The Modern American College

Cognitive and Ethical Growth

The Making of Meaning

William G. Perry, Jr.

Have you received the latest printout of your students' evaluation of your teaching from the computer? If so, I trust you are properly encouraged. But my intent is to raise the possibility that these comfortable means and standard deviations may conceal unexamined educational riches. In the usual form of such evaluations, the shortness of the scale (commonly five of seven points, from superb to awful), the neatness of the standard deviations, and the comfort of the mean all inspire in us a confidence that further analysis would tell us little. Indeed, our friends assure us than even these vagaries in our students' opinions that prevent the mean ratings from being as high as we had hoped can be chalked up to our credit under the rubric, The best teacher never pleases everybody.

Surely it seems reasonable to average check marks on items like

Organization of assignments: 12345
ExcellentGoodFairPoorVery Bad

and to print 1.9 as the mean. But if you have ever given your students an opportunity to be more expressive, you can never again be wholly comforted. What can you do with such unaveragable judgements as This course has changed my whole outlook on education and life! Superbly taught! Should he required of all students and This course is falsely advertised and dishonest. You have cheated me of my tuition!

Over the years I have received just such comments at the end of a non-credit course on Strategies of Reading. when I asked. What did you expect of this course? (big space) and What did you find? (big space). I do not ask the students for their names, just for their scores on per- and post-tests. Twenty years ago I reported on the course in a faculty meeting; (Perry, 1959) and read one student's comment as my punch line. Since the student had scored 20 percent comprehension at 20 words per minute on pre-test and 90 percent comprehension at 600 words per minute on post-test, I had looked forward to some flattery. What I found was, I expected an organized effort to improve my reading, followed by, This has been the most sloppy, disorganized course I've never taken. Of course I have made some improvement (arrow to the scores), but this has been due entirely to my own efforts. This got a good laugh from the faculty, largely I suspect, owing to the realization that evaluations threaten not only the vanity of teachers but their very sanity at well.

At the time, no one, myself included, stopped to inquire whether this student's outrage bespoke more than some comical aberration. It took my colleagues and me twenty years to discover that such comments reflect coherent interpretive frameworks through which students give meaning to their educational experience. These structurings of meaning, which students revise in an orderly sequence from the relatively simple to the more complex, determine more than your students' perception of you as teacher; they shape the students' ways of learning and color their motives for engagement and disengagement in the whole educational enterprise. Teachers have, of course, always sensed this and have tried to teach accordingly.

This chapter illustrates, in students' own words, the typical course of development of students' patterns of thought. Twenty years ago, a small group of us, counsellors and teachers, were so puzzled by students' varied and contradictory perceptions of ourselves and their other teachers that we set out to document their experience. We invited volunteers to tell us, at the end of their freshman year, what had stood out for them. We encouraged them to talk freely in the interview without preformed questions from us, and the diversity of their reports exceeded even our own expectations. After the manner of the time, we supposed the differences arose from differences in personality types. However, as the same students returned to report their experience year by year, we were startled by their reinterpretations of their lives. Then these reinterpretations seemed to fall into a logical progression. Each step represented a challenge to the student's current view of the world. Different student: might respond differently, with courage or defeat, but all faced the same basic challenges to making meaning in a complex world (Perry, 1970).

We found that we could describe the logic or structure of each of these successive reinterpretations of the world and identify the challenges that precipitated them. We made a map of these challenges — a Pilgrim's Progress of ways of knowing, complete with Sloughs: of Despond — giving each of the successive interpretations a numbered Position We then put the map to a test by giving raters a number of interviews and asking them to state for each interview that Position which seemed most congruent with the pattern of that student's thought. Since raters agreed strongly with one another, we knew that the developments we had seen were there for others to see. This map of sequential interpretations of meaning, of scheme of development, has since has since been found to be characteristic of the development of students' thinking throughout a variety of educational settings (see this chapter's reference section). This chapter makes this developing sequence of interpretations explicit. Along the way, I shall suggest what I see to be the general implications of this sequence for educational practice. Readers interested in the ways these implications have found particular expression in various educational contexts can then consult the work of those researchers and practitioners whose works I cite.

Scheme of Development

One naturally thinks of any scheme of development in terms of its stages — or Positions at we called them in our own scheme. In summarizing our students' journey for the reader of this chapter, I therefore first excised from all our students had told us a quotation or two to illustrate each Position. To my dismay, the drama died under the knife.

Then I realized that Positions are by definition static, and development is by definition movement. It was therefore the Transitions that were so fresh and intriguing. Each of the Positions was obvious and familiar in its delineation of a meaningful way of construing the world of knowledge, value, and education. The drama lived in the variety and ingenuity of the ways students found to move from a familiar pattern of meanings that had failed them to a new vision that promised to make sense of their broadening experience, while it also threatened them with unanticipated implications for their selfhood and their lives. I thus decided to select quotations illustrating for each step the breakup of the old and the intimations of the new. (Perhaps development in all transition and stages only resting points, along the way.)

But the expansion of the summary puts severe strains on the boundaries of this chapter and on the reader. I can surely trust the reader to remember that each simple quotation stands for many intriguing variants in the ways students gave meaning to the unfolding landscape of the journey. But we have more to do than trace the journey, I have promised to note some further thoughts on these developmental progressions — thoughts that have arisen in a decade of dialogue with others who have used our scheme as a starting point for explorations of their own. Had my briefest summary of the scheme sufficed, I could have moved on directly to commentary on other researchers' work and on our own recent thinking about particular passages or issues in the scheme. After the more expanded summary, however, the reader and I would find ourselves too far away from the data relevant to such commentary. It has seemed best, therefore, to digress occasionally as relevant points emerge.

If the reader is to tolerate lengthy digressions at dramatic moments — as happens in early Victorian novels — I should at least give evidence in advance that I know where I am going. Figure 1 gives a synopsis, in bare bones, of our scheme of cognitive and ethical development — the evolving ways of seeing the world, knowledge and education, values, and oneself. Notice that each Position both includes and transcends the earlier ones, as the earlier ones cannot do with the later. This fact defines the movement as development rather than mere changes or phases. Figure 2 gives a map of this development. Following are definitions of the key terms, abstractions to which the students' words will subsequently give life.

