A Conversation with Cross and Kegan – Development Theories ALD 605 Todd Taylor Introduction I have two primary reasons for enrolling in the Adult Learning and Development
A Conversation with Cross and Kegan – Development Theories
I have two primary reasons for enrolling in the Adult Learning and Development (ALD) program at Cleveland State. One was my desire to end the practice of being passed on for promotions at work due to lack of a credential, in this case a Master’s degree. Second, I have been a well-regarded professional in the Adult Education world. I have won awards and citations for advancing the cause at many of my professional stops. I have done this simply on instinct without the requisite education to back up my practice. I work and program based on my experience as an Adult Learner and while useful, does not adequately address the various situations I am faced with as a practioners. Being able to research theories and apply them to my professional practice is something that I am happy to be following through on.
Understanding who my learners are is an important step in building and providing successful programming for them. Though there are a multitude of theories to choose from, I settled on William Cross’ Black American Racial Identity Model (1991) and Robert Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development Theory (1982). I chose Cross’ model because I have never really taken the time to consider my own path to adulthood and what role my race played in it. Additionally. it is interesting to research this information to determine whether my relationship with my students, mostly people of color, is impacted based on my own beliefs. The Kegan Theory was a natural choice because of the stages model it, to me, with the most applicable, current (at least current as it relates to the adult learners I work with), and least jargon-filled explanations which, with no prior background in psychology, made it easier to understand and relate to my learners.
Cross’ Model of Black American Racial Identity Development
I must be honest and say that when I first read about Cross (1971), I was a little put off by the original title of his model: Nigrescence Theory, an identity change process as a Negro-to-Black conversion experience. I thought, “Who calls any black person a Negro?” and I also thought. “Did he have a similar thought on becoming white?” It was interesting to read about it because I had never once considered having to “become” a black person. I am happy he updated the theory to 1) lose the off-putting Nigrescence title, and 2) establish that it is not becoming anything rather developing your identity based on your relationship to your environment.
Cross’ updated model, Black American Identity Development model (1991), remained a 5-stage theory: 1. Pre-encouter; 2. Ecounter; 3. Immersion/Emersion; 4. Internalization; and 5. Internalization/Commitment. In the Pre-Encounter stage, the individual has absorbed many beliefs and values of the dominant white culture, including the notion that “white is right” and “black is wrong”; de-emphasis is placed on one’s racial group membership and individuals at this stage are largely unaware of race or racial implications. In the Encounter stage, the individual is forced by an event or events to acknowledge the impact of racism in their life and the reality that they cannot truly be white. In this stage the individual is forced to focus on identity of a group targeted by racism. Immersion/Emersion is the simultaneous desire to surround oneself with visible symbols of one’s racial identity and an active avoidance of symbols of whiteness. They actively seek out opportunities to explore aspects of their own history and culture with support of peers from their own racial background. In Internalization, the individual is secure in their own sense of racial identity. Their pro-black attitudes become more expansive, open, and less defensive and they are willing to establish meaningful relationships with whites who acknowledge and are respective of the individual’s self-definition. Finally, in Internalization/Commitment the individual has found ways to translate their personal sense of blackness into a general sense of commitment to concerns of blacks as a group, which is sustained over time. Individuals at this stage are comfortable with their own race and with others around them.
Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development Theory
Like Cross’ model, Kegan’s Adult Development Theory (1982) encompasses a 5-stage development process from adolescence to adulthood. Stage 1, Impulsive, the individual in this stage, acting mostly on impulses, has total self-interest and as individuals respond primarily to punishment and obedience. In Stage 2, Imperial, the individuals follow along with rules, philosophies, movements or ideologies because of external rewards or punishments, not because they truly believe in them. Stage 3, Interpersonal, is the first stage where individuals begin to experience themselves as a function of how others experience them. In Stage 4, Institutional, the individual understands that they are a person, with thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are independent from the standards and expectations of their environment. Finally, in Stage 5, Interindependent, an individual’s sense of self is not tied to identities or roles but is constantly created through the exploration of one’s identities and roles and further honed through interactions with others.
Comparison of the Models
Both the Cross (1991) and Kegan (1982) are 5-stage models that focus (or can) on development from adolescences through adulthood. They both see most of the adults they have studied at the middle stages of development, Cross, the Immersion/Emersion stage and Kegan, the Interpersonal stage. The similarity between the two models and the middle stages is that the authors believe that people can begin to enter into these third stages during adolescence, and there is evidence that they can live much or all their lives in them (Cross, 1991; Kegan, 1982). If you break down the stages side by side, they appear to be identical in substance, with the ability to be interchangeable (See Appendix A).
Though both models move from naiveté to acceptance, Cross’s model seems to focus internally on the individual’s self-development as it relates to their relationship with their environment (1991). As Natalie Morad (2017) explained in an excellent blog post, Kegan’s theory (1982) focuses on the shift of subject to object, or how the self-concepts we are attached to and cannot take an objective look at changes as we move stages to self-concepts that we can detach ourselves from. That we can look at, reflect upon, engage, control and connect to things externally.
Using the Models in the Classroom
While I believe Cross’ model addresses the environment within which adults learn, I believe Kegan’s models the how, what, and why adult students learn. Using Kegan, I consider the place of the student based on their assumed stage and only consider Stages 2 thru 4, as those are the most common stages of the students I encounter.
Kegan’s Stage 2, features individuals focusing their attention on their personal interests, goals, and agendas. In the classroom, students in this stage may diligently pursue desired grades or may perform at the minimum required level to satisfy degree or course requirements (ADRG, 2011). This stage is where most of my adult learners fall, wanting to know what they need to do to pass the course. Their focus isn’t so much on learning as it is on advancing.
