide range of biological effects including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumour, antibacterial, and antiviral activities, which indicate potential in clinical medicine.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “there is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition because few clinical trials have been conducted.”

Turmeric is considered auspicious and holy in India and has been used in various Hindu ceremonies for millennia. It remains popular in India for wedding and religious ceremonies.

From Wikipedia

Turmeric (villanelle)

The roots keep on spreading, so close, out of sight.

Though the garden is manicured, carefully clipped,

when the flower is ready, the shoots find the light.


Though the school is a prison; a withering blight

On the soul of the child, unprepared, unequipped,

the roots keep on spreading, so close, out of sight.


We work through the dark hours, the rich warmth of night,

eschewing instructions, ignoring the script.

When the flower is ready, the shoots find the light.


Our spaces are cross-hatched with soft lines of flight,

with echoes of play, and the parts that we skipped.

The roots keep on spreading, so close, out of sight,


and once they entwine, once entangled, they might

coalesce and emerge, when the masks have all slipped;

when the flower is ready, the shoots find the light.


Hard to say it sometimes, it’s so blinding, so bright,

but it isn’t content, to be packaged or shipped,

and the roots keep on spreading, so close, out of sight.

When the flower is ready, the shoots will find light.


There is no mother tongue

This is the notion (thanks to Peter Shukie and Lou Mycroft) that finally made me want to respond to the suggestion that the rhizome might be an invasive species. Before that I had been too busy down other rabbit holes to engage enough to write. It felt like a set task.

The first objection that had come to me was the fact that this is a category error, the rhizome is a plant type, it is not a species. (I’m fascinated how my dictation software creates un-intentioned echoes and counterpoints, it is not a species, came onto the page as it is not suspicious). Actually I’d say the rhizome is a mode of plant self-propagation, or perhaps the a mode of being, but more of that later. Then I thought about the notion of invasion, invasion requires a somewhere to be invaded, and perhaps someone or something to be invaded. I wasn’t sure what this somewhere/one/thing could be, the rhizome for me doesn’t exist in a bounded space, and that is what is joyful and rich about it. If there are no bounds, there is nothing and no one to be invaded.

But more than anything the words invasive species created the image of a homogenous marauding mass that smothers everything else. This this way of looking at the rhizome jars profoundly with my understanding. I see the rhizome as a way of looking at what learning is and how the mind works; we explore, and grow through that exploration, we assimilate nutrients and trace elements, we cluster, and sometimes we throw shoots skywards. And it works: when I sit with it, and follow the thought, I realise that that is how I learn.

There is a cartoon by Gary Larson, in which a cow is standing in a field with some other cows, her head is raised and she looks amazed, or even outraged. And she’s saying “Wait a minute! This is grass! We’ve been eating grass!” I felt like that when I came across the idea of learning as a rhizome. As if that notion had been staring me in the face all along, or waiting at the tip of the tongue. No possibility of invasion, the rhizome has always been there.

It reminds me of what happpened with the idea of the Personal Learning Environment. When that notion first appeared there were people trying to build Personal Learning Environments, when actually we all already have one, in the same way as learning already is rhizomatic. The PLE is not a thing, it is a way of thinking about learning and comprehending the interactions involved. The question is how to use that idea to improve teaching and education.

In this context, to me the idea of “rhizomatic learning” as opposed to any other kind of learning is odd. What would that other kind of learning be? Arborescent learning? I can entertain the notion of arborescent teaching or arborescent education, but my learning is not arborescent, however much I may sometimes express knowledge in arboreal form (and in the process simplify it). Learnign just is rhizomatic.

As with the PLE, the challenge is how to use the notion of the rhizome to improve teaching and education. Learning will probably take care of itself. But if you ask me about rhizomatic teaching and education, I hope we can make it as successful as the Bermuda grass in “Greener than you Think”, though preferably much more diverse.


After all, “there is no mother tongue”, only power relations – hi Mom! -, so let a thousand weeds bloom.

Answers on a postage stamp

In my first teacher training course, back in 1987, I watched a video of a man giving a 2 hour class. During the whole session, which involved extensive group activities and learner participation, there was no lecture, and he used just one piece of “content”. A postage stamp.

postage-stampsOf course we didn’t call it “content”, it was resource or material, or part of the contents of a textbook.

I may be mistaken, but there seems to have been a shift in the understanding of the noun “content”, around the mid 90’s, roughly with the rise of the internet and the emerging need for business models for the Internet. From being simply what was inside something else, a container, it became something that could be packaged, and sold. Prior to this, what was sold was the container – the book, for example.

As things went digital, the container remained important for a while, so that though it was clear that the contents of a CD were tiny bits of information it was still felt to be necessary to package this, in a large, useless (hard-backed size) cardboard box. Packaging is important.

As the Net became the container, it became necessary to find other ways of thinking about selling the contents. When the Net is the container, the package is not often clearly visible and identifiable. This was of course disastrous, inimical to effective commoditization of the experience of going online. For example, if you buy an online course, it is hard to say where that course is. To get a “purchase” on the course you need something visible, something concrete.

So the contents of the package became the package. And what was a plural noun, as in “Table of Contents”, became singular. It became a concept. It became “King”.

This shift, from the perspective of education at least, has been pernicious. It has led to mistaken understandings that the material/textbook/video/syllabus/etc used in an educational experience, is the same thing as the educational experience, or as the learning that takes place. How many times have you heard a student say: “I missed the class, but it is OK I have the notes/slides”? It might be an easy mistake to make, given the pervasive presence of transmission perspectives around learning in our folk pedagogies, but it is still pernicious.

In 2002, when MIT launched Open Course Ware, the same conversation about content took place. The decision they made, to put their content online free, was accompanied by clear declarations at the time by Charles Vest, then MIT President, that MIT content was not at all the same as an MIT education. But the identification of content with the course, or worse still, with the learning goes on. Because it is necessary for those who wish to commoditise and control learning.

In this sense, it seems to me vital to question and contest the use of the word “content”. The very word shifts the frame of the conversation around learning. The term drives us to believe that learning requires “content”, neatly packaged, of course, by your vendor of choice. And that without Content, our work is incomplete. Thinking of content as a kind of conversation with the people who created it is a useful way to shift our thinking, it might also be valuable just to stop using the word, and go back to using words like “resources” or “materials” or “texts”, which are words that help to reframe the conversation.

Somewhere south of Wellow

2014-04-02 15.38.22We went riding today, out between the hedgerows, wending our way down leafy corridors. When the path opened out to hillside, we galloped, wind in our manes, until suddenly both horses veered, right, past the scattering lambs, away from the route we had planned…they were excited and fractious, tossing their heads, anxious to be moving forward. We gave them their head, they know these ways more than we do; each startle, each twitch, is a memory. They led us deep the woods, down a bridle path that was new to us, and as we went we tried to work out where this was leading, which track it would connect to, how close we were to the road, to the village. As we talked, relaxed, at the rhythm of horse and hips, we discovered how our mental mapping diverges.

She sees landmarks, fragments of experience; that hay-bale that shone in the sun, spooking the horses, that sign that says “Slow! Free range children” just at the edge of Faulkland. A pointilliste network of loosely located reference points.

I seem to focus more on the hills, and the curve of the valleys, and a sense that our starting point must be more or less “that way”.

As we rode we learned, about the landscape, and about how we learn the landscape, how each of us finds our way. We drew our maps in the air between us, made the learning visible.

All around us the brambles, the grass, the birches, kept up their slow movement through the earth. And the horses found our way home.


This is a response to Ellie Lighthouse’s thought-provoking post on mapping learning. Thanks, Ellie!