Becoming Pedagogy for Becoming People

“Now, I have loved you like a baby / Like some lonesome child.
And I have loved you in a tame way / And I have loved you wild…”
Steve Young, Seven Bridges Road
A professor once told me that I loved ideas too much, because I treated them as if they were people.  It is true that when I read, see, or hear certain ideas, the idea and its discovery become parts of me, with a physicality that expands quickly beyond words and aches in my chest.  They demand an immediate response – something like throwing a dry erase marker or running for coffee. And when I recover my words (and return with the coffee), I have to share what has happened with someone, preferably someone who also cares about ideas and who knows something about who I am and what it is I hope to find.

Finding and developing ideas and then holding them inside for too long is problematic. Articulating ideas, feeling them on your tongue, ordering, disordering, and reordering them make ideas more real.  Furthermore, mixing them with the ideas of others makes them better, gives them value, and allows them to be remembered.  There was a study about toddlers once, I think: a study that suggested learning as an event is richest when shared with someone else – a mother, a teacher, a friend, another caring and respected person.
 ***
I used to go to a faculty journal club once a week.  The group didn’t actually read journal articles.  Instead, it focused on those books that everyone cites but few people actually read.  The idea behind the club was to struggle together to understand these authors, so that they could cite foundational philosophy from a place of confidence rather than pretense. 

I’m not (and have never been) faculty; at the time I attended these weekly meetings, I was a first year graduate student.  I had been granted access to this journal club heterotopia – this potential, vulnerable space between formal and informal learning, this secret garden – by the professor who warned me that I loved ideas too much.  He said he was slipping me in that back door because I was too emotional to read Bakhtin alone; if I were going to read Bakhtin and survive the experience, I needed to read it from the arms of a journal club.  In a way, he was right.  I understand now, knowing myself now as he had intuited then, that for me to have encountered Bakhtin’s carnivals and heteroglossia in a peerless condition would have been painful, as well as counterintuitive and downright ironic.

Whether they exist in the academic settings of health professions, hard or applied sciences, social science, or humanities, journal clubs (aka book clubs, reading clubs) serve dual pedagogical purposes.  First, they are meeting posts for continuing education and professional development. However they are also mechanisms for training novice scholars in academic language, critical and philosophical stances, literary cannons, and preferred writing styles. Journal clubs exist to create structure, demonstrate the systems, and relay the algorithms for thinking about ideas of specific disciplinary cultures. 

I feel I should interject here that these things — these structures — aren’t all bad. Thought algorithms can be reassuring, efficient, and productive.  There is a sense of belonging when speaking in mutually understood algorithm, and belonging feels good.  Algorithms are negotiated, shared, reified products. Sometimes, they keep people from missing important facts.  They are the basis for how physicians diagnose illnesses and make data-driven decisions.  Algorithms have been known to save lives. Algorithms tame a wild existence.

I know that one of my most enduring grad school memories will be listening to those faculty members chew on Bakhtin.  But while the experience seemed to suit them just fine, their heterotopia – this secret garden that appeared in random empty classrooms every Tuesday at noon – was not entirely positive for me.  After all, Foucault tells us that entry into heterotopias is never straightforward.  I was a visitor standing on the threshold of this place, and these faculty members were speaking in algorithms I didn’t entirely know. 

I quickly learned, implicitly and explicitly (because one of the faculty members told me so), that I needed to learn scholarly code if I wanted to speak up. In other words, I would need to learn to think about (to love) Bakhtin and his ideas in a tame way.

And so, because I could not learn to be a scholar fast enough, Bakhtin became beyond messy. I was a singular, an almost, a not-yet, and not in a good way. I was validated but squashed, acknowledged but not, provided with an opportunity that I did not have the power to claim.

In the ensuing years, I have read Vygotsky, Dewey, Wittgenstein, Foucault. I have learned (some, maybe enough) scholarly code. However, sometimes ideas – scholarly or otherwise — demand to be loved wildly and I rapidly tire of algorithms – not too surprising given the fact that I rejected the practice of medicine.

