There was a paper on rhizomatic learning at a teaching and learning conference I attended recently. I went along to it, keen to learn more. Even though the authors quoted directly from Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus it became clear that what the paper was actually advocating was explicitly an arborescent (not rhizomatic) approach to teaching and learning. I tackled the presenter on this in question time and the presenting author's reply was that the paper was based on 'her take' on what rhizomatic learning meant. Now while it feels a bit ridiculous to say that they/she had got D&G wrong - D&G are, after all, the poster boys of thinking beyond 'right and wrong' - it must certainly be possible to say that the authors of the paper (or at least some of them) had misunderstood the theory. To me it felt the same as if I'd gone to an anatomy conference, quoted some biology theory and then argued that boys were made of snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails. I would expect to be tackled on this in question time and I'm certain that if I defended my argument by saying 'well, that's what I take the theory to mean' it would only further anger an audience already disgruntled at the waste of their time and money.
So - what has this got to do with 'enforced independence' and heuristic learning in a rhizomatic learning context? I completely agree with Dave Cormier that these things are absolutely central to the success of rhizomatic learning: they're both a way of determining when rhizomatic learning is happening and, conversely, rhizomatic learning won't work or 'happen' without them. I also agree with him that it's tricky to lure students into it and away from didactic just-tell-me-what-I-need-to-know approaches to learning; I too have seen my students' shoulders slump when I've explained to them what 'heuristic' means. But - and this is my key point here - we need to take very great care that rhizomatic learning doesn't become a euphemism for 'any understanding goes'.
This is an important reminder that in amongst the rhizomes there will always be trees. I was in conversation with a colleague about rhizome theory the other day [which is a quiet reminder that I read, teach, use, and think and talk about critical theory a lot as part of my day-to-day working life and I'm surrounded by lots of colleagues who do this as well; this frames my perspective and a lot of what I do]. My colleague mentioned that one of the problems he has with D&G is their overemphasis on rhizomes. I think that he's got a good point. After all, I have spent many pleasant hours foraging for elderberries from elder trees and blackberries from the brambles that were spreading rhizomatically around their bases (blackberries and elderberries make a delicious jam BTW). Trees exist. They are beautiful and important. It's just that not everything is tree-ey (or arborescent) and we need to stop thinking as if it is.
This offers an important reminder: that D&G is not pedagogical but philosophical theory. It just happens that their work in this instance is particularly useful for thinking about teaching and learning. I personally find it useful because of one of the quotations I popped onto my first poster: 'It is always by rhizome that desire moves and produces. [...] The rhizome [...] acts on desire by external productive outgrowths' (p. 14). Transposed into pedagogical theory, this allows those of us who teach to think beyond encouraging and rewarding students for answering questions to which we already know the answers and instead encouraging and rewarding them for asking important questions that we've never thought to ask before, even if we don't yet know any answers to them ('productive outgrowths'). We will know the questions are important because they respond to unmet needs ('desire').
That is not to say, however, that encouraging and rewarding students for answering questions to which we already know the answers is a bad thing and should be abandoned. These 'trees' are still there, are important and, in many instances, beautiful. It is also often going to be the case that we can't move or think beyond these 'trees' into more 'rhizomatic' modes of inquiry until we understand them and why they matter. What D&G warn us about is limiting ourselves to 'trees' and not making enough space in our curriculum and our pedagogy for 'rhizomes'.
This leads me to my final statement for this post: in any rhizomatic learning context, each and every student (and that includes the 'teacher') needs to take responsibility not just for their rhizomatic thinking and learning, but also for attending to and understanding the trees that stand and grow in amongst the rhizomes.
There are lots of interesting resonances between this post and Christina Hendricks's thought provoking post on enforced independence.