Figure 1. Scheme of Cognitive and Ethical Development
Position 1 Authorities know, and if we work hard, read every word, and learn Right Answers, all will be well.
Transition But what about those Others I hear about? And different opinions? And Uncertainties? Some of our own Authorities disagree with each other or don't seem to know, and some give us problems instead of Answers.
Position 2 True Authorities must be Right, the others are frauds. We remain Right. Others must be different and Wrong. Good Authorities give us problems so we can learn to find the Right Answer by our own independent thought.
Transition But even Good Authorities admit they don't know all the answers yet!
Position 3 Then some uncertainties and differences in opinion are real and legitimate temporarily, even for Authorities. They're working on them to get to the Truth.
Transition But there are so many things they don't know the Answers to! And they won't for a long time.
Position 4a Where Authorities don't know the right Answers, everyone has a right to his own opinion; no one is wrong.
Transition But some of my friends ask me to support my ideas with facts and reasons.
(and/or) Transition Then what right have They to grade us? About what?
Position 4b In certain courses Authorities are not asking for the Right Answer, They want us to think about things in a certain way, supporting opinion with data. That's what they grade us on.
Transition But this way seems to work in most courses, and even outside them.
Position 5 Then all thinking must be like this, even for Them. Everything is relative but not equally valid. You have to understand how each context works. Theories are not truth but metaphors to interpret data with. You have to think about your thinking.
Transition But if everything is relative, am I relative to? How can I know I'm making the Right Choice?
Position 6 I see I'm going to have to make my own decisions in an uncertain world with no one to tell me I'm Right.
Transition I'm lost if I don't. When I decide on my career (or marriage or values) everything will straighten out.
Position 7 Well, I've made my first Commitment!
Transition Why didn't that settle everything?
Position 8 I've made several commitments, I've got to balance them — how many, how deep? How certain, how tentative?
Transition Things are getting contradictory. I can't make logical sense out of life's dilemmas.
Position 9 This is how my life will be. I must be wholehearted while tentative, fight for my values yet respect others, believe my deepest values right yet be ready to learn, I see that I shall be retracing this whole journey over and over — but, I hope, more wisely.
  • Dualism. Division of meaning in two realms — Good versus Bad, Right versus Wrong, We versus They, All that is not Success is Failure, and the like. Right Answers exist somewhere for every problem, and authorities know them. Right Answers are to be memorized by hard work. Knowledge is quantitative. Agency is experienced as out there in Authority, test scores, the Right job.
  • Multiplicity. Diversity of opinion and values is recognized as legitimate in areas where right answers are not yet known. Opinions remain atomistic without pattern or system. No judgements can be made among them, so everyone has a right to his own opinion; none can be called wrong.
  • Relativism. Diversity of opinion, values and judgement derived from coherent sources, evidinces, logics, systems, and patterns allowing for analysis and comparison. Some opinions may be found worthless, while there will remain matters about which reasonable people will reasonably disagree. Knowledge is qualitative, dependent on contexts.
  • Commitment (uppercase C). An affirmation, choice, or decision (career, values, politics, personal relationship) made in the awareness of Relativism (distinct from lowercase c of commitments never questioned). Agency is experienced as within the individual.
  • Temporizing. Postponement of movement for a year or more.
  • Escape. Alienation, abandonment of responsibility. Exploitation of Multiplicity and Relativism for avoidance of Commitment.
  • Retreat. Avoidance of complexity and ambivalence by regression to Dualism colored by hatred of otherness.

I shall now let the students speak for themselves as they spoke in interviews in which we asked unstructured questions such as what stands out for you as you review the year?) in order to allow the students freedom to structure their own meanings. I shall report our sense of the import of their words for the development we trace, and I shall digress on occasion to consider implications for teaching and educational policy.

Positions 1 Through 5

Position 1: Basic Duality. This is the Garden of Eden, with the same rules. Here the student is embedded in a world of We-Right-Good (Other-Wrong-Bad is out there). We called this Basic Duality. Right Answers for everything exist in the Absolute, and these are known to Authorities, whose role it is to mediate (teach) them. Knowledge and goodness are perceived as quantitative accretions of discrete rightness to be collected by hard work and obedience (including the requirement to real all assigned books word by word from the beginning). We held our interviews in May and June, and no freshman still spoke from this Position in its purest form. A few, however, saw themselves in retrospect as having come to college with this view intact. The student's words show how hard it is to articulate an embeddedness so complete that it offered no place from which to observe it:

Student: I certainly couldn't — before I was, you know, I wouldn't ask. /Yeah/ I wouldn't have — I wouldn't be able to talk on this subject at all… that what I had just — well, was there you know.

Only a dim sense that there is a boundary somewhere beyond which lies Otherness provides Eden with shape.

Student: Well I come, I came here from a small town. Midwest, where, well, ah, everyone believed the same things. Everyone's Methodist and everyone's Republican. So, ah, there just wasn't any… well that's not quite true… there are some Catholics, two families, and I guess they, I heard they were Democrats, but they weren't really, didn't seem to be in town really, I guess. They live over the railroad there and they go to church in the next town.

But obedience is the Way:

Student: Well the only thing I could say to a prospective student is just say, If you come here and do everything you're supposed to do, you'll be all right, that's just about all.

But, such innocence is short-lived:

Transition from Position 1 to Position 2. The challenge often comes from peers.

Student: When I went to my first lecture, what the man said was just like God's word, you know. I believe everything he said, because he was a professor, and he's a Harvard professor, and this was, this was a respected position. And, ah, ah, people said, Well, so what? … and I begun to, ah, realize.

And especially in the dorms:

Student: So in my dorm I, we've been, ah, [in] a number of discussions, where there'll be, well, there's quite a variety in our dorm; Catholic, Protestant, and the rest of them, and a Chinese boy whose parents, ah, follow the teachings of Confucianism. He isn't, but his folks are… And a couple of guys are complete, ah, agnostics, agnostics. Of course some people are quite disturbing, they say they're atheists. But they don't go very far, they say they're atheists, but they're not. And then there are, one fellow, who is a deist. And by discussing it, ah, it's the, the sort of thing that, really, ah, awakens you to the fact that, ah…

Diversity, experienced among peers and again in the classroom, must now be accounted for. Difference of opinion surely cannot exist in the Absolute. If earthly Authorities disagree, perhaps some are mere pretenders? Or do They put all the complexities in there just to exercise our minds? Such interpretations of diversity deny it a full legitimacy and preserve the simplicity of Truth:

Position 2. Multiplicity Prelegitimate. True authority may perform its proper role of direct mediation while complexities confuse pretenders:

Student: For one thing, Professor Black who taught us [in First Term]… Christmas you couldn't lose him on one point. Man, he wouldn't, you couldn't, you couldn't find a question he couldn't answer I doubt. And you respected him for it. Not that you're tying to trick, the section man, but you, when you come up with any kind of a reasonable question, he [Prof. Black] can answer it for you, and he can answer it well. Whereas the section wen dwiddle around and, and talk alot of nonsense.

Or if true Authorities offer complexities, they enable us to learn the way to truth:

Student: I found that you've got to find out for yourself. You get to a point where you, ah, see this guy go through this rigamarole and everything and you've got to find out for yourself what he's talking about and think it out for yourself. Then try to get to think on your own. And that's something I never had to do, think thing out by myself, I mean. In high school two and two was four; there's nothing to think out there. In here they try to make your mind work, and I didn't realize that until the end of the year.

