Connecting agency and social change: A transformative activist stance approach to theory and practice in higher education

The notion of transformative education has become the hallmark of progressive approaches in American postsecondary education suggesting a broad consensus regarding its direction. However, the notion of transformation is associated with profoundly different educational theories that have a significant impact on a broad range of educational practices across colleges and universities. This paper seeks to contribute to our understanding of transformative approaches at the intersection of theory and practice by critically examining interrelated yet radically different conceptions of transformative education. Furthermore, I argue that this discussion is particularly relevant for community colleges, which have been confronted with stubbornly poor graduation and retention rates (NCES 2009). Hence, this paper will examine alternative notions of transformative education vis-à-vis their potential to address longstanding gaps and contradictions in higher education. First, I will discuss the notion of transformative education as the linchpin of the liberal education reform movement in American postsecondary education, which has led many colleges to revise their mission and organizational structure (AAC&U, 2002). Predicated on the need to prepare students for an increasingly global economy and society, its proponents have decried the narrowly cognitive focus of learning and its conspicuously fragmented organization of institutions (Bass, 2012; Keeling, 2004; Kuh, 2008, 2010). Based on constructivist principles into which sociocultural tenets have been incorporated, the liberal reform agenda centers on expanding the definition of learning from a holistic process that takes place not only across many sites through college campuses but also across students’ engagement with their communities and the world. This paper considers an alternative understanding of transformative education based on the transformative activist stance approach (Stetsenko, 2008), which posits human development and learning to be grounded on agentive contribution to transformative collaborative practices. By highlighting the centrality of students’ contributions to institutional and educational change, based on developing a shared vision of and commitment to social transformation, this paper will discuss how this approach moves beyond liberal agenda reforms (Vianna, Hougaard, & Stetsenko, 2014).
Presenter
LaGuardia Community College- City University of New York (CUNY)

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