Week 3 #Rhizo 14: Uncertainty, Hedgehogs, Compasses and a Yoruba Trickster god

Disclaimer: I am one of those people that doesn’t really answer Dave’s questions.  Read no further if you are looking for useful information.  I proceed to unanswer his questions.

“It’s better to go into the world half-cocked
than not to go into the world at all.”

James Hillman

For some oddly rhizomatic reason, I started thinking about hedgehogs on Monday evening.  Mostly because as an introvert, I often feel like one, but in retrospect I see it as a kind of thread that I can weave into an answer to one of Dave’s provocative questions as a variation of  the “Hedgehog’s Dilema” for Wk 3:

Question 1: How do we make embrace uncertainty in learning? 

Unanswer 1: Here follows a parable by Arthur Schopenhauer from which the “Hedgehog Dilemma” originates:

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 1.43.20 PM

The original interpretation and meaning of the “Hedgehog Dilemma” appears to be about intimacy and relationships.  There is always a potential psychological pain that we can inflict on each other by forming close relationships, yet at the same time our dilemma becomes that by rejecting those relationships, we also risk inflicting the pain of loneliness on ourselves.

However, I’d like to extend the hedgehog analogy a bit to the nature of certainty and uncertainty in learning.   Like the porcupines in the Hedgehog’s dilemma, human beings seem to be drawn together to seek out answers, resources and certainty around issues, but then over time accompanied by its technological and scientific advances, we often clash over the particulars and are then mutually repelled returning again to universal uncertainty.  Thus we are constantly participating in an endless cycle in which we vacillate back and forth between certainty and uncertainty.  Therefore, both certainty and uncertainty seem to ever elude us.  Once we embrace the certain, eventually it falls away to the uncertain and vice-a-versa. Undoubtably, my logic is flawed.  If you have gotten this far, be certain to let me know. However, I find some mutual support for this idea in Janet Webster’s visual unanswer to Dave’s question as well as Terry Elliot’s lyrical and mysterious Zeega.

C’est la vie.  I guess we must prepare ourselves to just dance with it, walk with it, flow with it, be still with it….

Questions 2: How do we keep people encouraged about learning if there is no finite achievable goal? 

Unanswer 2: So as it seems that here are no clear road maps and yet we are conditioned by many institutions, authority figures  and the past to look for them.  We have to start giving out compasses instead. But we can’t give them out, so we have to encourage people to listen to their own voices and their own compasses. As Nollind Whachell points out you must be, “Listening to the harmony, the song in your heart, that is calling you and causing you to step off the well-worn path defined by others and to set off exploring your own path with your own internal compass to guide you.”

But how do we teach that? PBL, Inquiry Based Learning, Deep Play, building places and spaces of permission…..?

Question 3: How do we teach when there are no answers, but only more questions?

Unanswer 3: We must do less teaching and more guiding.  Yesterday in quite a serendipitous way @reprograma tweeted me.  I clicked on the link and Voila, this blog and story about Eschu/Exu, a Yoruba trickster guide.  Here are some takeaways that I think apply to education:

  • “The intrinsic nature of Eshu is movement”
  • “He is the guardian and lord of pathways, passages, doors, gates, roads and crossroads, and bearer of messages between worlds.”
  • He is usually represented in statues with an erect penis and carrying a trident invoking readiness and vitality.
  • He is always the first to be address, because without him nothing can happen, not even thought.

If much of the nature of what we should teach, is always in flux, then it is important for students to find and hold fast to their compasses during this perpetual tempest.   Much like their inner “Eschu,” this guide or inner compass will carry them down pathways and ferry them between worlds and must be honoured by themselves and others as movement, decisions and thoughts take place.

Do we “enmasculate” our own inner “Eschu” and that of others in learning and education by expecting certain outcomes/answers?  If so, could our inner “Eschu” and that of others be reinvoked and revitalized by a more open, playful, learner centered and inquiry based approach?

Je ne sais pas…. Dis moi…

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11 Responses to Week 3 #Rhizo 14: Uncertainty, Hedgehogs, Compasses and a Yoruba Trickster god

  1. jollyroger says:

    Dear Maureen, what comes to my mind reading you:

    You’ve touched on some things that I feel are very important…

    I guess the whole discussion about uncertainty sometimes misses the point that this is simply the way things are. Life is uncertain, and that’s it, there is no big deal about it. It is as it is. And neither certainty nor uncertainty is absolute.

    As you say:

    “we are constantly participating in an endless cycle in which we vacillate back and forth between certainty and uncertainty. Therefore, both certainty and uncertainty seem to ever elude us.”

    And yet, we have that inner compass that is very helpful to navigate in this elusive ocean… we forget that we have it, and we almost don’t use it… but we still have it, and it’s there for us, if we only listen…

    For me the image of Eshu is a reminder of this. He is the epithome of the skilled wanderer, not certain of anything, but connected to himself, and ready to face any challenge that life may throw in his path – even ready to fail. And also always ready to have a laugh, and smile, and be cheerful.