Interviewer: You kept looking for the answer and they wouldn't give it to you?

Student: Yeah, it wasn't in the book, and that's what confused me a lot. Now I know it isn't in the book for a purpose. We're supposed to think about it and come up with the answer!

So in Position 2, the student has given meaning to diversity. uncertainty. and complexity in Authority's realm by accounting for them as unwarranted confusion in poorly qualified Authorities or as mere exercises set by Authority so we can learn to find The Answer for ourselves.

Transition from Position 2 to Position 3. This last concession — that answers sometimes must be searched for by students — can lead directly to a generalization that fatefully includes Authority itself. The Issue may be avoided temporarily by dividing disciplines into the definite and the vague:

Student: I'll tell you the best thing about science courses: Their lectures are all right. They sort of say the facts. But when you get to a Humanities course, especially — oh, they're awful — the lecturer is just reading things into the book that were never meant to be there.

But in the end even Science fails:

Student: That seems to be the, the excuse that natural science people give for these courses: They're supposed to teach you to arrive at more logical conclusions and look at things in a more scientific manner. Actually, what you get out of that course is that science is a terrifically confused thing in which nobody knows what's coming off anyway.

Position 3: Multiplicity Legitimate but Subordinate. If even Scientific Authority does not yet know all Truths in its own domain, one must, presumably, settle for less, at least for now:

Student: I'd feel [laughs] rather insecure thinking about these philosophical things all the time and not coming up with any definite answers. And definite answers are, well, they, they're sort of my foundation point. In physics you get definite answers to a point. Beyond that point you know there are definite answers, but you can't reach them.

That is, as many students said, you can't reach them yet. Uncertainty is temporary — The Truth is still there to be found in the Laplacean Universe. Some diversity of opinion, therefore, is legitimate, but temporary.

Transition from Position 3 to Position 4. The concession, but you can't reach them [yet], contains the seeds of destruction for the major structural assumptions of Positions 1 through 3. Human uncertainty has been accorded a legitimacy that has the potential of spreading from a temporary case to the whole of human knowledge. The tie between Authority and the Absolute has been loosened. Uncertainty is now unavoidable, even in physics.

Student: There was this great [physics] professor and he was groping too!

This realization can raise a severe procedural problem. How, in an educational institution where the student's every answer is evaluated, are answers judged? Where Authority does not know the answer yet, is not any answer as good as another?

So far, Authority has been perceived as grading on amount of rightness achieved by honest hard work, and as adding an occasional bonus for neatness and good expression. But in the uncertainty of a legitimized Multiplicity, coupled with a freedom that leaves amount of work up to you and Authority ignorant of how much you do rightness and hard work vanish as standards. Nothing seems to be left but good expression. and Authorities are suspected of different or obscure standards for that:

Student: If I present it in the right manner it is well received. Or it is received… I don't know, I still haven't exactly caught on to what, what they want.

Authority's maintenance of the old morality of reward for hard work is called into serious question, and disillusion is imminent:

Student: A lot of people noticed this throughout the year, that the mark isn't proportional to the work. 'Cause on a previous paper I'd done a lot of work and gotten the same mark, and on this one I wasn't expecting it… I just know that you can't, ah, expect your mark in proportion to the amount of work you put in… in prep school it was more of a, more, the relationship was more personal and the teacher could tell whether you were working hard, and he would give you breaks if he knew you were working. It wasn't grading a student on his aptitude. It was grading somewhat on the amount of work he put in.

This uncertain relationship between work and rewards can lead to bitterness:

Student: This place is all full of bull. They don't want anything really honest from you. If you turn in something, a speech that's well written, whether it's got one single fact in it or not is beside the point. That's sort of annoying at times, too. You can put things over on people around here; you're almost given to try somehow to sit down and write a paper in an hour, just because you know that whatever it is isn't going to make any difference to anybody.

Hence, an intellectual question has led to a precarious ethical dilemma:

Student: It looks to me like it's [laughs] kind of not very good, you know? I mean you can't help but take advantage of these things.

Here, as in every transitional phase, the issues of development hang in the balance. The students have not yet distinguished between legitimate abstract thought and its counterfeit, bull*. They see the bullster winning honors while they themselves work hard and receive C's. They feel tempted. Their dilemma may appear false, looked at from the vantage point of later Positions, which transcend it, but at the moment it is bitter and poignant. In their disillusion they find cynicism and opportunism inviting indeed. The students are struggling in a moral battle, blind to the possibility that the resolution is intellectual.

In this moment, then, the students are confronting two closely related perceptions incongruent with their construal of the world from Position 3: (a) the spread of uncertainty and diversity into Authority's domain of the known and (b) Authority's insistence on grading even in the domain of uncertainty. Our interviews reveal that a student's attitude toward Authority is crucial at this point. If the student is intensely resentful (Oppositional, as we called it), the temptation may be strong to take refuge in alienation (which we called Escape) or in the simplistic dualism of Position 2 (which we called Retreat), from which otherness, differentness, and complexity can be righteously hated.

In contrast, students whose opposition to Authority was less intense, and those whose trust in Authority we called Adherence, moved forward, but along a different path. The structure of the meaningful world constructed by the moderately Oppositional students requires attention first:

Position 4a: Multiplicity (Diversity and Uncertainty) Coordinate with the known.

Student: I mean if you read them [critics], that's the great thing about a book like Moby Dick [Laughs] Nobody understands it!

Students such as this seize on the notion of legitimate uncertainty as a means of creating out of personalistic diversity of opinion, an epistemological realm equal to and over against the world of Authority in which certain Right Answers are known. In this new realm, freedom is, or should be, complete: Everyone has a right to his own opinion; they have no right to say we're wrong!

This new structure, by dividing the world into two domains, preserves the fundamentally dualistic nature of earlier structures to replace the simple dualism of the right-wrong world of Authority, these students create the double dualism of a world in which the Authority's right-wrong world is one element and personalistic diversity (which we labeled Multiplicity) is the other. The students have thus succeeded in preserving a dualistic structure for their worlds and at the same time have carved out for themselves a domain promising absolute freedom. In saying in this domain, Everyone has a right to his own opinion, students are also saying, Where Authorities do not know the Answer, any opinion is as good as any other.

Interviewer: Can you say that one point of view is better and another worse.

Student: No, I really can't on this issue [creation versus evolution of man]. It depends on your beliefs. Since there's no way of proving either one.

Interviewer: Can you say that one is more accurate than the other?

Student: No, I can't, I believe they're both the same as far as accuracy.

Interviewer: Would you go so far as to say your opinion is the right one?

Student: No.

Interviewer: But yet you believe so strongly in it; that's why I'm asking…

Student: I'm the type of person who would never tell someone that their idea is wrong — even if they have searched, well, even if they haven't searched, even if they just believe it — that's cool for them.

Interviewer: Can you say that one opinion is better and one opinion is worse?

