The last meeting of the Constructive-Developmental Inquiry Group explored the question, “When is development ‘bad’?” Educators often assume that development is inherently good. But is it? How do we know? Are there situations where adult cognitive development would not be helpful? Helpful to whom? And what exactly do we mean by “good” and “bad”, anyway? This is a particularly important question for educators to wrestle with because, let’s face it: we’re biased. In development lies our own job-security; if a student has no need to develop, we may be out of a job.
Our discussion explored the web of relationships that are in-play when an individual develops. The diagram below attempts to summarize these relationships.
One interesting scenario for discussion is when the individual develops beyond the complexity of the social system of which they are a part. For example, the character of Nora in Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House appears to begin her 3-4 transition beyond her 3rd order surroundings. This causes enormous pain to both her and her family. Yet, we are led to believe that at least Nora will eventually benefit from this pain with a greater sense of self in the future. Hence, it seems important to add “Present” and “Future” to the diagram. “Others” represent people that the individual already knows. Clearly, they, too, are affected by the individual’s development, either in positive or negative ways, in the both the present and in the future.
In addition, we looked at the possible relationship between an individual’s development and society as a whole. In cases such as Gandhi or Martin Luther King, one could make the case that their 5th order thinking increased pain in their society in the short-run but led to benefits in the future. Of course, in both cases, one could say that their development eventually contributed to their deaths. Is this a case of development being “bad”? They might not think so, but their loved ones might.
One scenario we came up with where development might be regarded as bad would be the case where someone is challenged beyond their capacity to grow so severely, that they are too scared ever to meet a similar challenge again. “Being scarred for life” could be seen as a negative outcome. For example, one can imagine immigrating to another country as a possible developmental experience because it might enable one to take an external perspective on one’s culture-of-origin. However, one can also imagine someone having such a horrible experience immigrating that they retreat back to the comfort of home, never to set foot on an airplane again.
Of course, even in such a scenario, one might imagine a possible positive outcome at some later date. Perhaps one day their grandchild marries a foreigner, and somehow this event allows the person to see their prior negative experience in a positive light for the first time.
This leads to a possible refinement to the above diagram. In reality there are two “futures” to be considered: a predicted future and an actual future.
So, who’s got a crystal ball?
I would like to seed a conversation around the ethical and moral implications of stage theories of adult development, particularly for educators. [For those unfamiliar with the notion of stage theories, a summary of one such theory is here: http://developmentalobserver.blog.com/2010/06/09/an-overview-of-con... ]
This is a complex topic that can go in a variety of directions. Here are a few of my starting points.
The topic is on my mind because I recently gave short talks to two different audiences introducing them to constructive-developmental theory. In each case it was quite clear that despite my attempts to provide disclaimers, both audiences privileged the higher stages of development. Is there a way to teach stage theories while avoiding “developmental elitism”?
I’m concerned about this because I see a tension between valuing any adult for who they are while simultaneously being biased in favor of more complex thinking for the species as a whole. A conventional thinker who has grown up in a conventional community, settled in a conventional community and retired in that same community is probably quite happy right where they are–both geographically as well as cognitively. Is it not presumptuous to assume that anyone would be “better off” if they developed more complex thinking?
In such a conversation, I think educators need to be especially self-reflective because in development lies our own job security. Perhaps one hard question educators should reflect on is, “What are situations in which cognitive development is unnecessary or even counter-productive?”
When is anyone within their rights to offer developmental challenges and supports to another human being? Only when the other asks for it? When it’s part of one’s official job, such as someone’s teacher? As a family member? As a friend?
There are certainly analogous questions in dealing with children and adolescents, but in those cases I think society gives adults an implicit “mandate to teach” because there is a shared expectation that children are still “growing up”. Meanwhile stage theories of adult development suggest that we are all still “growing up”, yet this idea has not been widely disseminated. This can be outright offensive to some, adding yet another layer to the above dilemmas.
While the following passage does not directly answer the above questions, I feel it sheds some light on them. It is from Nancy Popp, a faculty member at Antioch University. She writes:
“Gardening perfectly presents the inherent individuality, even within the species, of the developmental process–each species of plant has its own developmental timetable and agenda. There is no rushing a wisteria into bloom. Nor is there any amount of cajoling and fertilizing that will turn a wisteria into a tomato, or a cactus into a leafy tropical plant. And why would anyone want to do such a thing in the first place? Such are the lessons which provide comfort and perspective in the parenting of a willful and precocious nine-year-old boy, and in the attempts to understand the unique meaning and experience of conflict for
each of us.”
[This posting is also posted on the Civic and Moral Education Initiative (CMEI) Ning of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.]
I recently had the pleasure of giving an introduction to orders of consciousness to fellow volunteer climate change educators who are members of Al Gore’s Climate Project. I entitled the talk Constructive Developmental Theory as a Lens for Climate Change Education. The resulting discussion was rich, and I wanted to try and capture some of my reflections here.
First, there was discussion about whether, with a crisis situation like climate change, we have time for a developmental perspective at all. Should climate change educators bother to try and plant seeds of higher orders of consciousness or simply strategically target those who are already “on-board”? Is it possible to do some of both? What would that look like?
