Exploring transformative learning within the context of healing and reconciliation : an action research project.
Churches have long been important sites of non-formal and informal learning and places of refuge and renewal during times of social upheaval in South Africa. They continue to provide a safe space in which people can be challenged to grow, to change and to heal from past experiences. This qualitative Living Theory action research study sought to examine my own learnings as a Healing of Memories workshop facilitator in a new process, held in a worship community, that foregrounded the spiritual dimensions of participant learnings. Situated within the paradigm of Critical Social Theory, the research draws primarily on Mezirow’s Theory of Transformative Learning in order to examine healing and reconciliation initiatives that enable shifts in thinking and opportunities for action through individual perspective transformation. In order to address critique of Mezirow’s tendency to restrict learning to its cognitive dimension, the study draws on Tisdell and Dirkx for a more holistic conceptualisation of transformative learning that incorporates the affective, somatic, spiritual and cultural aspects of human experience. Learnings were structured in action and reflection phases involving myself initially and then co-facilitators and participants, by means of in-depth individual interviews. The workshops of the Institute for Healing of Memories are an experiential, non-formal adult education initiative that seeks to provide a space in which personal stories can be told and acknowledged. Situating this Healing of Memories workshop within an existing church community from which all participants were drawn and holding it during the spiritually significant Easter season of renewal enabled their deeper learning through its spiritual dimensions. Viewing this Healing of Memories workshop as a transformative learning process deepened my understanding of it as a curriculum structured to enable perspective transformation through the ten steps identified by Mezirow. A respectful and compassionate listening space allowed participants to explore options for new roles, relationships and action. Learning to listen actively and to understand emotion and the choices to be made in response to it provided participants with new knowledge and skills. By participating in this process with a holistic understanding of transformative learning and as a practitioner researching my own practice I have grown as an educator, with greater authenticity and humanity in my practice.