    Well, so far so good, it is about remembering these things… But what challenges me is: how can we deal with this – with the fact that we are ordinarily disconnected from ourselves – in a setting where we have a social responsibility to teach others? The challenge for me is the so-called “problem of intervention”: what do you do about this in a concrete situation, in which you are to act as a teacher, invested of such responsibilities?

    I’ve found this very tricky. I can take responsibility for myself, but not for others. The best we can do is suggest, invite, “encourage people to listen to their own voices and their own compasses”. If they don’t, I guess we have to be at peace with that too. But one of the premises of formal education is that teachers HAVE to teach, and that everyone HAS to learn the things that are taught.

    I’m abandoning this one.

    Ok, it is easy to say this. But another thing is that education IS a social matter, and it makes sense to think that there are some things that people have the duty to learn. I don’t know…

    I’m still thinking about these problems. Will see where does it go. More later.

    @reprograma

    • tanyalau says:

      Hey reprograma, I understand the conundrum you’re speaking of – providing the freedom for learners / students to explore their own interests, in their own way (giving learners control / responsibility for their own learning) vs the pressure to work within a system which dictates the achievement of specific ‘learning outcomes’. The same issue exists across every formal learning context/ system – school, higher ed, organisations / the workplace.
      I think perhaps part of the way to resolve this is to tap into people’s internal / intrinsic motivation for learning (this I equate to the ‘internal compass’) by offering options for people to engage (e.g. more open ended assignments etc), encouraging the asking of questions, inquiry, curiosity, exploration, play…..

  2. mtmaher says:

    Jollyrogers, Good point about the playfulness of Eschu ready to laugh, smile and be cheerful and be a skillfull wanderer.
    But do we really have a social responsibility to teach others? It is seems not to be working anyway and somewhat artificial?
    Or are we responsible to help others find their compass along with the “elders” in the village/community? They seem to be two different animals.
    Thanks for your thoughts…food for thought and thanks for the trickster trigger:)

    • jollyroger says:

      I think we do have some level of responsibility. See this:
      http://arca.noblogs.org/archives/90
      And also the comments, where some people helped me think deeper.

      Apart from an ethical responsability to younger generations, we have also the practical problem of what to do with the schools that already exist. Should we just trash them and send everyone home? I don’t think so.

      But it is plain clear that the way they are now is not good. So… the practice is really tricky. Cheers! : )

  3. balimaha says:

    Hi maureen, thanks for this post – ur posts are always a “treat” even though i don’t always think i understand all ur saying…

    Ur general line of thought in this one resonates a lot with me, esp. about encouraging others to follow their inner compass. I just wonder if faulty edu systems may have damaged some ppl’s inner compass or that it may have gone rusty and we need to help the, recover it!

    • mtmaher says:

      Hi! Thanks for your comment. Indeed I am trying to did up my compass now rather late in life but better late than never. Loved your blog on your toddler!

  4. Pingback: What My Toddler Teaches Me About Uncertainty | Reflecting Allowed

  5. tanyalau says:

    Hi Maureen, I’m glad you mentioned play in learning – I’ve been thinking about this as we’ve been playing in the rhizo14 ‘arts & crafts’ tent. I’m really intrigued by the emergence of this creative undercurrent – it seems like its emergence represents a bit of a mashup of ds106 and rhizo14 communiities (or perhaps mindsets?) which I think is really interesting in itself. But it provide an alternative means for engaging in the discussion (art, creating, making – stories, poetry, visual, audio / music, engaging with the senses, emotion) ,and adds fun and playfulness to the learning experience which I think IS important for learning. Prompted by a couple of posts on Maha’s blog (and I think it’s also come up generally in relation to learning), I’ve been thinking about the role of vulnerability in learning and participation. This is where creating a playful learning environment could make it ‘safer’ to show vulnerability, as expressing something deeply emotional via art might be easier / ‘safer’ than talking or writing about it directly.
    It also provides a more layered, potentially more complex (open to multiple interpretations) form of communication (> embracing / creating ‘uncertainty’?) which may be better suited to engaging on complexity than just written or verbal communication – and make participation more inclusive for those whose strengths may not lie in verbal or written communication – or may not be as capable of engaging in verbal or written communication (e.g. with disabilities, w/ lower levels of literacy or education, ESL…etc).

    • mtmaher says:

      Tanya, thanks for writing. Yes, art does provide another channel of communication indeed that not only those with disabilities or low level English skills feel confident in engaging, but also for the introverts who populate our schools as well but are never the cheerleaders or the presidents of the student government. Often in our culture, the loudest person in the room gets the spotlight. I like your point about vulnerability and play. Playing and art can allow a broader participation. Thanks as always for your comments here, there and beyond.

      • tanyalau says:

        Yes – definitely…this was brought up in a G+ convo a couple of weeks ago too.

        I’m really enjoying exploring and thinking creatively, playing with the ideas in different ways, I do think it opens up your mind to other possible paths and ways of looking at things. Thanks for encouraging the play!

  6. Reblogged this on Becoming An Educationalist and commented:
    #becomingeducational – getting ready for W20 – more projects are coming!! So how do we educate for uncertainty – for no easy answers – for change so fast we’re in danger of forgetting what we know…???

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