I have to get this out on paper (blog), as it has been bothering me since a discussion I had with a faculty member last week…
I find the models in student development theory for meaning-making as a product of furthering one’s self frustrating. For those who aren’t student development theorists, student affairs professionals, psychologists, or simply really interested in cognitive development, meaning-making is the capacity of the individual to understand, make sense of, and perhaps construct the world in relationship to themselves. In other words, how an individual sees the world, given the fact that the way an individual sees the world is affected by their own experiences.
So why is this frustrating to me? Well, as the title of this post might suggest, “further development” or “higher thinking” is most often characterized by student development theorists as a stage in one’s life where meaning-making is done in a capacity that does not affect the self and one’s identity. In fact, external influences on the individual may have little ability to become strong factors in identity development once a person is at this “further” stage in life. The student development theory Multiple Dimensions of Identity Development (Abes, Jones, and McEwen, 2007) suggest that internal identity eventually becomes steadfast in relation to one’s context (relationships, geography, vocation, etc.) and therefore any capacity for meaning-making is stabilized. In contrast, who are whimsy in internal identity development, that is to say that external influences have a greater impact on the individual’s meaning-making capacity, are considered less developed.
My beef is largely that I don’t know if I buy into the idea that further development and steadfast identity are the same thing. Perhaps I’m interpreting this theory wrong. Other similarly-categorized student development theories, particularly those of Kohlberg and Perry, seem to provide some foundation for my “beef” in that as a student is developed, they are able to see multiple truths in decisions and morals, perhaps even so far as to understand that there is no necessary “right” answer for given dilemmas. I extrapolate this to further cover that there is no right answer for identity-everything is a given truth to the time, place, and context.