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NOTES ON: Strom K and Martin, A. (2015) Pursuing lines of flight: Enacting equity-based preservice teacher learning in first-year teaching. Policy Futures in Education 0(0) [sic -- this is a copy Strom sent me]  1–22. DOI: 10.1177/1478210315615475

This is about the problems of keeping going with the pedagogy aimed at social justice in the first year of classroom practice.  Apparently 'rhizomatics, a nonlinear theory of social activity' can serve as a framework.

It's common to revert to transmission teaching once teachers leave the academy and into practice.  This is partly because of their own deep beliefs, and the workplace environment is unsupportive, and they are sometimes characterized by being assigned challenging classes.  Socially just practice can persist but in pockets.  One secondary science teacher is examined through the framework of rhizomatics, which will help not only to investigate the multiple factors involved, but help us support 'social justice - focused teaching'.  Suitable examples should be fed back into educational policy (2).

Teaching is complex and linked to social and cultural contexts, so it is misleading to think that teacher training can simply be transferred into practice, although this perspective is still common.  However, a whole 'constellation of variables' affect teaching practice in schools.  Teacher preparation tends to take a 'social constructivist perspective' and to orient towards social justice, and there is a contradiction with transmission instruction models found in schools.  A fresh framework is required to investigate these ideas and disrupt linear conceptions.  Rhizomatics sees teaching as 'nonlinear, ongoing...  Constituted by lines, or forces' that can limit and constrain (3), and this can disrupts more reified or normalized forms based on positivism.  Deleuzian terminology is translated throughout using a 'more familiar language and concrete examples that still retain the original complexity': accessibility is more important than philosophical rigor.

The rhizome is taken from biological sciences, referring to growth 'in multiple directions unpredictably', multiple elements that are connected.  A classroom might be such a rhizome involving the relations between teacher students classroom spaces and ideas.  Rhizomes therefore 'represent thinking about teaching activity in terms of systems', although this is more political and aimed at interrupting normal social activity.  There are molar and molecular lines at work, the first referring to macro level forces such as institutional structures or existing conventions maintaining the current balance of power.  These create striated space which offers many barriers to creativity and social justice pedagogies.  In schools they can take the form of policy mandates, schedules or tests.  Molecular lines 'do the actual micro political work'but in a more supple and flexible way, sometimes producing lines of flight.  As an example, individuals may have to decide whether or not to obey laws and institutions, or in the case of teachers, how to deal with bureaucratic structures.  Lines of flight are temporary breaks, not necessarily positive.  They might 'take the shape of a student led lesson, a moment of role reversal or boundary crossing...even a loud laugh in a quiet study hall'.  These temporary disruptions are usually recaptured, however, but there is a moment of escape.  Longer term there is a potential to shift the status quo. We can now plot the way in which change occurs in a classroom, mapping the traditional structures as molar lines, and also seeing progressive pedagogy in terms of lines of flight.

There are therefore multiple variables affecting the pressure towards adopting traditional practices.  Students might be failed under particular policies, which have been interpreted to emphasize testing or rote teaching [No Child Left Behind in this case].  Challenging student behavior is another factor.  We can see these as multiple molar lines affecting the molecular work of the teacher.  However, there are some levels of unpredictability: different personal attributes among students or teachers, and different people occupying positions in schools.  Continued university support through induction can also help, so can particularly strong teachers or supportive administrators [old 'structural looseness' stuff really].  A case study of a successful novice is presented, including one who was able to maintain 'culturally responsive instruction' by using a second language.  Other factors identified have been school partnerships,  quality mentoring experiences, induction programmes and so on.

This study focused on one physics teacher, using a 'post - qualitative methodology' [the post meaning something informed by post frameworks].  Traditional qualitative research can still be positivistic, says St Pierre, persisting with issues such as the notion of researcher objectivity.  It can avoid multiple ways of researching a phenomenon.  The technique here use rhizomatics mapping and situational analysis, 'a postmodern form of grounded theory' (6).  It used a case study to go into depth and show complexity.

