Building a Culture of Completers by Understanding the Etiology of Adult Learning Deficits Stemming from Childhood

Building a Culture of Completers by Understanding the Etiology of Adult Learning Deficits Stemming from Childhood

Theresa D. Neimann (Oregon State University, USA), Uta M. Stelson (Huainan No. 2 Middle School, China) and Stefan J. Malecek (Saybrooke University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch054
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Statistics about achievement gaps and college non-completion have been published in journals geared to inform administrators of higher education, such as the Chronicles of Higher Education and publications by the Community College Research Center (see, for example: Bailey, Jeong & Cho (2008). While the focus is usually on cognitive or systemic remedies, many educators and administrators fail to see the connection between psychological development during childhood and college non-completion as one of the possible problems. Chronic exposure to stress hormones, whether it occurs during the prenatal period, infancy, or childhood has long term effects in adulthood learning. While many educators in higher education have spent hours on professional development processes, many shy away from transformational teaching/learning because a certain amount of vulnerability or unfamiliar paradigms are involved. Concurrently, many administrators fail to see the need to inform their faculty about new teaching modalities, such as transformational teaching, and also fail to allocate funding for professional development in this area, whether in the form of in-service learning opportunities or external conference attendance. The authors suggest that both teachers and educational managers at both the college and state levels, particularly at the level of adult education, need to understand the ramifications of Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs on students' ability to learn and adopt an approach to transformational teaching/learning whereby they can help to offset the gloomy statistics in achievement gaps. In transformational learning the educator becomes a facilitator that enables students to learn through activities that are shared by educators and students. This platform has the potential to empower students and educators to re-examine their roles, beliefs, and assumptions, and ultimately helps to reform teaching practice in teaching environments to the benefit of both educators and their learners. Training of educators to adopt a transformational teaching approach can come at the level of each college, but can also come through statewide trainings conducted by educational managers within each State's Department of Education or Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development. Thus, the authors seek to encourage educators as well as educational managers to re-consider their philosophy of teaching from the perspective of transformational theory.
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Universities and especially community colleges suffer from educating cohorts of non-completers (McKinsey & Company, 2009). Many of their students lack the complex cognitive skills necessary to access a liberal arts education. They may also lack the required necessary communication skills and even basic technology know-how as well as other skills that are just the basic transferable competencies needed in the workforce. Students also need to possess, but often lack, in their educational portfolio the ability to analyze processes of discovery that pave the way to further education which opens doors to science, literature, the arts, and other knowledge that contributes to professional development, life-long learning and personal fulfillment. However, if adult students cannot complete their academic goals in college or university because their most fundamental needs toward survival have not been met then higher education has failed. To understand why there are so many non-completers, it is imperative to understand how childhood trauma, and especially poverty, affects brain development, which in turn can be one of the causes of learning gaps in adults (McKinsey & Company, 2009). The authors’ concern is changing teaching practice to include a holistic transformative teaching approach which will help close achievement gaps of adults facing life challenges. Though achieving change in teaching practice is a challenging process, the authors suggest that teachers need to understand the ramifications of Maslow’s Hierarchy as a theoretical consideration to learning gaps in adult education. In transformational learning the educator becomes a facilitator: he or she teaches through facilitating conversation and conducting jointly productive activities that enable students to learn through activities that are shared by educators and students.

For the purposes of this chapter, the term transformative learning is to be understood as:

the process by which we transform our taken-for-granted frames of reference (meaning perspectives, habits of mind, mind-sets, mental models) to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective, so that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action. (Mezirow, 2000, pp. 7-8)

Transformational teaching is the opposite, but complementary, side of this coin in that it enables a learner to learn transformatively by facilitating the transformation of the learner’s frames of reference and enables him/her to change mind sets or mental models to make them capable and accepting of change (Mezirow, 1990; Wang & Cranton, 2011).

Andragogy must take into consideration the learning engagement of the whole person. Teaching and learning are complex processes. They include more than cognitive approaches as the adult learner comes to class with a plethora of life-time experiences that can interfere with the learning process. Specifically, toxic stress that occurred in a person’s childhood can affect brain functioning many years later. If a child’s stress response systems are activated and stay activated for sustained periods of time, toxic stress can result, especially in the absence of a protecting shelter of a caring adult relationship (Blair & Raver, 2012; Evans & Kim, 2013). Research shows that extended exposure to stress and stress hormones affect a child’s immune system, making him/her more vulnerable to both acute and chronic illness, which can have long term effects on the structure and functioning of the child’s developing brain (Gunnar & Donzella, 2002).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Trauma-Toxic Stress: Individual trauma (and toxic stress) results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being ( SAMHSA, 2012 ).

Poverty: The state or condition where people’s basic needs for food, goods, shelter, clothing, or means of support are not being met (, accessed 11/22/15).

Self-Actualization: According to Maslow, “What a man (person) can be, he (or she) must be. This need we may call self-actualization...It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him (or her) to become actualized in what he (she) is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming” ( Maslow, 1943a ).

Vulnerable: Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, “or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally: open to attack, harm, or damage” (Merriam-Webster, accessed 11/17/15).

Achievement Gaps: the differences between the test scores of minority and/or low-income students and the test scores of their White and Asian peers ( National Education Association, 2015 ).

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