Student: No, not at all. It's better for them and like their opinion would probably be worse for me.

I am indebted to King (1977) for this vivid excerpt from her interviews. We have found few students who would defend this personalism so nobly against an interviewer's probes; under pressure most students move ahead into concessions, albeit still epistemologically quantitative: Well, maybe some opinions might have more facts. The pure statement that, in the domain of uncertainty, to have an opinion makes it as right as any other expresses an egocentric personalism that we called Multiplicity. The students, as they moved on, were emphatic about the distinction between this outlook and that of disciplined Relativism (discussed later).

This personalism that we called Multiplicity Coordinate serves many purposes besides that of a hoped for freedom from the tyranny of Authority. It makes sense in the midst of a diversity which can only appear chaotic until some reasoned qualitative distinctions can be discerned. Moreover, its egalitarian spirit provides a haven of ultimate peace at the end of dormitory bull sessions. At a deeper level, it expresses a respect for others through a respect for their views. (Others as persons are not yet differentiated from the opinions they hold; they are their opinions, as I am mine). As a stepping stone, then, Multiplicity is not to be dismissed as mere license or as a simple misapplication of religious tolerance to epistemological and ethical realms.

Yet in this structure all debatable propositions remain atomistic. An opinion is related to nothing whatever — evidence, reason, experience, expert judgment, context, principle, or purpose — except to the person who holds it. Even the relation of the opinion to the person is limited to the fact that the person has it. All that Authority cannot prove to be Wrong is Right. This structuring of meaning is therefore still dualistic; the world so construed is not yet open to Relativism's analysis, rules of evidence, disciplines of inference, and concern for the integrity of interpretations and systems of thought.

Unfortunately, the unconsidered statement, Anyone has a right to his own opinion, is popularly thought to be the heart of Relativism, and its implication of moral license has given Relativism a bad name. King herself labels the excerpt quoted above as an illustration of relativism, and such a veteran as Kohlberg has been perilously slow to acknowledge the distinction, I shall remark later in this chapter (see also Gilligan in her chapter) on the difficulties that have followed on such conflation in such crucial matters as evaluation of the moral development of women. Perhaps some simpler-sounding word than Multiplicity (Personalism, for example) would have helped distinguish this more simplistic structure.

In any case, the students, having construed diversity of opinion as a realm for personalistic rightness, are poised at the edge of a fateful moment in their destinies. Major incongruities face them. In their academic work, teachers insist on continuing to grade the students' opinions in such debatable areas as sociology and literature. On what grounds? What teacher has not experienced despair in trying to explain to a student at this level of development that grades depend, not on the quantity of work and facts and, especially, unsupported opinions, but on the quality of the relationships between data and interpretations? Such a freshman, winner of a national prize in history in senior year of high school, once complained to me: They told me here to 'Describe the theory of monarchy assumed in Queen Elizabeth's speech to the Commons in 1601.' I said what her main points were, but my section man says to look between the lines for her theory of monarchy! And I look between the lines and I can't see anything there!

The capacity for meta-thought, for comparing the assumptions and processes of different ways of thinking, has not yet emerged. 'This is perhaps the most critical moment in the whole adventure for both student and teacher.

Transition from Position 4a (Multiplicity) to Position 5 (Relativism), Before taking up the smoother movement of the more Adherent student: through Position 4b, I wish to note the special difficulty of transition into Relativistic thought experienced by the students who have embraced Multiplicity with greatest enthusiasm. I have suffered too many defeats by the ingenuity of Multiplistic Libertarians to offer any handy-dandy pedagological devices in helping students in this transition. Together with teacher-researchers, mentioned later in the chapter, who have focused their experimentation on this problem, I have found all solutions to be relative to the subject matter. The work of these researchers contains rich ore for any prospector. Here I wish to report our students' experience of first discovery, so vital and usually so explicit, of qualitative epistemological structures and complex relations.

Sad to say, the very spunk with which our must Opposition students invented the realm of Multiplicity (to set against the Right-Wrong world they attributed to Authority) seemed to lead them into a stalemate. Entrenched in this Position, they found it difficult to abandon the slogan, every opinion is right, for the qualitative analyses and appraisals of Relativism to which the best of their instructors would try to introduce them. Most did find ways, as I shall suggest shortly in discussing the general mechanisms of transition, but some were cornered into a choice between leaving the field and outright capitulation. Most fortunate were those for whom the demand to substantiate opinion came from more advanced peers.

Those less entrenched in opposition moved more easily:

Student: [Reading written statement handed him by interviewer] In areas where experts disagree, anyone has a right to his own opinion — Yeh, sure. I mean, if the answers aren't in, like in lots of things, then sure, anyone's opinion.

Interviewer: So really you're saying that here, anyway, no opinion can be wrong, sort of, so one opinion is really as good as any other?

Student: Yeh, ah, well — no not really — well l hadn't thought of that before. No — I mean you've got to have some facts under the opinion, I guess.

Some facts is still a quantitative criterion, but it opens the door to the qualitative notion at better (rather than right-wrong) opinions. Though the student may still have much to learn about the relations of facts and opinions, that learning has now a real potential. Here, the transition was initiated by the interview itself. It is easy to imagine, however, a variety of experiences other than the interviewers question that would have at the same process in motion.

Position 4b: Relativism Subordinate. The more trusting Adherent students seemed to find a smoother path. Their integrity seemed less entrenched in Multiplicity's fortress: They have No Right to Call Me Wrong. Trusting in Authority to have valid grounds for grading even in areas at uncertainty, they set themselves to discover those grounds. Laurence Copes recently pointed out to me that same students may sensibly find their way out of the impasse of Position 4a via the discovery of Position 4b as described later. A review of the data supports this proposition, namely that a path through Position 4a and 4b can be sequential. In some one course or another — in some other particular context — they perceived relativistic thinking as a special case of what They want:

Student: Another thing I've noted about this more concrete and complex approach — you can get away without… trying to think about what they want — ah, think about things the way they want you to think about them. But if you try to use the approach the course outlines, then you find yourself thinking in complex terms: weighing more than one factor in trying to your own opinion. Somehow what I think seems to be more — oh — it's hard to say right or wrong — but is seems [pause] more sensible.

Here the correction from what they want to the way they want you to think signals the discovery of the articulation of the concrete with the complex in weighting relationships — a mode of thought that is the structural foundation of Relativism. The weighing of more than one factor, or, as this student later explained, more than one approach to a problem, forces an comparison of patterns of thought — that is, a thinking about thinking. The person, previously a holder of meaning, has become a maker of meaning. For most students, as for this student, the event seems to be conscious and explicit; that is, the initial discovery of meta-thought occurs vividly in foreground, as figure, against the background of previous ways of thinking, and usually as an assimilation to the old paradigm — that is, as an item in the context of what They want.

