Friday, May 24, 2013

Adult Education and spiritual transformation

I believe I am allowed to plagiarize myself.  This is also posted to my other blog.

In the Ed.D. program I am pursuing, it is an interesting, sometimes baffling, mixture of touchy-feely procedures and hard core empiricism.  That is ultimately a good thing, although I have had some trouble fitting into both categories at once.  I can do positivistic social sciences thinking; that's what my first master's was immersed in.  I can do liberal arts, reflective, hermeneutical thinking; that's the second master's.  But doing them at the same time is another matter. 

Our goal is an action research project (dissertation), which I think it is fair to say we are struggling with.  I have sent a draft of the prospectus to my advisor, but I was dissatisfied with it as soon as I hit the SEND button.  How nice it would be to retrieve emails before they are read!  No such luck.

In class last Saturday we had a guest speaker, whom I will not name.  He was interesting, and I hope to read his book one day (it's not exactly a best seller on Amazon, but based on his presentation I think it would be worthwhile).  He took us through a LEARNING PATHWAYS GRID using the professor's case, which was projected on the screen.  I am glad she volunteered to be a guinea pig or lab rat rather than we, because I think we would have been uncomfortable.  I am not crazy about people getting into my head and trying to figure out my motives and "theories-in-use."  That's my business.  As I have written before, it is hard enough to understand one's assumptions and "theories-in-use."  If someone can get to that point of honestly confronting those, he/she can probably leave off trying to change them to another day.  I think the change part is harder than it looks, which is the point of this post.

Anyway, we went through the six steps of the LEARNING PATHWAYS GRID:  desired outcomes, actual outcomes, actions, frames, adjusted beliefs,  and desired actions.  I watched more than anything, although some of the students seemed very engaged with picking the prof's brain and case and personality apart, and some things were said that shocked me.  That kind of brutal honesty is, well, awkward to say the least.  The case itself was a less-than-thirty-second snippet of conversation the professor had had with a supervisor years ago. 

But what I found most interesting is that the professor said, "I am still struggling with this same behavior after fifteen years."

What?  All this mind-opening and transformational learning methodology and nothing is changing?  Why go through these exercises if nothing changes?  Why search delicately and bluntly through one's assumptions, values, real beliefs if nothing changes?  I assumed that having more productive behavior is the point of all this soul-searching.

The visiting prof did explain that these behaviors are so deep-seated that they take along time to change, and that what the grid, and other methodologies can do (like action science) is give the user a bigger repertoire of options for behavior (I would say communication behaviors, primarily) and more self-awareness when we find ourselves in similar situations.

Fair enough.  But is that the best we can hope for?  This whole incident got me thinking about adult education and spiritual transformation.  My first response was, "These people need Jesus," but that is too facile, a cliche, like the old bumpersticker, "Jesus is the Answer."  In the words of J. Vernon McGee, "But what's the question?"  However, I stand by the first response in spirit.  We need Jesus. 

And this is not to say that the sin in ourselves, that so easily besets us (and make no mistake, in this professor's life it was an issue of pride, just as my opinionation  and bluntness is a matter of pride), will disappear as soon as we yield to Jesus' control in our lives.  No such promise is given, despite all the gospel songs that seem to guarantee some new personality after conversion. 

The issue is that we do get growth because we are not dependent on purely internal sources, on our will, our own understanding, our own insights.  We need an external source.  To reject the external source of Christ's death and resurrection, the Father's love, and the Holy Spirit's power, is to continue in the sin that is the core in the first place, pride and self-addiction.  To keep depending on self-searching to change ourselves is a cyclical madness, really. 

I just looked at the few plants in my pathetic garden plot.  I finally got them in:  four tomatoes, four rows of half-runner beans, four green pepper plants, six okra stalks (well, that will come in August; right now the okra, which is a fun plant to grow, is only a couple of inches high).  We have had an abundance of rain this spring, I was late getting the garden in (due to doctoral work!), and it's been cool and not as sunny as tomatoes need.  But everything is growing (I understand the origin of the Jack and Beanstalk story now--beans really come up quickly--edible kudzu).  I have already staked everything.  I look forward to some produce, although it's all a hobby, not a serious attempt at food supply.

However, my good intentions, research, and soul-searching about my garden won't matter if the weather stays cloudy and cool all summer (which would be a nice change from last year's drought) or if we get a month of 95 degrees and no rain.  The external sources of energy and nutrition for the garden matter; the soil, no matter how fertile, and the plants, no matter how healthy, do not exist in a vacuum.

The feeble analogy has a point.  We need external sources of spiritual power to have transformative spiritual learning, and that means we must be open to it and at the same time submissive to it--it being the intervention of God in our lives, and that includes our understanding of who God is.  (see next post).

Can I say I am any better than my professor?  Of course not.  I know that my own introspective exercises have a type of wisdom but not a liberating one, because they give us no way out, no escape from our own vicious cycles and patterns of self-addicted behavior.  In my case, responding defensively to so much of what my husband says and not listening--not listening to people in general, always having a smart or intellectual or one-up comment or comeback, always being the knowledgeable one, the expert, orating and lecturing instead of shutting up. 

Of course, all of this is about a totally God-centered world view, which is not adopted over night.  Also, God's method of this spiritual growth (I prefer that to transformation, which only happens ultimately, not everyday) is to use trials, but only if we can make meaning of those trials or "disorienting dilemmas," to quote Mezirow.  Trials are said to make us better or bitter; I disagree.  They can also make us baffled and bemused.

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