I shall stay until the winds change

Some random thoughts just so I get something down for this strange new world I’ve stumbled upon #rhizo14



When I think of rhizomes I think of a baking hot polytunnel in the grounds of a secondary school I worked in last year with a group of young people with high support needs. The polytunnel was neglected and there was couch grass growing rampant. Couch grass is rhizomatic. Its roots spread randomly beneath the soil, sprouting up whenever they feel like it to create leaves that enable the roots to explore further. The roots grow quick and as a consequence they are fleshy and easily snapped. Couch grass is the enemy of anyone intending to grow vegetables on a neglected plot. Just an inch of root left in the soil is enough for the rhizome to begin again. In a bid to get the group excited about weeding (ha!) and instil the importance of not just yanking at the leaves we had an endless competition to see who could pull up the longest unbroken root. Even with the group’s eventual passionate commitment we didn’t really stand a chance. Rhizomes just don’t stay down.


I watched Mary Poppins at Christmas. With half a thought to some homework I was set by my PGCE tutor which was to note when teachers were represented on TV and (and more crucially how they were represented). I’ve since thought a lot about Mary Poppins (making the leap that nannies are a kind of teacher) and how she arrives with her own objectives and approach which radically contradicts that of her employer. She has Jane & Michael’s interests at heart, not Mr Banks’. She placates and evades the patriarch in order to give the children what she knows they should have: love, a caring role model and some magical independence. She cheats the system from within for the children’s benefit.


Permaculture says that relationships are more important than individuals. Couch grass probably couldn’t agree more. This week I read Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter by Karen Barad. Who says “holding the category “human” fixed excludes an entire range of possibilities in advance, eliding important dimensions of the workings of power”. To her, I’m not sure independence is possible. It certainly isn’t to me.

But what I mean when I talk about independence for my leaners is non dependence on me. That’s different. Sort of. My learners are already radically independent of me. They are only dependent on me for certain quite specific things: passing their assessments maybe. They are dependent on me to tell them what they need to know. If I want to empower them to become free thinking, active world-changers I’ve first got to depend on them to be up for that change; we’ve got to depend on each other. We’ve got to build trust, respect, learn about each other and what our expectations and goals are. Do we become less and less dependent the more ‘independence’ learners show? I’m not sure. Don’t we just get more interestingly connected? Don’t we just change the terms of our interdependence? Enforcing independence might happen one day in the future, but that day will be the last day we spend together, the day the wind changes.


3 thoughts on “I shall stay until the winds change

  1. I like the way you think 😉 When I read “They are dependent on me to tell them what they need to know.” I immediately thought “but what if they don’t believe you?” But you thought of that: “We’ve got to build trust, respect, learn about each other . . .” I enjoyed your post, but, tell me — as one gardener to another — do you really think the rhizomatic metaphor works? I keep thinking that, as you said, even one tiny piece will spring up a whole army. A whole army of identical soldiers. The lack of diversity bothers me. Or maybe I shouldn’t take the metaphor that far.

    • Thank you for the lovely comment.
      I think what I like about the metaphor is what I wrote about: its resilience. But I agree that it doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny because of the uniformity. What I’ve been thinking about this thing we’re calling rhizomatic learning is the idea of emergence. When two or more things interact with each other new and unexpected things emerge – and that’s the important thing. And that is the issue with the rhizome metaphor. It doesn’t factor in emergence which is kind of the whole point of rhizomatic learning for me.
      I’ve been thinking a lot about ecological metaphors recently but as thats not exactly your question I think I’ll leave it for a future blog post. To answer your question: I think it does work, but in a limited way and maybe that limit is what makes it so powerful. I think as you suggest that there is a danger when using metaphors that we try to take them too far which means that we begin to force connections. Conversations like this are really important in recognising the limits of the metaphor so that its meaning isn’t misconstrued or diluted.

  2. I really like the connection to permaculture. The rhizome is part of and dependent on much else, even if not directly connected. You’ve given me something to think about.

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