After Clark Fralick introduced me to progressive art educators Kathy Douglas, Diane Jaquith and John Crowe at the 2004 NAEA Denver conference, we started experimenting with choice based art education curriculum structure for the next year and a half. Clark and I had team taught a gifted and talented class from 1996 to 2001. In 1998 Clark hooked me up with the Indiana Dept. of Education's pioneering electronic portfolio project. We had become team mates and were becoming adept at authentic assessment and we noticed that children were more excited when writing about their personal art then they were about the art from assignments we were doling out. It was also during this time I was reading articles on semiotics by cognitive scientist Donald J. Cunningham. After corresponding with Professor Cunningham he sent me a reading packet on semiotics. Later around March of 2006, Clark and I were eating lunch at a Boston restaurant next to the Massachusetts College of Art and we were discussing among other things, metaphors of the mind, because as teachers, we constantly grapple to understand that particular human organ all the time. If we understood the mind better, we could then become more effective teachers.
I remember telling Clark over a Rueben sandwich that I didn't like the mind as computer metaphor, nor did I like the empty vessel or blank slate metaphors. Then we started talking about rhizomes. Rhizomes are basically root structures. If one thinks of an aspen grove or a bamboo grove, the organisms are all interconnected by a massive root system. So, if one could envision the human mind as a a neurological constellation interconnected with a multitude of pathways that lead to nodes containing memories of experience, a rhizome might be a useful metaphor to help us understand the structure of the human mind.
I think the rhizome metaphor is also a good way to describe a choice based art education curriculum. Learners become the curriculum. There can be single entry points for the curriculum but also multiple entry or exit points within the curriculum. Rhizomatic learning experiences can be dependent on group dynamics or they may not. The curriculum may accommodate many kinds of learning experiences and these learning experiences may influence other forms of new learning and the creation of new knowledge. New flights of thinking may take off and grow for individuals. These individuals or nomadic learners can expand their lines of thinking and learning into unknown realms independent of other learners within the group.
Without understanding the rhizome structure, we could still appreciate the dynamic of it within our new choice based art education program. We were now working within a curriculum structure that unleashes the power of the individual and the power of groups simultaneously. Each can influence the other and it is beautiful to behold. I tried to write about my initial observations related to the rhizomatic choice based art education curriculum structure in 2006. You can read it here:
If this curriculum description sounds way out there, remember, this form of learning is actually quite ancient and goes back to the beginning of human culture.