My final reflection paper for Human Development

This metaphor occurred to me during my first semester at Fielding:

Each time I read a new textbook, essay, or philosophy, it is as if I am in the dressing room at a department store. My professors select certain outfits, which I dutifully try on. Some are too tight and constricting, others hang off my body unevenly. Some seem unlikely, but surprise me with flatteringly different textures and colors, while others fit like my favorite old pair of jeans on the first try.

Despite the difficulty and rigor that this class has required, it’s been a blessing during a particularly crazy time in my life. Maybe it takes an epic nerd to feel this way, but the perspectives I’ve had to “try on” to understand Goldhaber, Overton, Kegan, etc. have had a profound effect on how I approach my studies overall. I’ve learned to be more open and flexible. At first, I was all, “Positivism bad! Postmodernism good!” That lasted about a week.

I feel as if I’m walking the same path every week (how people develop over the lifespan), but with an improved set of glasses each time. It’s kind of like when the ophthalmologist sits you in front of that weird multi-lens contraption and says, “This one, or this one?” Each time I try on a new lens, my vision gets a little clearer, a little more discerning, and a little more inclusive.

The highlight of the semester was Kegan’s orders of consciousness. His framework embedded itself in my brain. It is changing how I teach, parent, and learn. His research helps me understand how aspects of my childhood have held back my emotional development back in some ways, and helped me develop in others. I had a hard time expressing his theory in my own words; it’s much easier to look at as a Buddhist principle: non-attachment. At each order, we let go of an attachment: control, emotions, relationships, and identity. No wonder meditating is so hard!

I still have questions, some of which I brought up during our conversations. I still think there’s a particularly large schism between the study of human development and the practice of psychology. Medical researchers study disease to help doctors treat patients. The gap between our studies and the work of therapists seems much wider, to the point that I can’t always find a relationship at all. If I was in a psychology program would I study a different selection of theorists, or would the foundation be the same? Or, is there a fundamental difference between the fields of Human Development and Psychology that I’m missing?

Another realization (leading to more questions): The very framework through which we are supposed to present our work–argumentation–is not conducive to fourth order (let alone fifth order) thinking. Overton demonstrates this by espousing relational metatheory, which takes a didactic, emergent approach to studying different types of data, and then proceeds to deconstruct split-metatheory by tracing its roots back to Plato and working his way forward! What? Didn’t he just say we need to stop attacking each other’s theories and start seeing them as all part of a larger whole? Ack!

I’m concerned about how I’m going to work through the implications of this in my research. How much flexibility do I have at Fielding? Do I really have to spend an enormous amount of time and energy thinking and writing about all the people who might possibly disagree with me, and why they are wrong? Do all journals expect this? If I’m espousing a move to fourth or fifth order consciousness, spending a big chunk of my paper deconstructing my “competitors” seems unethical on the grounds that it contradicts my stated values. I will be looking for guidance on this from my co-learners and professors, as I get closer to the end of my foundational KAs.

Okay, back to the class. I’ve loved interacting with my classmates, and I’ve loved getting your feedback, reading your papers, and exchanging ideas. I wrote this in one of my classmate’s threads, but I’m stealing her elephant parable: we all perceive different parts of theory (the elephant) most clearly, but by sharing our interpretations and clarifying them for each other, we start to get an idea of the whole. We each bring a little candle into the darkness, and together they create illumination. Dr. Stevens-Long’s feedback has been invaluable, and I am so glad that both our papers and her feedback were available for all of us. I learned a great deal from both.

To return to my first metaphor: Goldhaber is the outfit that I pull out for more conservative events. Lerner goes back on the rack. Kegan is my new favorite pair of jeans. Overton is a starched suit that looks nice, but isn’t very comfortable. And Stephens-Long is a stylish jacket that looks good with everything.

Thanks for indulging my questions, prodding, and flights of fancy! This was a life-changing class.

2 thoughts on “My final reflection paper for Human Development

  1. I love the metaphor tied to trying on clothes. Carrying it perhaps a bit too far, theories also wear out over time and need new theorists who either revise or build on them. Kegan’s work is built from Piaget and Erik Erikson’s, for example. But, he carries both theories to new heights. I also enjoyed the paradox associated with using traditional models of inquiry (i.e. critique of other theories) and the need to move to less dualistic fourth and fifth order thinking. I prefer the notion of building on versus tearing down.

    Finally your comments regarding human development versus psychology was fascinating to me as I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. My conclusions were that psychotherapy too often is about labeling and diagnosis with the goal of attaching symptoms to the DSM IV and now V. Human Development is less concerned about a diagnosis and more focused on building on what is, based on what has been and what could be along the road. Historically, its research models have been about identifying patterns of development, with relatively little work on adult development. I see human development today as encouraging people to work on their next level of consciousness and the possibility of of making better social worlds.

    Nice reflection, Michelann.

    • Thanks, Pauline. I agree that theories wear out or become more indicative of the time in which they were developed.
      My experience with therapy has luckily been little about DSM classifications, and more about self-actualization and individuation. That’s why it’s so confusing when I see how little influence the therapy community has on HD theory. I think both fields could work together more closely to the benefit of both!

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