Now, the capacity to compare different approaches to a problem in developing one's own opinion is presumably the ordinary meaning of independent thought. The paradox for liberal education lies in the fact that so many of our students learned to think this way because in was the way They want you to think — that is, out of readiness to conform. The challenge of a more genuine independence then confronted these students later in the revolutionary perception of the general relativism of all knowledge, including the knowledge possessed by Authority itself (Position 5).

Transition from Position 4b (Relativism Subordinate) to Position 5 (Relativism). The first steps in the direction of Relativism are articulated by the same student just quoted:

Student: I don't know if complexity itself [he has been speaking of relativistic analysis] is always necessary. I'm not sure. But if complexity is not necessary, at least you have to find that it is not necessary before you can decide, Well, this particular problem needs only the simple approach.

Although this transitional statement implies that relativistic thinking will be required more frequently than simple (dualistic) solutions, the student docs not yet recognize that even the simple case owes its simplicity to a complex context of assumptions, rules, and contingencies. That is, this same student, quoted in the illustration of Position 4b, first saw relativistic thought as a special in in the context of what They want. This present statement catches him halfway to the perception of relativistic thought as general context and what They want as a special case. I shall refer to this transformation of an special case into a context later in considering the forms of transitions in general.

We found it rare to catch this momentous revolution in the act. By the next year this student simply took the whole matter for granted, with a kind of amnesia for the deep reorganization involved. Indeed, in senior year he had this to say on hearing himself as sophomore:

Student: [scornfully] You can't even talk about taking a simple approach to something. I mean it's just a way of looking at things that is complex — it's not a conscious policy, it's just something that's been absorbed into you.

I recall, without the precise reference, that Piaget once remarked on this curiosity of cognitive growth: assimilations — the attributions of meaning to objects or events that reduce their dissonance with the persons extant structures of meaning — tend to be remembered; accommodations —the subsequent reorganization of basic structures to achieve congruence with dissonant assimilations — tend to be forgotten (perhaps because the memory's own filing system is, in the very process, in flux). Could it be that we teachers require special exercise in the recall of our own accommodations in order to understand some students apparent density?

In any case, an understanding of the forms that such transitions take would seem fundamental to curriculum design and teaching strategies. The transitions we have noted so far appear to start with assimilation of some incongruity to an extant paradigm. In the transition just traced, for instance, the student first perceived relativistic thinking as a special case in the general dualistic frame of what They want. But this assimilation turned out to be a Trojan Horse, its inner forms emerging to overwhelm its simplistic host and force an accommodation of fundamental assumptions. Education has this changed from collection what They want to developing a way of thinking shared by both teacher and student.

Here, then, the accommodation takes the form of a radical reversal of part and whole, detail and context: the task of generating and comparing several interpretations of a poem, for example, may first be assimilated as a special case in the larger context of what They want. In short, contextual relativism is perceived as if it were similar to right answers. And yet it is also perceived as not quite similar: As soon as I saw what they wanted… well, no, not what they wanted, but the way they wanted you to think… The shift from what (content) to way (generalized process), being a move to a higher level of abstraction, frees the way to become context, displacing the what and relegating it to the status of a particular. In other instances, accommodation seems to be brought about by the sheer weight of quantitative expansion of the assimilated incongruity; uncertainties or diversities multiply until they tip the balance against certainty and homogeneity, precipitating a crisis that forces the construction of a new vision of the world, be it one marked by cynicism, anxiety, or a new sense of freedom.

The use of analogy — what Piaget calls décalage — is doubtless involved in these processes and will become more evident in the remaining steps of the journey. Vertical décalage manifests itself in the lifting of a pattern of meaning from a concrete experience and using it as an analogue for meaning at a level of greater abstraction. For example, one student, terrified after making an error on his job, was astounded by the calmness of his employer's quiet suggestion that he plan things more carefully next time. He reported that the experience freed him to think more creatively in his studies and to affirm his opinions more confidently, relieved of irrational anxiety about impending judgement. Likewise, there are many areas of life where students have learned at early ages patterns of qualitative and contextual judgement. For example, they have moved in early years from What's your favorite color, ice cream, friend, sport and so on to consideration of what color with other colors, what ice cream with other foods, what friend in what activity or sharing. These contextual schema provide ready analogies in concrete experience that the student may lift to provide patterns for abstract thought itself. Ideas can then be conceived as contextual, relativistic, and better or worse, rather than right or wrong.

This comparison of interpretations and thought systems with one another introduces meta-thinking, the capacity to examine thought, including one's own. Theories become, not truth, but metaphors or models, approximating the order of observed data or experience. Comparison, involving systems of logic, assumptions, and inferences all relative to context, will show some interpretations to be better, some worse, and many worthless. Yet even after extensive analysis there will remain areas of great concern in which reasonable people will reasonably disagree. It is in this sense that relativism is inescapable and forms the epistemological context for all further developments.

Position 5: Relativism. Let us now examine the reactions of students to the simultaneous discovery of disciplined meta-thought and irreducible uncertainty.

Student: It's a method you're dealing with, not a substance. It's a method, a purpose — ah, procedure would be the best word, I should imagine, that you're looking for. And once you've developed this procedure in one field, I think the important part is to be able to transfer it to another field, and the example that I brought up about working with this, this crew of men. It's probably, ah, the most outstanding, at least one of the achievements I feel that I've been able to make as far as transferring my academic experience to the field of everyday life.

The process of drawing an analogy between different areas of academic experience (horizontal décalage) highlights the fact that different individuals mature their cognitive structures at different rates in different areas of their lives. They can thus transfer the more advanced patterns of thought learned in one area to areas in which they have been thinking more simplisticly. The student just quoted has used relativism learned in academic work to broaden his understanding of others and expand his social skills. No doubt this has increased his capacity for empathy. However, the salient initial experience is usually one of expanded competence:

Student: Besides your meeting people it's — it's the way of thinking — I mean just by the process of going through school, the courses are lined up so they make you think, especially when you come to, say, hour exams and you have to take them. This rubs off — when you meet people and have to talk to them — the process is in your mind and then you can think about things and be able to come up on your feet.

Relativistic consideration has already grown somewhat beyond its value as a practical tool, and its epistemological implications soon become explicit.

Student: So there were all these theories and theorists and stuff in [economics] and psychology and historiography — I didn't even take any straight philosophy — and hell, I said, These are games, just games and everybody makes up their own rules! So its gotta be bullshit. But then I realized, What else have we got? and now every time I go into a thing, I set out to learn all its rules cold — 'cause that's the only way I can tell whether I'm talking bullshit.