These climate educators normally deliver presentations based on Al Gore’s film an Inconvenient Truth. Since the majority of adult audience members at these talks will most likely be either 3rd or 4th Order thinkers, one can imagine a 2×2 matrix of those one is likely to encounter:
Brainstorming Climate Change Education Strategies as a Function of Developmental Level
|3rd Order Thinkers||4th Order Thinkers|
|Climate Change Supporters||Connect them with current community leaders and organizations that are already involved in furthering “climate-aware communities”.||Encourage them to engage in education and organizing in their own communities around climate-change issues.|
|Climate Change Deniers||Tease out from them the aspects of their communities which lead them to their conclusions. Try and identify authority figures within their world-view who could serve as examples of individuals who are members of their communities but who hold a different point of view.||The hardest nuts to crack because they will have reached their conclusions by their own, unique paths. The best we can do is to tease out from them the thinking behind their denial and address it as best we can on a case-by-case basis.|
In every case, the approach appears to be the same: speak in terms of the language of the person’s meaning-making and go from there. To do so first requires spending more time listening than talking to learn what that language is. CDT can assist in providing a framework for identifying that language and then some guidance as to what to say next.
Finally, I wanted to make a point I didn’t get around to in the talk. Question: Let’s say you see someone driving down the highway in a Hummer. What Order of Mind do you think they might be?
Answer: You can’t judge someone’s developmental level by their actions, only by the thinking behind their actions. To explore this, we can imagine what kinds of stories a 3rd Order and 4th Order person might tell themselves about why they own a Hummer.
A Possible 3rd Order Story: They live in a community where masculinity is expressed through competition and the perpetual pursuit of status. They see a Hummer as the highest status vehicle there is, hence they bought one.
A Possible 4th Order Story: They grew up in a very liberal community with parents who were environmentalists. Their parents did not own a car. Later in life, their first job earned them more money that their parents ever had. They began to appreciate what they could do with money in a capitalist society and how deviant their parents actually were. They began to form their own identity, holding onto some of their parents’ conventions while embracing other aspects of mainstream culture. To symbolize their individuation from their nuclear family, they decided to buy a vehicle that was as different from where they came from as they could: a Hummer.
Higher Order doesn’t mean that one’s thinking is “better” or even “good”, just more complex.
I recently ran across the following chart, “How Do You ‘Know’?” made by Ellie Drago-Severson for Yes! Magazine. The main thing that struck me about it is that it is devoid of any obvious indication of hierarchy between the stages: there’s no “2″, “3″, “4″, or “5″ anywhere. As the urge to rank orders of consciousness is strong, I think this is really cool. I also like the row headings. How else can we teach Orders of Mind while avoiding the “value judgment trap” of thinking that higher stages are inherently “better”?
There are a few details on the chart I would change. I’m not sure I would use “I am reflective” as the mantra of the 4th Order. That sounds more 5th Order to me; in fact, the word “reflecting” appears in the next line in the 5th Order column. Also, while I love the heading “Tasks at your ‘growing edge’”, I’m not sure “Accept that some differences cannot be resolved” belongs under the 5th Order for that row. Sounds more 4th Order to me.
But, again, I like the overall approach very much.
“Do you think the porter and the cook have no anecdotes, no experiences, no wonders for you? The walls of their minds are scrawled all over with thoughts. They shall one day bring a lantern and read the inscriptions.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“There will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers.” — Plato
When I was an undergraduate, I remember walking into the main campus dining hall and looking up at the prominently displayed color photographs honoring dining employees who had worked there for 15, 20, 25 years. I confess having had judgmental thoughts about such accomplishments.
I was reminded of that moment recently when I saw a compelling documentary, The Philosopher Kings. The film interweaves nine intimate portraits of people whose stories are rarely heard: university custodians. Their stories are inspiring: a paralyzed veteran who learned to walk again, an artist soaking up inspiration at a college of art, a Haitian who devotes his life to building a sustainable water supply in the rural village where his family lives while cleaning dormitories at Princeton.
The film did two things for me. First, it settled once and for all the impossibility of judging people’s complexity by their job titles. Second, it shined a light on a struggle of my own: the tension between believing that the world would be a better place with more complex thinking while simultaneously wanting to value individuals who represent the majority of humanity who may never develop beyond the Socialized Mind. As I view the world more and more through the lens of stage theory, I am wary about the possibility of such a lens enabling elitism.
The other day I was part of a conversation with a school administrator who was frustrated by the resistance he was experiencing with certain members of his leadership team. During the conversation, his coach pointed out a pernicious duality that is endemic to the education profession. It was the coach’s observation that many educators who say “I would never give up on a kid” frequently do “give up”, in some way, on some of adults they work with. Someone who would never say, “Why doesn’t this kid just get it?” might very well say exactly that about an adult colleague.
Why is that?
Perhaps it’s because we’ve been raised to see adults as being “done”. We’ve been taught that there’s nowhere for them to go, developmentally. While with a child, we can all imagine an adult version waiting to be brought forth.
Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who became known for his “Last Lecture”, seemed to encapsulate a more generous alternative outlook with his following principle:
“Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress. When you’re pissed off at someone and you’re angry at them, you just haven’t given them enough time. Just give them a little more time and they almost always will impress you.”
The word adult comes from the Latin adultus, past participle of adolescere, to grow up, from ad- + -olescere (from alescere, to grow)—in other words matured.
Maybe we’re all adolescents after all.