Stage 3 of Kegan’s model, interpersonal, features individuals focusing their attention on interpersonal connections, and mutual obligations in those relationships. Individuals may be particularly interested in looking good to peers or desired reference groups when in this stage. Behavior is motivated by interpersonal connections and relationships. Students in this stage of development will be particularly interested in the opinions of the instructor and student peers and will actively engage in impression management to enhance their image (ADRG, 2011). For my adult learners, these are the students who not only seek my approval, but also tend to be the most vocal of the class, showing off their new-found skills for the enjoyment (or frustration as the case may be) of the class.
Stage 4 of Kegan’s model, institutional, features individuals focusing their attention on personal standards and value systems. Individuals in this stage may be particularly interested in attaining levels of performance that meet their own personal standards and levels of achievement. Looking good in peers or others’ eye carries less value in this stage because individuals rely on their own perception of outcomes and standards. Students in this stage of development will seek academically challenging work and will be less motivated by tedious material (ADRG, 2011). These are my rock star students. The ones who gladly volunteer to act as peer mentors for lower levels of the course.
History and Practice Related to the Theories
As an adult learner myself, I have taken for granted the ease with which learning comes to me. Even though, I have had my share of conflicts along my educational journey, I have never questioned the need for education nor the realization that I can learn something new every day that may challenge prior beliefs. I remember a specific moment in one of my undergraduate classes a few years ago. It was a Comparative Studies class on racial representations in the media. We had a group project where we had to discuss a current television program and how it fairly or unfairly represents racial themes. Of course, I was tasked as the team leader for this course and the team decided to focus on the impact of the Cosby show on attitudes about race in the US. Being in a group with a bunch of sub-20-year olds as a 30-year-old was challenging enough, added to the fact that I was the only person of color in the group, I instantly became the spokesperson for all things related to race.
One of the students in my group was certain that the Cosby show was simply fiction and that no black people lived an upper-class lifestyle like the Cosby’s and that they were trying to push an agenda…surprisingly, I calmly explained that I grew up in an upper-class suburb of Columbus. I explained that both of my parents had gone to college, my dad received his J.D., and both worked in executive level positions, my mom as an administrator at OSU hospital and my dad as the budget director for Federated stores. I went on to tell her that I had my own room growing up and received a new car on my 16th birthday. I probably shared more than I needed to, but I wanted to enforce the point that because this student had no personal experience with people of color outside what she saw on tv, the Cosby Show was actually a seminal moment in how the masses, particularly white Americans had to change their worldview on who black folks were and how many of them lived (Cross, 1991).
As an adult literacy instructor, many of my learners are still in early developmental stages of these theories. In my classes, I am big on students verbally articulating for the class, their view on some current topic. I try not to make the topic too controversial, so students don’t feel exposed like their potential lack of knowledge would not be valued. I also try to create a safe space in my classrooms, so that students know that these are academic exercises that don’t go beyond the classroom door. The challenge is getting students at a lower developmental level to trust that the space is indeed a safe one for them to share their thoughts and they won’t be considered ignorant because their views are not necessarily fully developed. It’s incumbent upon me to make certain that I provide them with enough challenges to help them develop at a greater level and with the requisite amount of support to ensure that I am not forcing or potentially hindering their development (ADRG, 2011) .
Adult Development Research Group. (2001). Toward a new pluralism in ABE/ESOL classrooms: Teaching to multiple “cultures of mind”. Cambridge, MA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy.
Cross, W.E., Jr. (1971). The Negro-to-Black conversion experience: Toward a psychology of Black liberation. Black World, 20, 13-27.
Cross, W. (1991). Shades of black: Diversity in African-American identity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Kegan, R. (1982) The evolving self: Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
Morad, N. (2017, September 28). Part 1: How to be an adult: Kegan’s theory of adult development Blog post. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@NataliMorad/how-to-be-an-adult-kegans-theory-of-adult-development-d63f4311b553
Smith, M.C. & Taylor, K. (2010). Adult development. In C. E. Kasworm , A. D. Rose, & J. M. Ross-Gordon (Eds.), Handbook of adult and continuing education, (pp. 48-58). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Cross Model and Kegan Theory stages compared
Individuals of color want to fit into the majority by acting, thinking, and behaving in ways that lessen the value of being black. Stage 1
involves total self-interest, as individuals respond primarily to punishment and obedience, acting mostly on impulses.
Individuals experience life-changing event(s) that shatters their view on life and changes how they view their identity. Stage 2
Individuals follow along with rules, philosophies, movements or ideologies because of external rewards or punishments, not because they truly believe in them.
Actively seek out opportunities to explore aspects of one’s own history and culture with support of peers from one’s own racial background. Stage 3
For the first time individuals begin to experience themselves as a function of how others experience them.
Secure in one’s own sense of racial identity; pro-black attitudes become more expansive, open, and less defensive; willing to establish meaningful relationships with whites who acknowledge and are respective of one’s self-definition. Stage 4
One understands that they are a person, with thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are independent from the standards and expectations of their environment. They become consumed with who we are?—?this is the kind of person I am, this is what I stand for.
Establishes ways to translate one’s personal sense of blackness into a plan of action or a general sense of
commitment to concerns of blacks as a group, which is sustained over time; comfort with one’s own race and those around them. Stage 5
InterindependentOne’s sense of self is not tied to particular identities or roles but is constantly created through the exploration of one’s identities and roles and further honed through interactions with others.
Note: Data for development theories compiled from Cross’s Black American Identity Development Model (1991) and Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development Theory (1982).