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Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners (with New Foreword, Introduction, and Afterword)

Laurent A. Daloz

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eBook - ePub


Guiding the Journey of Adult Learners (with New Foreword, Introduction, and Afterword)

Laurent A. Daloz

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With a new introduction and afterword, this revised second edition is a practical, engaging exploration of mentoring and its power to transform learning. Filled with inspiring vignettes, Mentor shows how anyone who teaches can become a successful mentor to students. Topics covered include adult learning and development; the search for meaning as a motive for learning; education as a transformational journey; how adults change and develop; how learning changes the learner; barriers and incentives to learning and growth; and guiding adults through difficult transitions.

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Adult Education

Part One
Adult Learning as Development

Chapter One
First Shards: The Search for Meaning as a Motive for Learning

What is education? I should suppose that education was the curriculum one had to run through in order to catch up with oneself.
We are all adult learners. Most of us have learned a good deal more out of school than in it. We have learned from our families, our work, our friends. We have learned from problems resolved and tasks achieved, but also from mistakes confronted and illusions unmasked. Intentionally or not, we have learned from the dilemmas our lives hand us daily.
Some of what we have learned is trivial; some has changed our lives forever. Much of the time, learning is a joy, especially when it meets a clearly felt need, takes us toward some destination, or helps us make sense of something formerly obscure. But sometimes it brings pain, and we struggle mightily not to see the obvious. There are few among us who have not wondered at such times why it was that the more we learned the less we knew, where our lives were taking us, and whether it was all worth it.
Our students are no different. Most have sacrificed a good deal to return to school. Education is important for them, not simply because they see it as a ticket to a better life but because in some more profound sense, they hope it helps them make sense of lives whose fabric of meaning has grown frayed. For a multitude of reasons, they seldom lead with this revelation; some have yet to realize it. Fewer still see the erosion of meaning in their lives as a normal process, part of a lifetime of growing up. Yet both recent research and timeless insight have made it clear that our lives do not simply level off after the age of eighteen (Knox, 1977; Cross, 1981; Heath, 1991; Merriam and Caffarella, 1991; Tennant and Pogson, 1995). We continue to grow and change. What was once trivial can turn suddenly monumental, and what earlier appeared essential now seems unimportant. Women who for years sacrificed themselves for their families suddenly declare “It's Mom's turn” and replace the cookware on the kitchen table with textbooks; and men who were locked into the upward struggle for money and prestige may all at once turn inward, wondering what it all means.
A good education can help people understand these changes; indeed, it may play a part in bringing them about. A good education tends to our deepest longings, enriches them, nourishes the questions from which grow the tentative answers that, in turn, sow fresh questions about what really matters. As teachers, we do vital work in the lives of our growing students. This book is an attempt to portray students and teachers at work, to demonstrate how we can discuss important matters together so that our students can regain the courage, insight, and passion they need to move ahead in their lives more fully, to weave and reweave the fabric of meaning more richly and strongly.
As I began writing this book, I struggled with the tension between writing a “scholarly” work on the one hand and something with broader appeal on the other. Gradually I came to see that what I wanted most was to tell a good story, to engender good conversation. I have tried to do that, and because I am writing about what I do, I have attempted to remain a visible storyteller. For me, being a teacher is more art than science. I am uneasy with claims to an “objectivity” that I doubt exists. Perhaps that is why I have found the metaphor of a journey to be particularly useful for understanding what my students and I are going through. For although journeys differ for each of us, like education, they do have direction, they have a common syntax, and we can mark our progress by the passing signposts. In their form itself lies their meaning. Thus, although some of what happens between teacher and student has about it the quality of magic, by casting our two protagonists as pilgrim and guide we can learn much about that dark and fertile art. The question for us as teachers is not whether but how we influence our students. It is a question about a relationship: Where are our students going, and who are we for them in their journey?
This question underlies most of the book. In this chapter, I try to illustrate why it became so important for me and why I believe it to be central for all of us who are struggling to construct an education of care. So, let me invite you along on a short journey to eavesdrop on a conversation between Emerald and me. She was one of twenty returning adult students I was working with as mentor for an external degree program several years back. My job was to guide them along the misty and often confusing pathways through higher education. I would help people decide what they wanted to learn, explain the program requirements, and work with them to select courses or design independent studies that would take them to their goal. Once under way, it was my job to provide moral and academic support, which often involved conversations like this one.

