Facilitating Transformative Learning Groups: Reflections on Mexico and Highlander

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the mid 1990s, the authors participated in two trips to learn about facilitating group transformative learning in differing cultural contexts. The first trip was to Guanajuato, Mexico, in order to engage in the systematic process of learning about popular adult education there.

Popular education in Mexico is well developed and our host, Felix Cadena, is considered to be one of the leading experts in this methodology in all of Latin America. Popular education in the Mexican context is influenced by Paulo Freire's work. After studying the implementation of transformational learning strategies all across SouthAmerica, Cadena (1991) developed, through dialogue with those who had been struggling with empowering the disenfranchised, a systematic approach to implementing transformational learning or praxis. His approach, which draws on the work of others, emphasizes community enhancement through self-sufficiency It integrates the respectful dialogue of individuals in the community working in cooperation to solve community problems. It is through the process of identifying and solving problems that people and communities are empowered. Rather than solutions being driven by a pre-conceived theory, solutions to practical problems are based on peoples' experience as they grapple to try to solve problems for themselves. However, it is Cadena's belief that unless praxis is implemented in a systematic way, the process can break down and agreed upon goals and objectives may not be reached.

The second journey to the Highlander Center (Highlander) was held as an international conference with representatives from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Highlander is one of the most well--known residential popular education organizations in the United States. In the decades since 1932, activists have gathered to reflect upon and prepare for activities designed to address historically well-known social, environmental, and economic problems facing the people of the South, including, but not limited to, the Southern labor movements of the 1930s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1940s- 1960s, and the Appalachian people's movements of the 1970s-1980s. Highlander's work is dedicated to the eradication of human suffering through the facilitation of participatory social and educational strategies designed to help all people.

The purpose of these educational experiences was to learn more about the methods as well as issues related to implementing transformative learning strategies from a cross-contextual perspective. We reflect upon our experience as well as the documentation collected by the group's memory committee on both trips in order to provide guidance to those wishing to implement these strategies, if they feel they are appropriate to their own context. The memory committee consisted of three members who were responsible for taking notes and organizing all materials collected on our journey Hopefully, our experience can provide general guidance for those who work with adult educators in many settings.

In order to study transformative learning in Mexico, the Popular Adult Education Group (PAEG) of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, was formed. PAEG actually adopted the principles of popular education--systematization--to facilitate our learning about its principles when we journeyed to Mexico. Systemization is engaged in by purposefully organizing individuals into groups to regularly share personal reflections upon the day's activities in order to evaluate the group's progress toward the collective goal(s) and to facilitate communication among its members. At Highlander, the atmosphere was more collegial and participatory, with less rigorous emphasis on participatory pre-planning, reflection, group process, and experience.

It is our contention that what we learned from our experience in Mexico was deeper and more profound because of the meticulous attention paid to facilitating group process through systematization (Cadena, 1991), which was thoroughly and successfully implemented. …