In this powerful statement, the responsibility and initiative that used to be the domain of Authority (leaving that of obedience to the student), have been internalized. This sense of agency as a learner is expressed first, appropriately enough, in a care for precision of thought within given contexts. Indeed, the student's redefinition of bullshit encapsulates his momentous revision of his epistemology and his self-definition in it. It is hardly surprising that there is still no hint in the protocol of a further responsibility to choose among contexts or games. In Position 5 students seem much taken up with expansion of their new skills, exploring alternative perspectives in in many disciplines and areas of life. Their explorations may occupy them for more than a year before they sense a necessity to orient themselves in a relativistic sea through their own Commitments (see the discussion of Positions 6-9). It is not really fair to describe the typical suspension of development at this point as Temporizing, since there is evidence of lateral growth (Perry, 1970, p. 175). This factor may help explain the findings of recent experiments (Knefelkamp, 1978c) that developmental instruction is more is more successful in facilitating students' movements from Dualism into Relativism than from Relativism into Commitments, at least within the limits of a semester.

Needless to say, many students react to the discovery or relativistic thinking with profound anxiety.

Student: You know, in the past months. it's been a matter of having really… having reduced to the level where I really wasn't sure there was anything in particular to follow. I, you do begin to wonder on what basis you'd judge any decision at all, 'cause there really isn't, ah… too much of an absolute you can rely on as to… and even as to whether… there are a lot of levels that you can tear it apart, or you can base an ethical system that's a, presupposes that there are men who… or you can get one that doesn't presuppose that anything exists… and try and figure out of what principles you're going to decide any issue. Well, it's just that right now I'm not sure that… of what the, ah, what those de-, how to make any decision at all. When you're here and are having the issues sort of thrust in your face at times… that is just seeing the thinking of these men who have pushed their thought to the absolute limit to try and find out what was their personal salvation, and just seeing how that fell short of an all-encompassing answer to, for everyone. That those ideas really are individualized. And you begin to have respect for how great their thought could be, without its being absolute.

I picture this student standing beside Sisyphus (Camus' embodiment of the human predicament in the Myth of Sisyphus) and gazing in dismay at the rock of reason, which has turned on itself and rolled once again to the foot of the mountain. He sees, in wonder and terror, Sisyphus' wry smile bespeaking his awareness that he must again resume the quest for certainty of meaning, a labor that forever ends in the same defeat. Is this vision tolerable?

Deflections from Growth

We shall leave our students poised in their journey at this realization that even the most careful analytical thought and logical reasoning will not, in many areas vital to their lives, restore the hope of ultimate rightness and certainty promised by Authority in the Eden they have left behind. I'm not sure how to make any decision at all. At this moment, the potential for apathy, anxiety, and depression may appear alarming clinically, and the potential for cynicism equally alarming educationally.

Looking back to the dualistic worlds of Positions 1-3, we can observe that the students and much of the environment were conspiring to maintain the illusion that meaning existed out there, along with rightness, power, and sound advice. One should, of course, try to think for oneself, but when such efforts end in uncertainty and confusion, one naturally appeals to external authority, secure in the expectation of an answer. Students in this frame of mind present themselves to career counselors expecting to be told the right job or even to be placed in it 'What do the tests say my interests are?

When all knowledge is revealed to be relativistic, probabilistic, and contingent, Authority appears as limited authority, uncertain even in its specialties, and ignorant beyond them. In this collapse, the agency for making sense, originally supposed to exist out there, may vanish entirely. We should note here, therefore, the reactions of those students (happily a small minority of our informants) who reacted with postponement, apathy, or rage. Against the background of their experience we can then better appreciate the transcendence of those who found a more positive resolution.

Temporizing. Some students simply waited, reconsigning the agency for decision to some event that might turn up:

Student: I'll wait and see what time brings, see if I pass the foreign service exam. Let that decide.

Or even more passively:

Student: It, ah… Well, I really, I don't know, I just, I don't get particularly worked up over things. I don't react too strongly. So that I can't think. I'm still waiting for the event, you know, everyone goes through life thinking that something's gonna happen, and I don't think it happened this year. So we'll just leave that for the future. Mainly you're, you're waiting for yourself to change, see after you get a good idea, continued trial and effort, exactly how you're going to act in any period of time, once you get this idea, then you're constantly waiting for the big chance in your life. And, it certainly didn't happen this year.

Students speaking this way often expressed a sense of guilt or shame — an uneasiness about a failure of responsibility with which they felt helpless to cope.

Retreat. In the late sixties and early seventies, some students found in the far extremes of political positions, both of the right and of the left, a way of preempting the absolutism that wishy-washy authorities had abandoned. The structure of thought to which they returned was that of Position 2, but with an added moralistic righteousness and righteous hatred of Otherness: The others are so wrong they should have no rights, even to speak. Academically, however, this Retreat to the all-or-none of Position 2 often took the form of childlike complaints and demands:

Student: I mean, when I talk, as I say, I like to be out in the open. I mean I like to just, just come out with the facts and have them say, Here's the information I want you to learn. This is the way I want you, this is what I want you to get out of the course when you come out. If I know what I want… I'm expected from a teacher… and what kind of questions he might ask, how thoroughly he wants you to read this material… The big things are to get the basic principles. But he doesn't give you these! He ought to line them up right at the beginning; right at the first lecture he ought to tell you exactly what you're going to go over and what he wants us to basically get out of that course.

Escape. More complex reactions of alienation we labeled Escape. I shall not attempt to categorize or analyze their variants here; a few samples will speak for themselves — perhaps all too well:

Student: But, ah, I just, I don't, don't, don't have any, ah, consuming interest or burning desire or anything. And I just, just drift along, I guess you might say.

On the one hand, I, I — am, um, having an, an, ah… ah, an extremely comfortable life here. But, ah, perhaps later, I'm, I may find out that I'm ah… drifting and, and that I'm not happy in my drift.

And I was wondering if I might not be headed in that direction and, and it might turn out that when I get older I, I'll find that… umm… I am living a, a hollow life.

Is Relativism the road to Escape or the precondition of Commitment?

Student: I know that I had trouble, ah, first of all in just listening to the lectures, trying to make out what they meant… These, ah, ah, the pursuit of the absolute first of all… And then I… [laughs] sort of lost the absolute, and stuff like that. I think that gradually it sunk in, and, I don't know, maybe it's just… Well, it came to me the other night: if relativity is true on most things, it's an easy way out. But I don't think that's… maybe that's just the way I think now… Well, in, in a sense I mean that you don't have to commit yourself. And maybe that's just the push button I use on myself… right now, because I am uncommitted.

Does the purity of detachment preclude meaningful involvement?

Student: I've thought quite a bit about this: I've never really identified myself with anything. I hadn't permitted myself to so far as grades were concerned or as far as friends — particularly in a few isolated cases. I had just sort of I'm me, and just like to stand out there and look things over attitude, and I don't know whether this is good or bad.

But there's always impulse:

Student: So the best thing I have to do is just forget about deciding, and try to… I mean, not give up on any scheming or any basic set of ideas— that'll give myself, they'll give me a direction. Just give up completely, and when it comes down to individual choices, make them on what I feel like doing emotionally at the moment.