To love ideas wildly means to use scholarly journal articles and books to disrupt the essentializing categories, the power hierarchies, the systematic expectations, and thinking algorithms of everyday learning.  Rather than digging into the article like a careful archaeologist (smoothing and polishing the ideas against disciplinary standards), ideas are handled less carefully and with more humanity.  

To love wildly means to mess up, mix up, throw up ideas against and into other ideas.  It means stumbling over, into, and under them. It means getting emotional and proud to be so, looking at the aesthetics, trying them on and tearing them off.  In doing so, ideas come alive and part of your person, applicable to multiple spheres of living and available as building blocks for the wonkiest of structures.  These are the freshest, most hopeful, most faithful acts of the not-yet, the in-between, the becoming person.
***

Twitter Journal Club is an open learning experience on Twitter (aggregated around the hashtag #tjc15) in which participants read a previously agreed upon article at a scheduled time, live-tweeting as they go.  The articles – which must be openly available either through pre-print or open access – are recommended by participants via Google Doc and read in order of recommendation.  Articles tend to be recently published articles from Open Education/Education Technology/Digital Literacy/Networked or Connecting Learning fields.  Article authors are invited to join the conversation via direct invitation.

There is no mandate to read the article in advance (although there is also no mandate to prevent participants from reading in advance).  The journal club convenes formally for one hour and while conversations can occur for however long as desired, this hour is archived and published via Storify so that participants can read the transcript if they desire.

There are no pre-arranged talking points or questions for the discussion. If you visit the Storify after the event, you’ll see the multiple conversations occurring simultaneously.  As ideas emerge they overlap and converge, intertwine, abut, and diverge. We often jump from the articles and into our own lives, connecting the work to our own studies and interests. We play.  We connect and reconnect things in funny ways.  We take a moment. We enjoy an opportunity. Nothing we do is systematic, methodical, or codified. Sometimes it’s not even recognizable as a pedagogical event. It supports an idea as network; it facilitates innovation like a coffee shop (Johnson, 2014).  
***

In developing and experiencing Twitter Journal Club, I was striving for a “becoming” pedagogy for “becoming” people.  It was meant to be a safe space for those who dwell in the academic threshold (the singulars, the almosts, the not-yets) who need to love scholarly ideas with sloppy, emotional, childlike glee, unrestrained by scholarly expectations, language, ethical stances, or thought algorithms.  Moreover, it is a space that encourages all of these things because they are very important and to be respected as much (maybe more) than the codified world of the standard.  This is a different sort of heterotopia: a space that reflects and challenges because it means “not satisfying every condition; not fully understanding every condition, not checklisting everything, not tidying everything, not trying to solve every problem” (Collier, 2015).

In this space and through these events, I have found the freedom to care, not only for the ideas but also for the authors. I love the opportunity to express my gratitude – sometimes directly – to the authors who put their ideas out there for connecting, piecing, remixing, accepting, or rejecting. There is a special type of vulnerability that comes with academic writing, and it deserves respect. Thus far Twitter Journal Club has always leapt from a place of responsibility and respect for those who have offered up their ideas.  I am deeply grateful for that.

I have also experienced the joy and responsibility of being cared for.  I am new to social media. I am new to education and educational research. I am new to academia. Sometimes I feel so raw and fumbly that I want to unplug the computer, switch off the wifi, turn off the light. There are many people who know of, support, and participate in the Twitter Journal Club who could organize it just as well or better than I do. They have denser and more far-flung networks.  They have more influence. They are wiser. They could do their own Storify.  They could take over in a hot minute but instead they encourage, cheer, play along, and show kindness. I am deeply grateful for that.

