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What is the sound of learning?

June 13, 2023 Spring 2023

In Teaching and Learning as Primitive Hypertext, taught for a second time by Kameelah Janan Rasheed, we reimagined what is possible in spaces where learning is the goal and the experience. The act, performance, search, embodiment—all things considered when aiming to break the traditional codes and social norms of teaching and learning.

The Invitation

Our class make up—educators, artists, organizers, thinkers, creatives—paired with the wisdom of Lauren Olamina (the protagonist in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower”) allowed us to enter this space of exploration and play. I think what I loved most about this class was the careful and creative freedom in which Kameelah un/structured it. The syllabi’s blue hues were invitational: we gave gifts to each other in the form of links. And in these links theories on teaching and play fermented new approaches; images and playlists gifted were ocular and aural elopements. I’ll admit - I often wrestle with the hoarding and consumption of all the beautiful things available to us on the internet. In fact, I brought up it up multiple times during class, which we then thought: what if we slowed down? What if we only spent time with one piece of text? Imagine, what if you only read one thing the entire year? What does learning look like then? What new pieces of information could to you share or teach?

The Experience

The tone for this class was set from the beginning: do what you need to do, to take care of yourself and your needs. So when Kameelah lost her grandmother midway during the course of our class, RIP Naan 🕊, we all adapted and understood her need to grieve the matriarch of her family. We held tight and close and listened to Kameelah openly share what this meant for her when we regathered a week later. This is what’s great about rethinking how we commune in spaces of learning. As a society, we’ve given such authority to teachers, professors, instructors, etc. that when they are unable to deliver - for whatever reason - it feels like a disruption. And though that very well may be the case in that moment, for us it was an opportunity to revisit what was already shared. How does the teacher-student relationship differ from the co-learner-co-learner relationship? Is it equal? Does it have to be?

I’m elizabeth pérez by the way and I was the assistant teacher for Primitive Hypertext. I had my own share of life disruptions during our time together and all I could think about in between each class was how I couldn’t wait to hear from everyone again. What juicy, furry thoughts were everyone having? What new gifts were we ready to share? And while I failed to click every link, listen to every song, I felt connected and developed a refresh way to approaching material. How can I complement my life to my curiosities? How do they support the challenges I am experiencing? How’s my body reacting to all of this? And lastly, what do I need in this moment?

💡 Be mindful of your availability: Life is real. Capitalism is real.

I think it’s also helpful to read Meghna’s blog post on the first round of Primitive Hypertext (I was a co-learner/student for 1 of the sections). Meghna’s description of Kameelah’s teaching style as “rocky directionality” is pretty good. I think this time around I’d describe it as “intentional meandering.” Read the midway Instagram post.

The Afterglow

Early in the class co-learner Timmy Simonds asked, “what is the sound of learning?” to which later in the class he also inquired, “what does teaching sound like?” He went on to elaborate the experience of learning “over a radio show. [Students] would learn through vocal exercises/somatic exercises.” When they heard feedback: “it sounds beautiful but I can’t follow.”

Graphic with blue text and a blurry background texture of a shadow of a plant. The text reads: What is the sound of learning? and the answer: “what does teaching sound like?” to which later in the class he also inquired, “what does teaching sound like?” He went on to elaborate the experience of learning “over a radio show. [Students] would learn through vocal exercises/somatic exercises.”

Timmy continues, “When do we have a scenario where we listen to teaching as a sound rather than what it’s telling us…to me, the sound of teaching is an exchange of agency, some kind of building of trust, some kind of breaking of trust, all behaviours being sonic realities.”

A screenshot from Kameelah’s class deck illustrating an open hand on the right and a jellyfish on the left. There is handwritten text in the middle that reads, “Our time together: to grasp?” Underneath this text, additional text reads, “Must we learn to expand - release, contract - to hold ?”.

Some of the responses these questions generated are:

  • Madeeha: “The expansion and contraction is it for me— silence and then buzzing/ activity/ sometimes “inappropriate” amounts of noise like loud talking over each other, laughing/joy/talking in a stumbling and wobbly way.”
Graphic with blue text and a blurry background texture of a shadow of a plant. It contains the quote from Madeeha to the question: What is the sound of learning?
  • Omayeli: “Teaching feels like collecting but collecting objects that are porous and leave smears.”
  • Asmaa: “To me, i think it sounds like repetition but imperfect, repetition, like the learning of a language … / looping. A friend mentioned a Japanese scripture that cannot be read or understood but you can make the sounds…”
Graphic with blue text and a blurry background texture of a shadow of a plant. It contains the quote from Asmaa to the question: What does teaching sound like?
  • Kameelah: “What if we listened for the feeling of it, for witness, for the desire to decode? re: Ashon Crawley
  • Timmy: “Sounds like Luigi Serafini’s Codex!! Where he created a whole world built up from an invented alphabet that doesn’t need to be decoded —— building from letter, to spore and seeds to patterns of growth, organisms, to ways of eating to furniture, … etc.”
  • Todd: “That's emma rae bruml's website with sound of its own making.”

Image of a highlighted text in blue that reads: Afterglow: an experience that comes later (a reflection from former SFPC student in response to generative classrooms)

Primitive Hypertext co-learners were inspired by the idea of holding on something forever. For our public offering, could we create a sort of rotating altar from the list of things gathered: the notes, the smears, and the residue? This is our shared afterglow and we wanted to be generous in our offer.

We settled on the following parameters:

  1. FORM: Moveable images that link elsewhere and are on some sort of altar or table .
  2. DURATION: “Forever” - the content changes every 2 months.
  3. QUANTITY: Each co-learner submits up to 10 images and 10 links and once we cycle through the 120 gifts, it becomes an archive that can be explored in full.

Humans prefer closure in some instances. This lets us get to the next chapter without questions or confusion. I think what I appreciate most and will carry with me on my journey as a both a student and educator is being okay with things not feeling finished. The “leaky container” is lifestyle adoption because there is no way to carry the infinite knowledge available to us. I might even forget I know something and only when a tentacle, a web ring, or an invitation to play comes about will I remember.

I want to thank Kameelah and my fellow co-learners for the opportunity to go deep and get messy. I’m holding this experience close and remembering to slow down in the process.