Unresolved Issues in Transformational Theory
|Discussions and critiques of
transformative learning center on four issues:
1. The extent to which the theory takes context into account
2. Whether the theory takes context into account
3. The place of social action
4. The educator's role in facilitating transformative learning
|Some scholars feel that Mezirow's
theory appeared to be lacking contextual influence. Stroobants and Wildemeersch
(1997) consider the failure to explore the tension between the individual
and the sociocultural, political, and historical contexts to be a limitation
of the Transformative theory. Additionally, Taylor's (1997) review of the
empirical research on Mezirow's theory revealed a number of studies that
found that aspects of the individual's biographical history and sociocultural
factors shaped the nature of the transformative learning.
Mezirow (1996) states that he does not suggest a disengaged image of the individual learner, but of a learning process characterized by dialogical voices. He also states that the social dimension is central, but so are the historical and cultural dimensions of the process. Studies accounting for individual biography and context are beginning to give a richer picture of transformative learning.
|The second major issue of transformational
learning theory is what appears to be an excessive dependence on rationality
as the means of effecting a perspective transformation; other forms of knowing
are secondary at best. A number of scholars like Boucouvalas, Hemphill,
Hanson, & Michelson have pointed out that rational thinking is particularly
a Western concept. Even in the West, rationality, and in particular its
separation from experience is also gender specific, privileging men, those
of the middle and upper classes, and whites.
Taylor (1996) has sought to
bring a consideration of emotion into transformational learning by offering
a physiological exploration of the interdependence of emotion and reason.
Other scholar's discussions suggest the importance of learning through
emotion and intuition, social learning, levels of consciousness, imaging
and autobiographical learning, the physical body, and the subconscious.
|Mezirow in particular has been
criticized for focusing too much on individual transformation at the expense
of social change. Transformational theory has been criticized for romanticizing
the social change process (Newman 1994.) Mezirow and Freire both start with
the oppressed or the person trapped within a culturally induced dependency
role, and both require these victims to liberate themselves. Newman (1994)
believes this offers little help to those who are oppressed: "How will
self-reflection help these kinds of learners when they are next moved on,
thrown in jail, sacked, discriminated against, or hurt?"
Mezirow (1990) states that
we must begin with individual perspective transformations before social
transformation can succeed. Action or praxis is a key component of his
theory, although action can mean making a decision, being critically reflective
or transforming a meaning structure as well as a change in behavior.
|The final dimension to this
issue of the place of social action in transformational learning theory
is the ethical issue involved. Little has been addressed to this issue.
For example, what right to adult educators have to tamper with the worldview
of the learner? How invasive is it to study adult in the process of transformation
(Ziegahn, 1998)? How is the goal of the educational intervention, whether
it is social or personal change to be determined?
The educator who supports
personal and social transformation as the goal of adult education is confronted
by more practical issues: how exactly to facilitate such learning. Mezirow
(1995) lays out the "ideal conditions" of discourse for fostering
transformative learning. To date there is little verification of these
conditions in the empirical research (Taylor 1997.) Brookfield (1996)
offers some help through his critical questioning techniques and through
a critical incident activity. Daloz (1986) suggests the strategies of
challenging, supporting, and visioning that mentors can use to facilitate
the learner's personal journey of transformation. Freire (1970) and Hart
(1990) discuss techniques for consciousness raising in groups. Transformational
learning can be intensely emotional, even painful activity concerns Robertson
(1996), who observes that adult educators need better preparation to effect
this kind of learning.