Not all the students who spoke this way left such statements with us as their final words. Many reported a resurgence of vitality and involvement:

Student: Emotionally I think I was trying to find some sort of rationalization for my feeling that I wasn't going to achieve anything. These are certainly not the values I have now. They're not the goals I want now. I don't think I'm going to be happy unless I can feel I'm doing something in my work.

Student: I think I've, to some extent, not perhaps as well as I like, have risen up to be able to accept it [academic work], and the responsibility that goes with it, but it's one little change.

Student: I was sort of worried when I came back, wondering if, Well, shucks, am I just going to lie down on the job or am I going to do it because it has to be done? I found out that I wasn't doing it because it had to be, but because things interested me. Some things didn't interest me so much, but I felt I couldn't let them slide and I took them as best I could, in what order I could.

We know from everyday observations and from studies of adults (Keniston, 1960; Vaillant, 1977; Salyard, in progress) that the alienation we called Escape can become a settled condition. For the students reporting their recovery of care, however, their period of alienation appears as a time of transition. In this time the self is lost through the very effort to hold onto it in the face of inexorable change in the world's appearance. It is a space of meaninglessness between received belief and creative faith. In their rebirth they experience in themselves the origin of meanings, which they had previously expected to come to them from outside.

Development Resumed

Position 6: Commitment Foreseen. Students who were able to come more directly to grips with the implications of Relativism frequently referred to their forward movement in terms of commitments.

Student: It took me quite a while to figure out that if I was going for something to believe in, it had to come from within me.

Many students foresaw the challenge:

Student: I would venture a guess that this problem bothers everybody except for, ah, a very, very small few, this, this constant worry about whether you can face up to it, and, and I think the earlier you find out that you can… I think the more important it is… A sense of responsibility is something which, I don't think… you're necessarily are born with, it's, ah… something that you're aware of… but… it's never very pronounced until you're on your own and until you're making your own decisions, more or less, and then you realize how very important it really is.

As a generalized realization, lacking as yet a focus in some specific content, the vision seems to derive from the felt exigency of action:

Student: Once you get to be past twenty-one or twenty-two, if you haven't begun to get control of yourself, you can't, if you haven't begun to get a certain amount of direction, you can't expect these internal evolutions to just develop and then suddenly bloom, you've got to work at it, I think.

You've got to do something, you've got to act. You've got to act these things… if you have these thoughts, and you don't act on them … nothing happens.

But how to begin? The same student goes on to imagine that the first steps may require an almost arbitrary faith, or even a willing suspension of disbelief:

Student: You just have to jump into it, that's all, before it can have any effect on you. And the farther in you force yourself to get in the first place, the more possibilities there are, the more ideas and concepts there are that can impinge on you and so the more likely you are to get involved in it. Actually you have to make some kind of an assumption in the first place that it's worthwhile to get into it, but… and that you're capable of doing something once you get into it.

Commitments and choices are apprehended as narrowing — there are so many potentialities and alternatives to let go of. Yet the sustaining energy is the awareness of some sort of internal spiritual strength. Such an explicit affirmation as this one is rare:

Student: I wasn't deploring the fact that my interests were narrowing, I was just simply observing it. I don't see how I could get by without it. You know what Keats says in one of his letters, he says when he's sitting in a room and everybody is talking brilliantly and he's sitting in the corner and he's sulking and everybody is whispering to each other, Oh that poet Keats is sitting over there like a wallflower, he says in moments like that, he doesn't care about that because he's aware of the, the resource in his breast. I think that's the expression he uses. And what goes along with this narrowing of the purpose is the greater and greater sense of, that resource in my breast which is, I don't suppose that everybody needs it, but I need it. You know, it just, it just puts a center and a focus into your life, into what you're doing. And it hasn't really anything to do with where you would like to think that it would go on, this inner life (which I think is really bad to call it) that will go on no matter what you're doing, whether you're traveling around the world or whether you're sitting in your stack in Widener. So I know that it must seem like a disparity, but I don't feel it that way.

More usually:

Student: There are all kinds of pulls, pressures and so forth… parents… this thing and that thing… but there comes a time when you've just gut to say, Well, … I've got a life to live… I want to live it this way, I welcome suggestions. I'll listen to them. But when I make up my mind, it's going to be me. I'll take the consequences.

So far I have chosen statements that are contentless in the sense that no specific value or activity is named as the investment of commitment. My object has been to allow the students to convey the sense and feel of commitment as an internal disposition through which one apprehends the possibility of orienting oneself and investing one's care in an uncertain and relativistic world. The next step, of course, is one of choice and action (see Positions 7, 8, and 9), as for example in one's academic work:

Student: This year I'm beginning to see that you don't over get anywhere unless you do work. You, you just can't sort of lie back and expect everything to come to you. That's the way I was trying to let it work, but that doesn't work.

That these emerging Commitments call upon a new kind of investment from within (as compared with unquestioned commitments — lowercase c — of the past) is evident in this student's report of her new sense of her religion. She has just reported that she had always taken it for granted that she would join the ministry:

Student: The thing is, when you have a bunch of beliefs sort of handed to you, you don't really do that much thinking. I mean I was never even concerned with philosophy. I never read a single thing. I didn't have to. I mean, I accepted the Christian faith because my parents were Christians and I believed that, well, you know I never even thought, well, maybe there isn't any God. I mean it doesn't enter your mind. You just think, well, there's a God, you know, and he has a purpose for everybody's life… But the thing is, I didn't know what I was really gonna do with my life. My life just sort of seemed, well, the main purpose was just telling everybody else that they had to believe in Jesus or they weren't going to go to heaven… It's just that I was always going to be… working with the church, you know, but, I, I never really thought about what is my, you know, place in the universe, or anything. And, but the thing is it really hasn't been unsettling, because… ahh… well, I don't know, now I'm more… somehow now I feel… I don't know, more honest about, about my beliefs, now that I'm sort of getting them on my own.

Positions 7-9: Evolving Commitments. Our students at sea in Relativism, now realized that they must choose, at their own risk, among disparate systems of navigation. What star to steer by? Many felt that once I know what I'm going to do, all other problems would be solved — or at least fall in line. Then they made their first Commitment (Position 7), whether to a set of values (This may sound sort of silly but I've developed a sense of, ah, a set of morals) or to a person (I started dating this girl), or, most usually, to a career (Right now I'd like to go into pediatrics; I'm really set on this deal). In any case, the sense of claiming is vivid:

Student: Then, by a few months or weeks ago, feeling new kinds of resolve, you know, just grabbing hold of myself and saying, This I want, that I don't want, this I am, that I'm not, and I'll be solid about it.

I never believed I could do things, that I had any power, I mean power over myself, and over effecting any change that I thought was right. I'd artificially try to commit myself to something, intellectually understand that I was this way, and than a few months later, the realization would come that yes, I really am that way. They're two different things. One's intellectual and comes fairly easily; one is emotional and is a process of absorbing something — the things inside just sort of slowly shifting around and there's a lot of inertia there.