And yet, heterotopias are not utopias. Entry is never straightforward. Striation appropriates and emerges from smoothness and vice versa (Bayne, 2004). Twitter Journal Club is not for everyone even as it claims to be inclusive and for everyone. Participation in a heterotopian space is disturbing and ambiguous, neither inherently positive nor negative (Ferreday & Hodgson, 2008).  It is the responsibility of the facilitator, the organizer, the people within, to be observant, to care, to have respect for everyone else within the space.  I don’t know if I am doing this with Twitter Journal Club.  Sometimes the responsibility feels heavy.  Furthermore, I am aware that with every event, structured reflective post, and organizational maneuver, I am coming closer to my own undoing; I am coming closer to the overcodified Bakhtin experience.

But mostly I feel hope, faith, and belonging within the “fruitful mess” of learning in the potential space of the in-between.   


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6 Comments Add yours

  1. My comment disappeared when I clicked on publish…oh well!
    Anyway, I just wanted to say how much this post resonated with me. I am a fan of #tjc15, albeit a quiet one who mostly observes (like watching through a window, rather than “slipping in the back door”), I am thankful that you have created a space for people to “love wildly”, “mess up, mix up” and “struggle together to understand these authors”. It's good to see times are changing from the group discussions in which I participated in years ago, which were about showcasing your knowledge of Bahktinian dialogism, Foucaultian discourse analysis & Vygotskian social development theory rather than “struggling over, into and under ideas” together to co-construct understanding.

    Keep up the great work, Laura! You are an inspiration and I look forward to many more #tjc15 events.

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  2. I love this, Laura! The first part took me back to a quote that had a huge impression on me. I ran across it during independent study in Italy after college, with no classrooms or professors, only libraries and museums and historic sites. One of the first books I read there (Dale and Francis Kent's Neighbours and Neighbourhood in Renaissance Florence) opened with a quote from historian G. M. Young to “go on reading till you can hear people talking” and went on to show how they had done this in their research.

    In the absence of others to share and bounce off ideas, my interaction during that fellowship was largely with books. I came to love most the little monographs for which the authors had pored over the records from court cases until they could hear people talking. (Reading the footnotes in Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms did lead me to reading Bakhtin, without any other scaffolding.)

    It only occurred to me later that some of my favorite historians may have been sitting in the same pencils-only reading rooms where I studied. I know now that I could have talked more to the librarians, and that might have opened some doors. Thank you for launching and guiding something that includes the in-betweens and not-yets.

    [This is Lisa Hubbell. Your authentication system only let me in via a student blog on Blogger. I give up on trying to get it to recognize me otherwise.]

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  3. Laura Gogia says:

    Hi Lisa! Sorry about the commenting difficulties…one of these days I'm going to get myself out of Blogger for sure. This idea of reaching out and reaching into academic texts and discussion for more than “Scholarship” (with a big “S”) seems to be striking a chord for many people. It's not about denouncing big-S scholarship, but rather enriching it and bringing it closer to our hearts. I like your comment because you manage to express this better than I did in the original post, I think. Thanks.

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  4. Laura Gogia says:

    Thanks Tanya, You know one of the things I didn't get right in this post (but will continue to work on, I promise and that we've spoken about a little offline:)) is the idea that not yetness is a stage on the way to “Big S Scholarship.” Rather it is a rhizome – a next-to – equally valuable and a destination (as much as a process can be a destination) unto itself. But staying in a zone of not yetness seems to be just as hard as standing on one of those balance boards. It all has me questioning Meyer and Land's Threshold Concepts and our perception of zone of proximal development…those are all probably still good, but I'm questioning them anyway, maybe just because it's Friday :). Anyhow, thanks for your comment.

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  5. I wrote my response to your playful and profound post here:

    https://mdvfunes.withknown.com/2015/loving-ideas-wildly-what-else-is-there

    Thanks for cheering me up at the end of a long day.

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  6. Dogtrax says:

    I really love this: “To love wildly means to mess up, mix up, throw up ideas against and into other ideas. It means stumbling over, into, and under them.”
    Kevin

    Like

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