Transformative Learning: Educational Vision for the 21st Century – O’SULLIVAN (CSS)

O’SULLIVAN, Edmund. Transformative Learning: Educational Vision for the 21st Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. 304p. Resenha de: LEMISKO, Lynn Speer. Canadian Social Studies, v.37, n.2, 2003.

In his book Transformative Learning, Edmund O’Sullivan has brought a deeply moving and deeply thoughtful vision to the discourse of educational reform. Rather than simply offering a critique of the modernist meta-narratives that have shaped education since the Enlightenment, O’Sullivan offers up a new grand narrative, or mythic vision, which he argues is necessary if we are to educate for the survival and sustainability of our planet. In so doing, he bravely ventures along a pathway that many postmodern and critical theorist angels fear to tread.

Drawing upon scholarship from an exceptional variety of disciplines including history, metaphysics, anthropology, biology, eco-philosophy, cosmology, political theory, feminist theory, psychology, chaos theory, and physics, O’Sullivan describes and critiques modernity and the current mantras of globalization. He then shapes a narrative vision which he hopes will be of sufficient power and complexity to orient people for effective action to overcome environmental problems, to address the multiple problems presented by environmental destruction, to reveal what the possibilities are for transforming these and to reveal to people the role that they can play in this project (p. 182). In shaping this comprehensive cosmology, O’Sullivan does not offer particular and specific suggestions for educational practice. Instead he invites readers to reflect deeply upon the personal and cultural perspectives that have and are driving educational efforts and to envision the shape of education if the cosmology he elucidates were to become our guiding narrative.

While postmodernist critiques are typically deconstructive and express grave concerns about the construction of new grand narratives to replace the old, O’Sullivan posits that without a comprehensive reconstructive cosmology humans are left without a positive transformative vision to guide future action. In his narrative, the universe story, O’Sullivan proposes that three interrelated basic tendencies operate in the universe at all levels and all the time. These tendencies are: differentiation, which is a creative force that brings with it the burden of being and becoming, different from everything else in the universe (p. 223); subjectivity, which includes the idea that all things in the universe have, at least in latent form, the capacity for sentience and, therefore, should be considered as living, spontaneous and sentient [entities] that can be addressed in intimate terms (p. 192); and, communion, which embraces the notion of the deep and relational quality of all reality (p. 192). O’Sullivan’s grand narrative, then, encompasses a vision that not only includes all humans in all their wonderful diversity and uniqueness but also includes all of the natural world and universe. This is a compelling narrative because it is framed by ideas that enable us to honour and encourage both the individual and the collective, the human and not human.

Although O’Sullivan’s tracing of the historical roots of the present age is somewhat linear and simplistic, his analysis of present trends and dominant ways of thinking is both comprehensive and insightful. Using a plethora of recent scholarly studies he develops a well-documented and fascinating synthesis of ideas. Although the density and abstractness of the metaphysical ideas is challenging, this rich and complex work should be on the reading list of all educators, including practising teachers, administrators, graduate students, and university professors. In fact, this book offers intriguing insights for all who ponder the future of humanity and our planet.

Lynn Speer Lemisko – Faculty of Education. University of Saskatchewan. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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