Lecture: Should education be transformative? An Aristotelian critique

Last week, I gave a short paper on transformative learning theory at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford. The event was part of an informal lecture series that brings together the Hall’s faculty, fellows, and students for evenings of discussion and conviviality.

My paper was an edited version of a talk that I delivered in August for a philosophy of education conference, hosted by the Philippine Normal University of Manila. An excerpt of the paper’s introduction can be found below (citations removed). I am currently refining this paper for publication in the year ahead.

Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com

“Jack Mezirow (1923–2014) is widely known as a pioneer of adult learning theory. His account of transformative learning defined a field of study and has been subject to ongoing praise, criticism, and development since 1978. Its ongoing appeal is easy to understand: by the late 1970s, adult learning focused on the mastery of basic skills. By contrast, Mezirow’s then novel theory went deeper. Developed through his study of women returning to higher education, Mezirow’s account examined how identities — or ‘perspectives’ — can change for the better when influenced by ‘transformative’ learning experiences. Since then, Mezirow’s influence in the field is inescapable: to survey modern adult learning without Jack Mezirow is akin to discussing modern political theory without John Rawls.

“In this paper, I join an ongoing conversation over Mezirow’s transformative learning. I approach Mezirow’s account with great admiration for its general aim of bettering individuals and creating a just society. Yet, as an ethicist, I question aspects of its normative presuppositions, which seem to mirror problematic tendencies found within proceduralist forms of public, or political, reasoning. Perhaps an alternative, and specifically Aristotelian means of adult ‘transformation’, would be welcome”.


Many thanks to Rev. John O’Connor, Dr Rachel Cresswell, and the organisers for the kind invitation.

Published by Edward A. David

Responsible business. Law and religion. Ethics in public life.

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