The subject was an orthodox Jewish male, a graduate, taking a STEM type teacher education program, attracted by its  'social justice focus', having noticed differences in educational quality.  He saw himself offering quality teaching in a needful area. He had studied Vygotsky, Freire and Dewey.  He found a shift to instruction based learning to be challenging, and got a lot of support from faculty members.  He was hired to teach at a magnet school located in a rundown area.

Classroom observations were gathered, recorded, scripted and commented upon.  There was a short interview afterwards, and to further semi structured interviews.  A new Principal arrived halfway through.  Rhizomatic maps were drawn, as in the mapping phase of situational analysis.  Data were read and reread, coded so as to indicate links with the literature.  Some contradictions between the interviews and actual teaching were observed.  The double bind emerged between professing one set of beliefs that having to do something else.  Main ideas were clustered and coded, then linked to data increasingly.  Lines or connections were then made, leading to 'organized charts of the theorized connections'(8).  'Analytic memos' were then developed on the basis of consulting all the data, leading to '"data stories"'.  Checks were made to ensure credibility and plausibility, including member checks, noting confirmation of findings between data sources, the construction of a reflexive online research journal, and collaboration both with the subject and with others.  A thick descriptive case study ensued.  The effect of their own strong beliefs is acknowledged, including their relationships with each other.

Bruce had to negotiate a series of molar lines or constraints, by, for example playing safe, revising his lingering traditional beliefs about teaching, and reacting to changes in the school context.  The team found internal conflicts between his initial beliefs and what happened in practice, because he did not want to rock the boat.  The effect was, for example, to teach isolated mathematical procedures, presumed to provide a foundational understanding of more interesting topics [which the authors say is 'normative' or bad].  He used video and lectures.  He became worried that students would not be adequately prepared for college unless they received traditional pedagogy.  External constraints included administrative disruption following a change of leadership, which provided uncertainty about support for progressive methods.  Resources were short, especially for more inquiry based activity: occasionally he brought in his own equipment.  He felt isolated and insufficiently supported, and did not work well with his appointed mentor.  The students were challenging although enthusiastic and curious: they did seem to respond to opportunities to participate and formed friendly relationships.  These relationships arose from his genuine care for students, including after school work, and his providing personal details of e-mail.  They did work on their own problems, although there was some disruption.  However, he also used a lot of teacher led problems [with a hint that these dominated in the lessons being observed].

So both internal and external conditions provided problems and induced conformity instead of risking disruption.  Rhizomatic concepts were useful tools.  Schools are bureaucratic and dominating, clearly affecting ideas of teaching.  The split between molar and molecular helped classify some of the forces.  Deleuze and Guattari are cited to remind us that fascism can exist inside people as well.  Personal experience often weakens progressive pedagogy and becomes deeply ingrained.  The elements interacted in a complex way 'in an extremely striated space'(14), although there were areas of agency, and a certain flexibility of the classroom level, for example in the way relationships with students were cultivated.  Any pedagogy can be unpredictable, especially if it is rooted in social justice [because it can only operate in the cracks].  It would be rare to find seamlessly progressive work, although lines of flights can accumulate to transform the system into a smoother space.

All this shows the complexity of implementing justice-focused approach is.  More studies are needed, although we can make certain recommendations for teacher education already: teacher educators should recognize that challenge offered by molar lines, and look for opportunities to extend lines of flight; complexity should be a central part of the curriculum; the lived reality of teaching must be discussed rather than any utopian ones; student should be warned about 'a spectrum of challenges' that they might encounter (16); educators might attempt to tie in coursework and practical experiences to problematize situated learning, for example by taking learning theory, enacting it, and then problematizing their experiences, or using thick descriptions of case study or video, or even approximating practice by encouraging paired teaching.  Teachers must be supported in their workplace with adequate induction programmes.  More general policies might include working to retain instructional leaders in urban schools.

Research methods should focus on multiple constraints, and use nonlinear methods [which also include actor network theory] (17).  Research itself can therefore act as a source of resistance to linear and reductive models of teaching.

The situation might look difficult and uphill, but the notion of the rhizome helps us challenge the status quo, and reminders of the opportunities to break with it.  Eventually, the whole system might change.

Deleuze page