How does people make meaning and learn? This is a critical question for educators to think about. I think constructivists have made many propositions on this question. They contend we interpret our experiences in our own way, and that how we see the world is a result of our perceptions of our experiences. Meaning is constructed through experience and our perceptions of those experiences, and future experiences are seen through the lens of the perspectives developed from past experiences.
How can people make a deeper level of meaning or transformative learning? This is another question.
Mezirow (1975) proposed that a perspective transformation includes:
- a disorienting dilemma
- assessment of assumptions and a sense of alienation
- relating to others
- exploring options
- building competence and self-confidence
- planning a course of action
- acquiring the skills for the course of action
- trying out new roles
- reintegrating the social context
As I read the constructivism and transformative learning theories, I realize that I have at least experienced an important transformative encounter in my life. I have written my story in some toastmaster speeches, which you can find here and here and here. Here I want to list the process in a transformative learning perspective, following Mezirow’s perspective transformation:
- a disorienting dilemma: the unchallenged and oppressive cultural expectation in China for a 26-year-old lady to maintain a stable job (like me as a lecturer in a college) as well as get married before 30 and have kids (I haven’t done yet)
- self-examination: I have questioned my stagnation between staying in the stable status, following my parents’ expectation and pursuing something new (which I did not figure out what it is at that time)
- assessment of assumptions and a sense of alienation: I had at least three months of turmoil, insomnia and isolation of myself, and I saw it was a mild depression period
- relating to others: Almost all of my peer ladies got married, and I did not reach out to ladies who have the similar issue as me, because I think I don’t want to waste my time on participating in community stuffs (I am still in this model of thinking and acting; I am a little doubt it now though)
- exploring options: I explore my options, and the first one coming to me is to pursue my phd degree in US; in this way, I can get rid of the traditional Chinese culture and environment, and also pursue a higher level of truth, which is my essential purpose in my life, I think
- building competence and self-confidence: This is not too hard for me, as an assertive person, although I was not confident in my English and maybe other academic skills at that point
- planning a course of action: I started English qualification exams immediately after I decided to come to US
- acquiring the skills for the course of action: I have been continuing practicing my oral and written English, in the daily life level and professional level
- trying out new roles: an important new role is being a phd student in US; another one maybe being a student leader? get myself more engaged in different kinds of organizations and committees on campus? very hard for me, though, which you can find a toastmaster speech here
- reintegrating the social context: I guess this requires societal change, I would love to share my personal experiences to Chinese ladies who have the same confusion and stagnation. But I haven’t taken any actions yet.
As I rethink about my transformation experience, I realize the community-level and societal level are missed in my transformative process, even though I consider my story a very powerful and transformative one for myself. I agree what Cranton (2006) wrote in her book Understanding and promoting transformative learning, “transformation can also occur without collaboration” and “we can question whether sharing experiences is important to all individuals and whether all types of learning are enhanced by the collaborative process”. My transformative experience empowers me as an individual; however, making it to the societal level will make it more powerful to others for sure.
Relating to others, in another word, is building a real connectedness with others in a community; reintegrating the social context, is in another word, integrating personal experiences and making the change to the societal level. Both are very important phase for a deeper and more transformative learning. A healthy community, with inclusivity, realism, self-awareness, vulnerability, commitment, openness, freedom, equality, and love is different from the social interaction we usually talk about (Peck, 1987) . It is not the same as the business social interaction in a party at all. It is a higher level connectedness for human. As Peck proposes, this kind of community is where human evolutes. More details here.
This idea challenges my habits of mind. As Cranton (2013) proposed, when people encounter an experience or perspective that is discrepant with their beliefs and values, that encounter has the potential to call those beliefs and values into question and to lead to a deep shift in the way people see themselves and/or the world. So, I guess this is a new avenue for me to make another transformation in my life.