When the Thunder Comes

The ski trails on the side of Mt. Mansfield were etched white against the blue of the horizon as the car glided around the corner, a bit fast for the icy conditions. It was one of those perfect winter days, utterly clear but still below zero in midmorning. Glittering flakes of frozen air drifted in the sunlight as a carful of skiers heading for the mountain passed me in the opposite direction, eager no doubt to play in the fresh powder of yesterday's storm. Days like today are the stuff of postcards, I thought to myself, everything in its Sunday best. Yet there's something glossy and unreal about the countryside in winter. People who live here know what's under the snow, and one needn't drive far off the main roads to see the trailers and the shacks, the shattered doors and the torn polyethylene covering windows, to know that Vermont Life is a magazine intended mostly for export.
I turned north outside of Hardwick and headed into the heart of the Northeast Kingdom, where I live and work. So named some years ago by Sen. George Aiken in recognition of the three northeastern counties' determined insularity, the region is Vermont's poorest and probably harbors most of what's left of a way of life earlier called Yankee, now outdated and overromanticized. The barn, once our predominant architecture, has been largely replaced by the trailer, topped—as soon as the owner can afford it—by a roof pitched against the cold.
The road and the frozen river danced together as I glided past overgrown pastures scored from time to time with the tracks of snowmobiles. Just beyond a half-buried garage sale sign—the tip of our underground economy's iceberg—the Come & Eat road-house peered over the stacks of snow. I slowed down and pulled into the newly scraped lot beside a huge semi loaded with pulp.
The steam swirled around me as I swung through the door, struck by the blast of warm air redolent of coffee and bacon fat, gravy and canned string beans. The place was nearly empty save for a couple of men layered in chocolate rags, huddled over coffee cups and cigarettes. They must belong to the truck, I thought, as I looked for Emerald. I spotted her nestled in the next-to-last booth, nodded, and peeled off my parka as I made my way to join her.
Widowed after a brief marriage some years ago, Emerald returned to her hometown; she has worked here ever since as a bookkeeper in her brother's small sawmill. Now in her mid-thirties, she dresses softly and with incongruous class, bats her eyelids with accomplishment. Seemingly shy, she scarcely opens her mouth in group meetings; even outside, she volunteers little. Yet when she does speak, she does so with near-perfect certainty, ending her sentences in the air as if to say, “Isn't it obvious?”
A year ago she graduated from the local community college and entered the external degree program to study for a degree in business management. The program requirements were broad and flexible, allowing her to take courses at a number of different institutions but specifying a certain number of liberal studies as well. The task of the mentor was to help her design a program that met both her needs and the program's expectations. Like many adults, Emerald began her studies with courses directly relevant to her work: accounting, office management, computers. As her adviser, I chose not to resist that, for older students are generally much clearer about what they're doing in college than their younger counterparts, and it doesn't do to thwart their firm intentions—at least not at first. But the time came for Emerald to plan her program more comprehensively. We had arranged this meeting to discuss it.
From a folder on the seat beside her, Emerald removed a neatly typed sheet of paper and slid it across the table toward me. The brief narrative noted that her objective was to attain a degree in business management; her long-term goal was to become a CPA. Beneath the narrative was written:
Liberal arts will be useful to offset patterns of rigidness prevalent in my main objective: achieving a balance in education. I realize that all numbers and heavy concentration in one single area with no balancing influence is apt to lead to undesirable personality maladjustments and mental introversion. Liberal arts is and has been my mode of relaxation.
Then came a list of the studies she planned to undertake during the next six semesters. Her intention was to study two at a time—a full load when combined with a normal workday. The list was fascinating. Next term, she planned to combine budgeting with the Old Testament, then data processing and archeology, business law and poetry, insurance and dance. Balance, indeed, I thought to myself as I scanned the list. The dichotomy was relentless, but I could discern no pattern beyond that. Why those subjects? Why that order? It baffled and fascinated me at once. What did this woman want for herself? Or, I wondered, is this for herself at all? Then I noticed her one liberal study course thus far—a course on death and dying she took last term. How could I have forgotten? Something about her mouth as she described her widowhood during an earlier meeting had prompted me to suggest that she take it. I decided to begin there.
“So. How was that death and dying course?”
“Oh, fine,” she replied, sealing the statement with a tight smile, inviting more but offering nothing. She's going to make me work, I thought. Off balance already, but the game begun, I played another card.
“ ‘Fine’? How do you mean that? What was good about it?”
“Oh, we learned a lot of useful stuff.” Silent again, but there was an opening.
“Oh, you know. If somebody dies on the job, what you have to do. How morgues work, you know. We had an interesting trip to the morgue.”
How morgues work? That escaped me. This fragile, tough widow whose lip trembles at a seven-year-old memory, takes a death and dying course and learns nothing but how morgues work? I tried to mask my disbelief and moved to check out what seemed obvious.
“Besides that—besides the trip and the practical stuff—did you get anything out of the course of value to you?” Palms toward her, I underlined “value” with empty hands. I wanted her to know that I knew, without either of us having to acknowledge it.
“Of value?” She caught my eye for an instant, then looked down at her own hands, half-folded in her lap. “Oh, some personal stuff.” She paused a moment, then looked back up. Her eyes were moist, but she wouldn't give in. “Some people in the course had a lot of grieving to do.” Then quickly, “But I just don't agree with that. I mean you have to move ahead. That's what I believe. You can't look back. I guess I learned that from my father. You have to put the past behind you and move ahead.”
She held my eye doggedly while she spoke, testing herself. In the end, she passed. She was not about to give me that much, and I was not at all sure I wanted it. Besides, we each knew enough for now. We backed down.
“ ‘Move ahead,’ ” I said as I leaned back. “What's that mean for you? Where are you headed?”
Her face broke into a smile and she turned, looking out the frosted window. Then, after a moment, “Oh, be more myself, I guess.”
“How's that?”
“Oh, you know, not getting jerked around so much by other people, not always worrying...


  1. Cover
  2. Table of Contents
  3. Title
  4. Copyright
  5. Foreword
  6. Series
  7. Preface to the Original Edition
  8. Preface
  9. Dedication
  10. The Author
  11. Part One: Adult Learning as Development
  12. Part Two: Learning as a Transformative Journey
  13. Part Three: Fostering Adult Learning
  14. Afterword
  15. References
  16. Appendix
  17. Index
Estilos de citas para Mentor

APA 6 Citation

Daloz, L. (2012). Mentor (2nd ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2012)

Chicago Citation

Daloz, Laurent. (2012) 2012. Mentor. 2nd ed. Wiley.

Harvard Citation

Daloz, L. (2012) Mentor. 2nd edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Daloz, Laurent. Mentor. 2nd ed. Wiley, 2012. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.