Kegan explores internal authority

For the past 25 years, developmental psychologist Robert Kegan has been fascinated with the activity of human being; that is, humans as "meaning makers," making sense of the world and giving shape to their experiences. Kegan has gone against conventional wisdom in psychology by saying that real growth and development after adolescence is possible and that adults must pass through several stages to succeed in their roles as partners and parents.

Kegan talked about his ideas on adult stages of development during an Oct. 8 lecture sponsored by The Ethics Center in conjunction with the University Commission on Teaching and the Center for Teaching and Curriculum. Nearly 200 people attended his lecture; approximately 50 graduate students attended his seminar on Oct. 10, and 60 faculty attended his workshop on teaching that same day.

Kegan's 1994 book, In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life, asserts that a "qualitative transformation of mind is possible after adolescence and is necessary after adolescence to succeed in modern life."

Kegan spent a good portion of the lecture telling anecdotes to give the flavor of mental demands on adults. He used examples from parenting, intimacy issues, work and the diversity curriculum. He also discussed the conflict that can occur between faculty and students when students are still making a transition into being a well socialized person and faculty are in a self-authoring stage, in which they are the authors and writers of their own agenda. In this stage, making sense comes from an internal authority, and does not come from the surroundings.

"We ask students to approach their studies from a self-authoring stage," said Kegan. "This flies in the face of the traditional world, which is where our students are, in which the best thing is to be good members of the tribe." Kegan went on to say, "The unconditional demands of modern life demand a self-authoring approach," yet he also noted that two-thirds of the adult population do not construct the world in a self-authoring way.

His final point was that people at the forefront of academic disciplines are required to make a further transformation, one that demands a certain distance from one's internal ideology.

--Jan Gleason

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