Rhizomatic Learning Week 2: Zen Koans and Provocative Questions

This marks the start of week 2 of Rhizomatic Learning: The Community is the Curriculum, so after I got my email reminding me of this, I headed over to P2PU and read Dave Cormier’s blog, watched his video link, and read Simon’s poetic rant/blog which he probably spent another sleepess night composing as he is in the same time zone as I am.  I call it a rant, but I appreciate his passion and the depth of his narrative as well as his willingness to buck the system and ask good questions.

As I made coffee, I pondered further dropping the Coursera course that I am also enrolled in.  All this learning my own way and rhizomatically has ruined me for the institutionalized learning and xMOOCs as well.  In addition during this 2 year sabbatical  from teaching (quickly becoming a permanent exile), all this cMOOC business has made me see teaching within the 4 walls of an institution with its objectives and curriculum as well as its meetings and its oversized classroom as a dystopian nightmare.   In the words of the controversial Sebastian Thrun, I feel “I’ve taken the red pill. I’ve seen Wonderland.”

As I learn, I continue to search for a way to get back into the profession without feeling like I am taking a huge step backward.  I hope that as I read more about your teaching stories and how you embrace this paradox, I can learn rhizomatically and solve this kind of existential and professional quandry in which I find myself.

All that aside, I also decided to go to the forum on P2PU which I don’t normally do in MOOCs, but I am stretching myself and I am glad I did as I came upon the following brief post:

Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 11.56.26 AM

This piqued my curiosity as a way of  cultivating independence, and I decided to explore  Zen Koans more and see what they might bring although the original intent of the post may have been different from the meaning towards which I am moving.

Week 2’s challenge is as follows:

Explore a model of enforced independence. How do we create a learning environment where people must be responsible? How do we assure ourselves that learners will self-assess and self-remediate?

Apparently a Koan in the Zen tradition is a paradox to be meditated upon which is used to train Buddhist monks to abandon their ultimate dependence on reason while forcing them to question and doubt leading to an experience of sudden intuitive enlightenment.  Simply put it could be seen as an exercise used to clear the mind and open it up to the possible.  Opening up the mind through a kind of mind training that clears the mind of preconceived ideas and notions via a befuddling question/story sounds like an interesting exercise to me especially if the result is an empowering burst of sudden intuitive enlightenment.

As intuitive knowledge is one’s own and usually stumbled upon independently, being in touch with that makes me wonder if the act itself of pondering Zen Koans and provocative questions which Dave Cormier seems to fond of, as he says himself, might help us retrain or cultivate our minds to be independent and initiate our own learning paths while assessing and self-remediating along the way.

The paradox of this particular Zen Koan may allow an opening up of oneself to the possible or one may even experience a sudden burst of intuitive enlightenment. I won’t analyze it and tell you what I think it means as that is for each of us to do.  Your interpretation is probably different from mine.  And isn’t that the point?  I do have some ideas about it though that I am ruminating over.  In addition,  I have taken the following Koan and read it and set it to music here as well in hopes that you might ponder it and be enticed to be carried away by its story:

Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 7.22.46 PM

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10 Responses to Rhizomatic Learning Week 2: Zen Koans and Provocative Questions

  1. davecormier says:

    Thanks for the further insight. I too was struck by the comment you mentioned and have many hours struggling with koan. Perhaps I was more influenced than I thought 🙂 different interpretations indeed.

  2. Maureen, I loved your post and was enticed by the particular Koan you shared. I think it expresses that feeling I also have of having down the rabbit hole, and being unable to return. One child is an independent thinker. The other can’t ask questions on his own, unable to problem solve. Defeated, his teacher has conditioned him to rely on her for the questions and the answers. Now that are eyes are open to this “dystopian nightmare”, how does one ever return and “enforce independence” in an institutional environment?

    • mtmaher says:

      Ary I love your take on this Koan. It really fits. Ah, the rhetorical question, after experiencing “freedom learning” how does one go back to such a closed system? How does one work within that system without being consumed and transformed by it? Perhaps there is a way…and maybe all together we can figure it out….

  3. jaapsoft2 says:

    Zen Koans and Dave Cormier questions do fire up the brains to wander and after some time a problem will pop up and maybe the beginning of an answer.
    It is like writing a text, first draft has to stay a day or two as a draft and after that the author will read it and see how to enhance the text or just leaving it in the drawer with Draft on it.

  4. mtmaher says:

    Jaap, I love to write a draft and let it sit, linger and settle for a spell. I love how when you go away from it and come back to it, you can enhance it or decide to file it under draft. Indeed the Koan or a provocative question may also stir us to think in different ways and start an internal dialogue where we come up with some inklings of an answer. It really is a beautiful process this thinking and writing business…

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  6. I also thought that Dave’s challenges and questions are like koans, riddles, paradoxes. They require that we uncover the answers because we can’t just google them. They have to surround us “like a mist” (someone else in rhizo14 said that, I think) before we can begin to understand. The point is, that all of us are in the quest, and together, our community will share the internal dialogue and will uncover the answers. It is a beautiful process.

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  8. Maha says:

    Had never heatd of Zen Koans before… Now v intrigued! Thanks!

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