Loose ideas on rhizomes and learning (not “rhizomatic learning” as you know it)

I just spent a month in Belgium, and much of that month I spent in the back garden at my mum’s. It borders on woodland, and with that come a lot of extremely fastgrowing weeds (which are just plants growing in the wrong place according to whoever owns the garden). I love cleaning up the garden. I call it my Long Slow Strength training (in honour of the Long Slow Distance run): pulling up miles and miles of weeds, digging out roots of dandelions and thistles, trimming back the wilderness,… it’s good, honest physical labour over days and weeks. In the worst spots I’m simply reclaiming the garden from the woods, where the two are locked in eternal combat over what plants get to grow where.

Photo illustrating the back garden
After cleaning out a major section of the back garden. The woods are to the right, and in the back.

And as I was pulling out mile thirty-five in the stinging nettle root network on the slope, I remembered that expression I’d seen earlier, “rhizomatic learning”. Learning is a messy, non-linear process, and Deleuze and Guattari (wikipedia link) tried to capture this with this term. I haven’t done any reading on that yet, other than David Cormier’s blog post “Rhizomatic Learning: A Somewhat Curious Introduction” which probably introduced me to the term in the first place. But I wonder if the people who’ve been thinking and writing about this term have up-close, personal experience with rhizomes. Brambles (common blackberry); ground ivy; stinging nettles; bamboo (escapee from the garden); hedge bindweed; wild strawberries. Have your pick. I carted off dozens of wheelbarrows full of this stuff to give some space to the plants we like to see grow on our side of the border. I feel I can speak with some authority on rhizomatic plants from a hands-on perspective, and I wonder if anybody who has spent some time with them has made the following connection, too: Rhizomes. Roots. Radical. Radical pedagogy? Radical. Eradicate. Impossible to eradicate.

Rhizomes are impossible to eradicate. The merest fibre that gets left in the soil will simply bide its time and spring up again, giving rise to a fully formed plant as if nothing ever happened; and often these plants spring back with surprising speed, over the course of a few days. And in the learning process, and inside the student, there should be something like that, something rhizomatic: a curiosity that drives one to learn and explore, to never be satisfied with “because I told you so”, an urge to investigate and contrast and compare and draw conclusions, only to serve as the next little node in a network of knowledge, and bouncing back with a vengeance from failures or attempts to restrict and channel the process along neatly prescribed avenues. There is something very hopeful about my endless battle with the rhizomes from the woods: they never give up, they just keep coming back. I respect them for that tenacity, we could learn something from that… Learning, and curiosity, simply cannot be eradicated, if they are rhizomatic. Unlike my mum’s garden, perhaps I should let the rhizome run free in my classroom and see what happens.

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