Transformative Learning and Ancient Asian Educational Perspectives

Transformative Learning and Ancient Asian Educational Perspectives

Viktor Wang (California State University at Long Beach, USA) and Kathleen P. King (Fordham University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-745-9.ch002
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Scholars and practitioners all seem to agree that andragogy is not the only perspective and model in the field of adult learning. We no longer think of learning as democratic styles and methods versus authoritarian styles and methods. Rather, we now think of learning as a reflective process where learners may engage their whole body and mind in a critical manner. Worldwide, there are many rich traditions that we can contrast the theory of transformative learning with to improve our understanding, appreciation, application, and further research of this theory to practice. This chapter explores the connections of Ancient Asian educational perspectives with transformative learning for these purposes.
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2.1 Theoretical Framework

Schutz (1967) argues, “I live in my Acts and by reflecting upon them” (p. 51). Once we do this, we begin the process of meaning-making in our lives. Jarvis (2001) claims that “throughout our lives, many of the experiences are encountered, incorporated into our biographies” (p. 49). Boud, Keogh, and Walker (1985) produced a model of the process of meaning-making (see Figure 1), which leads to new perspectives on experience. The basis for meaning-making or transformative learning is one’s experience. Without the experience, we build temporal constructions like sandcastles. Such constructions, however elegant, are drastically subject to the next wind of change. It is very consistent with what Rousseau profoundly believed: Experience is the best teacher, and everything possible should be taught by actions (Bott, Slapar, & Wang, 2003, p. 32).

Figure 1.

The process of meaning-making

Reproduced from Boud, Keogh, & Walker (1985, p. 36).

The key in this reflective learning process is experience(s). Without experience(s), reflective process is not possible. The reflective process leads to outcomes in learning (Merriam, 2004).


2.2 Ancient Asian Educational Perspectives

According to Cotterell (1994), Confucius (551–479 B.C.) saw only growing disorder in his lifetime. Therefore, he developed a new outlook on life, work, and society, which calls for maintaining the status quo in society (Kaplan, Sobin, & Andors, 1979). Of critical importance is the fact that his ideas shaped Chinese thought for several millennia. Confucius’s teaching philosophy may be summed up as “let the teacher be a teacher, the student a student.”

Although Chinese scholars were exceedingly reluctant to admit the influence of Buddhism, and were anxious to make clear that they would have no traffic whatever with that school of thought, Neo-Confucianism was one of the results of the introduction to China of Buddhism from India (Chang, 1957). Because Indian Buddhism is more speculative, more metaphysical, and has a complete system of its own, Chinese scholars eventually developed a self-conscious reflection, and a new Chinese thought structure. This is what is known as Neo-Confucianism.

Later, in the Song dynasty, Chinese philosophers devoted their efforts to the search for the essential and the fundamental, which is similar to Western philosophy that specifies the fundamental categories of valuation judgments and knowledge. However, Westerners and Chinese have differences in beliefs about how learning activities regarding critical reflection should be sequenced to achieve creativity (Biggs, 1996). Westerners believe exploration should precede the development of skill, whereas Chinese educators believe skills should be developed first (which requires repetitive learning), which provides a basis to be creative with.

Out of the four fundamental principles on human action and human nature is Chih, which denotes knowing or knowledge. By knowing, one differentiates this from that, black from white, and so forth. Chih comes closest to the Western equivalent for intellect or knowledge. Although it is a part of valuation judgment, Chih deals with the objects of the physical world. Although transformative learning involves the five senses, to Chinese and Indian scholars, learning involves something which goes beyond the senses, to something metaphysical. Both Indians and Chinese concur that the way of learning deals with the supremacy of virtue, which leads to the attainment of sagehood.

This concept of sagehood, and the related quest for sagehood, has become a primary model, concept, and aspirant in Indian and Chinese learning. Sagehood is defined as striving to become a genuine human being who through self-transformation, a kind of inner illumination, realizes not only the moral goodness that is intrinsic to his or her nature but also the cosmic creativity that embraces the universe in its entirety (cited in Wang & King, 2006, p. 4).

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