Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει ~ Heraclitus
MOOC MOOC: Dark Underbelly (MMDU) is a rambunctious series of discussions about the past, present, and future of higher education, focusing on topics rising directly from Cathy Davidson’s distributed #futureEd experiment and its various offspring.
Learning must catch us by surprise, demand of us a compromise, a suspension of disbelief. Learning reminds us that we’re always a little bit stuck, but also that we have the ability to see our way out.
Last week, I was stuck in Washington DC under the oppressive gray clouds of winter storm Pax. But rather than be shackled by the conditions, I used the opportunity to visit museums and monuments. In the “Our Lives” area of the National Museum of the American Indian, I found myself surrounded by voices. They emanated from the multiple television displays, from audio that played only in this part or that part of the exhibit. The voices seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. Ghostly, musical, they washed over me from every direction — north, south, east, west, from above and from below — giving the impression of omnipresence, of never being alone or separated from those voices. And yet this was a presence as invisible as it was ubiquitous, as nascent as it was ancient.
The museum itself lacks corners, and so the exhibits are labyrinthine. I wandered from place to place, sometimes circling back again to see what I’d seen before, but now from a new angle, a new context. Unlike other museums and exhibits, this one is not linear. There are no chronologies to guide people through history. Instead, everything happens at the same time. As a very white, Western visitor to the museum, I was asked to look at information in ways more flexible, more circular, more intuitive. I had to unlearn how to participate in the act of being in a museum.
In her lecture 4.3 for this week’s “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” MOOC, Cathy Davidson describes unlearning as “the ability to just take change… as a challenge we can meet.” In other words, when our happy, operational paradigms are confronted by a novel approach or new evidence (“Pluto isn’t a planet” “Instruction does not equate to learning”) we have the opportunity to respond to that confrontation one of two ways: as learners or not as learners. We can plant our feet and don our Pluto Pride tee-shirt, or we can smile, shake off the old dog complex, and discover a whole fumbling, beautiful universe of not-planets.
Unlearning is really only the decision to keep learning, and never to rest on any laurels that have outlived their use. Whether we are students, academics, post-academics, or (dare I say it?) someone whose life never has nor never will intersect the academy, we are all learners. It is only when our attitudes calcify that we forget — that knowledge is fluid, that experience and perspective differ in valuable ways between us, that the times they are a-changin’. And so, as we look with trepidation and fear and derision and excited enthusiasm toward a future of higher education that does not look like its past, it is our natural capacity as curious learners that will see us through.
More than simple survival through change, though, unlearning can be seen as activism, even advocacy. As our institutions stand rigidly in their traditions, it is the unlearners who can raise the battle cry for adaptation, for improvisation, and for play. It will be the unlearners who not only embrace new paradigms and novel approaches, but who bring them unabashedly to the university, the high school, the MOOC, the senior center, and classrooms of every shape, size, ilk, and brood.
This week’s #moocmooc chat will deal with the matter of unlearning, and how we as academics, #postac, #altac, students, and learners are never innocent bystanders in the educative process. In a confrontation with something new, we must respond. We’ll consider questions like:
How do we want to define unlearning? Or should we? What are examples of unlearning with regard to our jobs, our professional relationships, the expectations we have of ourselves?
How can we make unlearning a part of learning in the first place? What is a pedagogy of unlearning — an unpedagogy?
What does unlearning look like in our classrooms? What shapes does it take or exactly not take?
Why do we choose not to be unlearners? What are the stakes involved, and why are we unwilling to risk? In other words, when are we our own worst institutions?
Enter the #moocmooc fray on Twitter this Wednesday at 7:00PM Eastern to discuss these and more questions. Check worldtimebuddy.com to see when to join us in your time zone. And, if you’re unable to participate this week, there’s more MOOC MOOC ahead! See our original announcement for info. about the 6-week discussion series, and don’t fret if this is the first chat you’re joining — here’s a recap. And feel free to get the discussion rolling in the comments below.
[Photo by familymwr]