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Metatheorising development - Let's take the student-teacher relationship for example

One of the starting points for an integral and integrative approach to meta-studies is the recognition that many different lenses exist for studying a topic. Those lenses can be applied at every level in the sense making holarchy - in understanding and intervening at the empirical level, in understanding and intervening at the middle-range level and at understanding and intervening on the meta-level.

When we study development for example, we can use a stage-based lens, a mediation lens or a learning lens. The stage-based lens sees development as the unfolding of structures (usually interior structures in consciousness). The mediation lens sees development as a mediated movement from the social exterior to the psychological interior. The learning lens sees development as the incremental acquisition of knowledge through the lifespan.

If we adopt these different lenses towards the development process we come up with different explanations and understandings. An integral view is one that brings each of these lenses into focus. I don't see Wilber's AQAL as an integral model of development because it does not use these three lenses but only the stage-based lens (sometimes in conjunction with other AQAL lenses).

To unwrap this a little let's take the student-teacher relationship as an example. From the stage-based view the teacher is at a higher level and the student is at a lower level. The relationship is one of expert to apprentice. There is a qualitative difference in their identities such that the student does not understand what the teacher is taking about until some dramatic mysterious transformation occurs. We see this, for example, in stage-based model of spiritual development where we have the wise guru teaching and assisting the development of the devoted student or disciple. This is an ancient model that goes back thousands of years and is the prevailing model of the he student-teacher relationship used in the AQAL-informed writings and research. There are however, other more contemporary models that have very different models for exploring and representing the he student-teacher relationship.

The mediation lens sees the student-teacher relationship in terms of peer learning and the scaffolding of individuals within social-cultural contexts. The relationship is not one of the learned and the ignorant or the higher and the lower but of situation and activity, of actor within a scene, or a role within a social context. Hence the learning focus is on what happens between teacher and student rather than what happens within the student.

The learning lens sees the student-teacher relationship as one of communication and the incremental accumulation of knowledge rather than dramatic transformation. The analogy here is more one of conversation between equals rather than conversion of the (unequal) student/devotee to the ideal of the teacher/guru.

Each of these three lenses offers a unique and powerful window onto the reality of the student-teacher relationship and, naturally, they each have their shadow sides and weaknesses. The weakness in the stage-based view is that the teacher can all too easily become the master and the student becomes the servant or slave. This relationship can obviously go very astray very easily and, by itself, this lens is an inadequate model to use for the development process in contemporary society. In my opinion, there is far too much reliance on this model for explaining the he student-teacher relationship in AQAL-informed circles. Particularly when applied to the area of spirituality the stage-based model suffers from serious shortcomings. First, the use of the stage-model needs some serious updating to contemporary views about stage-based development. Gurus and teachers who support evolutionary and stage-based view of development are very prone to overestimating the importance of the guru-devotee model and the qualitative differences that they assume exist between teacher and student. When practices within insular settings and non-traditional environments, these kinds of gurus often fall into all the traps of abusive power that many of us are aware of.

The mediational view can suffers from an overestimation of the place of socio-cultural factors in development. According the teacher becomes defined out of the social role rather than any particular expertise or actual mastery. Mediational development then becomes subject political manipulation and the power of legitimate structures can overwhelm the power of authentic structures. Here the teacher becomes the mouthpieces of the politburo or the corporation or the bureaucracy and the student becomes the subject of propaganda.

The learning lens can suffers from a lack of transformational power and can fall into a bland kind of incrementalism and ecclecticism that does not engage with peoples' vision or potential for extraordinary change. Here the teacher becomes the mechanical follower of the curriculum going through the incremental motions of low expectations. Using this lens the student take on the role of the one to be tested and anlysed to see if incremental learning has occurred. The student-teacher relationship becomes one of plain boredom and regimented regulation.

An integral view will take each of these lenses and combine to develop a more adequate and more enabling story of development and of the relationships that occur in that learning process. My view is that the archaic view of the teacher-guru and student-disciple has done its dash and can only be defended by those who are so immersed in stage-based development that they see no other meta-level possibilities for articulating growth (this is one of the many forms of altitude sickness that I wrote about in my last blog). I see development and learning relationships moving way beyond these limiting views of guru and student and engaging much more with the language of relationality, situational choice, shared play, communal learning, distributed intelligence, collective wisdom, reflexive learning, and action inquiry. The defence of the ancient models of student-teacher relationship, particularly where development is focused on the stage-based lens, seems to me to be a sign of regressive rather than evolution.

I see the pursuit of critical and integral meta-level studies as a scientific means for exposing and discerning these kinds of reductionisms and ideologies.

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