(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

Enforcing Independence

9 Comments

The second week of #rhizo14 has the catchy and paradoxical (?) heading “enforcing independence”. I have been mulling over different aspects of this all day and here are some prelim thoughts (unsure if Dave has written this week’s opening post, but am holding back on reading it until I have published this post):

1. Is it problematic to enforce independence too early on children, e.g. By weaning them too early or sending them to daycare too early? Is it sometimes necessary and good for the child? How do we as parents know if we are doing this at the right time?

2. Is “independence” something that occurs within a person? A sense of self-sufficiency, or is it something that external others can encourage, empower, or even enforce? Does finding oneself in a situation where one needs to fend for oneself bring about independence, or does it merely bring it to the surface, when it was always already lurking underneath? We as a species are not born independent… We depend on our parents for many things until we can do them ourselves. We are social beings who depend on others to meet some of our most basic needs like food, though earlier people did not.

3. This all reminds me of the whole idea of “empowerment” and “liberation” – why do we as teachers talk about empowering our students as if power is something we have to give? As if we have control and influence over our students’ power, and as if power in the classroom translates in some linear fashion to power outside it? (I cheat – these are not my own original ideas and questions, but ones i have read somewhere in the critical pedagogy literature and probably by Ellsworth and interpretations of Foucault, but the advantage of blogging is that i don’t have to find the citation for each idea right now)

4. Independence also has a political, postcolonial connotation. Here in Egypt, I also feel that after January 2011 we found ourselves in what seemed to have been an enforced independence – but that’s not working out too well…

5. Independence has connotations of being part of natural growth and progress, being a good thing to which to strive, but does it always have good consequences? Is it not possible that independence will bring on disaster if the person is not equipped to handle it? But how will the person learn to handle it if they are never given the responsibility (Egypt again: how will we learn to be a democracy if we don’t get a chance to live a democracy and act it out, learn from our mistakes)

6. In learning and teaching – do we sometimes try to force our students to become independent and how uncomfortable does it make them feel? Does it always work well? Who decides whether it has worked well?

7. It also occurred to me that i am assuming Dave plans to step back and let us all be “independent” for the rest of the course. I assume this is something that started happening after the live session, the unhangout, as folks started to discuss topics they wanted to pursue for the rest of the #rhizo14 weeks?

8. I prefer the goal of “interdependence” than “independence” – i understand this via a reading by Pedler early on when i was doing my MEd, about a learning community being a group of individuals taking diverse pathways to diverse goals, but supporting each other throughout. Interdependence. And that cannot be forced in any way that i can imagine, but can be encouraged and nurtured. I really appreciate all the ways individuals in #rhizo14 have supported each other (and me) and found ways of connecting everyone’s ideas together so that those of us who missed some parts could catch up on them and see what had previously been hidden from our view. I also appreciate the new tech tools i am learning about and how technology helps this process of interdependence and facilitates it… Easier to be pursuing different goals if we’re not stuck in a classroom fixed by time and space. And also easier to support each other in sporadic ways that suit our own schedules.

What do others think?

This post sort of looks as messed up as my brain right now, firing connections right and left so that there is no linear flow of ideas… I am increasingly seeing rhizomes as neurons that connect in strange ways… So there are the internal rhizomes of each of our brains and the external rhizomes of our social interactions. I actually think that Martin’s twitter tag explorer looks rhizomatic, doesn’t it?

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Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

9 thoughts on “Enforcing Independence

  1. The East is first again. thinking on synchronous eastern event. Your country Egypt independence is not comfortable, like student independency is not easy either. Most fresh independent countries do suffer in a learning curve of getting used to be free and independent. Our struggle for freedom lasted 80 years and sometimes we were our worst enemy.
    But children need to learn independent thinking, need to have a opportunity to experiment with independency. And children must learn to cooperate.
    Maybe real teachers do provide safe opportunities for learning independency?

    • Hey jaap… The West should be awake by now, but apparently not blogging yet ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Yes, of course learning independence is important… Now I struggle with respecting my two-year old’s budding independence, that sometimes means she wants to sit on the kitchen counter (she calls this position “humpty” after “humpty dumpty”) and then proceeds to push my hand away so she could try jumping. On ceramic floor. Not gonna happen. But otherwise, i try to give her space to make her own choices and construct her own world when i can and it is “safe”.

      I guess the key word in what you mention is “safety”. The only advantage of the educational situation is its relative safety, or potential for safety, as opposed to the “real” world, but the learning environment is itself also the “real world” with “real” people in it… I.e. the teacher doesn’t always have control over what occurs (e.g. Children hurting each other physically, verbally, emotionally) – but that is also ok, and is a learning opportunity in itself… As long as we don’t delude ourselves about the safety of things.

      Having a child makes this clearer to me; i can put her in a room where i think there is nothing unsafe and she will almost always find a way to do something unsafe with all the safety surrounding her!

      Last point: you said something about the Netherlands? It had to struggle for independence? Thought you guys colonized quite a few other places like South Africa? Or are you from somewhere else?

      • The Netherlands had a Spanish king in about 1460. The Dutch did not like his religious fanatism . The Dutch did declare independency and the king did send an army. about 1570 the war was over.
        And we did colonize some places yes.
        Cooperation in schools is normal, working together on a task.

  2. One more thing… Did u intend the paradox between learning independency and learning to cooperate? It is not a dichotomy, but i think the hidden curricula of schools often promote compliance rather than cooperation i.e. discipline. Unless you meant for kids to cooperate with each other in order to reach goals?

    • hey Jaap (having problems replying to your post directly above, so commenting here): I guess it is important to note that each of us can sometimes be in a position of power oppressing others (e.g. as colonizer) but also find ourselves in positions of being oppressed (e.g. gender oppression in the family home) or even at the national level… I got a sense from your post that you were a little bit upset that I mentioned that the Netherlands colonized some people?

  3. I am tired but I just want to say – I lurve this post!
    Bringing the discussion of learning to that experienced by young children challenges some of the facile assumptions about ‘independence’. When is curtailment of independence non-malign? Can an (adult) individual achieve independence? and what does that mean anyway?
    Anyway need to blip my blipfoto then go to bed.

  4. I like how you’ve framed this discussion and the images of Empowerment. It’s ironic that in order to be empowered, someone has to have the person in power give that to them. I hadn’t thought of that before, but you’re right, that’s not very empowering. Ironic.

    I also appreciated your issue of independence and the need for teachers to help the students become independent. What if they don’t want it? Yet, as you state, sometimes it’s the best thing for the student.

    Great questions for us to think through.

  5. I have been rethinking this idea of the privileging of independence since getting interested in Peter Block, John McKnight, Margaret Wheatley and more recently Parker Palmer – I think the idea that any of do anything alone is a pretty false assumption and in the end a disempowering one as it keeps people from seeking the resources they need. There’s also some interesting thinking by Gabor Mate about the whole concept of individuation in children, and how it’s promoted by our culture but not really proven to work – in fact, perhaps the opposite, and Daniel Seigel talking about a new field of interpersonal neurobiology in which our brains work better when we are part of tribes working together. None of which means that we all need to learn everything together, but that perhaps it is time to rethink, as you are doing, some of the assumptions about learning. Thanks for your post – enjoyed this one and the next one too ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Pingback: Enforcing Independence | Aprendizaje Rizom&aacu...

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