Each and every time I attend the national convention for foreign language teachers, or ACTFL, I go into it saying “This is my last year… this is such an expensive event.” Grumble, grumble.
Each and every time I leave that same ACTFL convention, I am energized and motivated, filled with exciting new ideas to bring to my classrooms, my department and my college.
I have spent the last seven years focusing on intercultural competence. Learning a language takes a long time. In a shorter amount of time, we can teach students some language, yes, but even more about culture, about its rich diversity around the world and even outside our own doorstep. Intercultural competence, blended with some language ability is a killer combination for success in our ever-shrinking world. Our language majors are attaining advanced-level proficiency, but now we can offer a transferable skill to those students just in class with us for one semester, checking off general education requirements.
The big lesson for me coming out of this year’s national convention was taking that goal of intercultural competence, and pushing it one step further: transformative learning. Transformative learning, as defined by Edmund O’Sullivan: “Transformative learning involves experiencing a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters our way of being in the world. Such a shift involves our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race and gender; our body awareness, our visions of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy.”
I cannot help but think that if we can teach just a few students in our courses to experience transformative learning, the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases might be better understood. Transformative learning allows you to shift perspectives, seeing the world through the eyes and experiences of another. Transformative learning means suspending judgement, instead looking to understand what another might be experiencing.
Transformative learning may actually transform our world. In amazing ways.