The difference between such Commitments, made after doubt, and those unquestioned childhood beliefs that Erikson calls foreclosed identity was dramatized for us by a doctor-to-be who, after years of struggle, received notice of his admission to medical school. He reacted with panic: But I've never decided to be a doctor! He decided, and then had to decide if his decision was real or simply a way of justifying his investment. Such is the nature of Commitments.

Yet one Commitment does not, after all, order all one's life:

Student: I don't think it reduces the number of problems that I face or uncertainties, it just was something that troubled me that I thought was — I always thought It was an unnecessary problem and based on my limited experience with a broadened world— [Now] I don't see it as something that is passed; it is something that I have to decide continually.

So when further Commitments are affirmed (Positions 8 and 9) it becomes necessary to balance them — to establish priorities among Commitments with respect to energy, action, and time. These orderings, which are often painful to make, can lead to periodic experiences of serenity and well-being in the midst of complexity — moments of getting it all together:

Student: Well, ah… I don't know exactly if there's any one thing that's central… this is the whole point that, ah… there are factors in the whole… you group all these facts… I don't know that there's one thing about which everything revolves… but it's rather just a circle.

Interviewer: It's the constellation that, ah… you try to maintain?

Student: Yeah. Right. Yeah, you think of the old, ah… the balance of powers, you know… you know it's not… north and south or black and white… it's… it's not a simple thing. It comes in any given occasion… and… it's different… This is what makes things exciting — it offers a challenge.

Another senior has been groping to describe the new sense of living with trust even in the midst of a heightened awareness of risk:

Interviewer: And I take it, part of this mellowness that you speak of is being able to live in peace with this complexity if it isn't so simple…

Student: It's not as frightening as it may have been… If you feel that, ah, whatever you do there's going, there's going to be much more to do, more to understand, you're going to make mistakes… but you have a certain sense of being able to cope with a specific, or rather, a small fragment of the general picture and, ah, doing a job, getting the most out of it, but never, never giving up, always looking for something.

Order and disorder may be seen as fluctuations in experience:

Student: I sort of see this now as a natural thing — that you constantly have times of doubt and tension — a natural thing in existing and being open, trying to understand the world around you, the people around you.

In the loneliness or separateness implicit in these integrations and reintegrations, students seek among their elders for models not only of knowledgeablilty but of courage to affirm commitment in full awareness of uncertainty.

Student: That was just about what it was. Somehow I wanted to emulate [such people] because they seemed in some way noble people, and what they were doing seemed somehow noble and lofty — a very moral and superior type of thing. I think I fastened on this.

Yet the same student must come to see that it is the nobility of their care that that he wishes to emulate, not the content of their Commitments. At the level of what they were doing, even the model must be transcended:

Student: One thing I have found since is it's not really right to make decisions on this basis, because you may come out doing something you don't find yourself suited for. It's really strange.

Dialectical Logic of Commitments

If one knows one's commitments are to flow and fluctuate and conflict and reform, is one committed at a1l? This is the first of the many paradoxes the students encountered in working out their Commitments. Allport (Al1port, 1955) observed the paradoxic necessity to be both who1ehearted and tentative — attitudes that one cannot compromise but must hold together, th all their tensions. The students wrest1ed w1th logic to express this paradox:

Student: Well, tentative implies… perhaps uncertainty and, and, I mean readiness to change to anything, and, ah, it's not that. It's openness to change, but, but not looking for change, you know, ah… At the same time, ah, believing pretty strongly in what you do believe, and so it's not, you know, it's not tentative.

In reporting the orina1 study, I pointed to an array of such polarities in the account of a single student in his senior year (Perry, 1970, pp. 167-176). They included certainty versus doubt, focus versus breadth, idealism versus realism, to1erance versus contempt, interna1 choice versus externa1 influence, action versus contemp1ation, stability versus flexibi1ity, and own va1ues versus others values. Because a po1arity of this kind does not represent the poles of a continuum, it cannot be resolved simply by finding some balance point or compromise. Instead, our most mature students saw that the tension must be embraced and somehow transcended. To do so, they appealed to dialectical 1ogic, without actually calling it by name.

[Speaking Of the necessity of trusting in a professional healer even when evidence contradicts]: See, this is the way you get educated [laughs]… that's the big surprise. See I'm still sort of ironical about it, 'cause that's about the only way you can because ironic — being ironic handles both values at once.

At the time of the original study, I sensed that the term dialectic thought meant many things to many people, and I was troubled by the absence of a sense of its limits in the works of Hegel, Nietzsche, and Marx. Various recent writers (Riege1, 1973; Fow1er, 1978; Basseches, 1978) have de1imited more clearly the reference of the term and write convincing1y of the central role of dia1ectica1 processes in thought characteristic of the thier ranges of human development.

Basseches (1978) has recently delineated twenty-four characteristics Of diectica1 thought. He proposes that these analytical tools will distinguish, in the present scheme, between those persons whose Commitments invo1ve forward transcendent movement and those whose COmmitments represent more a regression into dualism. By way of analogy, he points to Fowler's Paradoxical-Consolidative stage in the development Of faith:

This stage affirms and incorporates existentia1 or logical polarities, acting on a felt need to hold them in tension in the interest of truth. It maintains its vision of meaning, coherence, and value while being conscious of the fact that it is partia1, limited, and contradicted by the visions and claims of others. It holds its vision with a kind of provisiona1 u1timacy: remembering its inadequacy and open to new truth but also committed to the absoluteness of the truth which it inadequate1y comprehends and expresses.

Symbols are understood as symbols. They are seen through in a double sense: (1) their time-place reiativity is acknowledged and (2) their character as relative representations of something ore nearly absolute is affirmed [Fowler, 1978, p. 22].

Again, Basseches quotes Fowler regarding the costs Of this identification beyond tribal, racial, class, or ideological boundaries. To be genuine, it must know the cost of such community and be prepared to pay the cost (Fowler, 1978, pp. 6-7). Basseches' distinction regarding this cost is trenchant: The cost of this openness to universal community of identification surely includes having to embrace viewpoints in conflict with and contradictory to one's own, rather than avoiding those conflicts with 'separate but equal' or '1ive and let live' attitude. In short, it is in one's way of affirming Commitments that one finds at last the elusive sense of identity one has searched for elsewhere, fearful lest Commitments might narrow and compromise the very self that only the investment of care can create. It is in the affirmation of Commitments that the themes of epistemology, intellectual development ethics, and identity merge. Knowing that such and such is true is an act of personal commitment (Polanyi, I958) from which all else follows. Commitments stucture the relativistic world by providing focus in it and affirming the inseparable relation of the knower and the known.

In the poignant realization of our separateness and aloneness in these affirmations, we are sorely in need of community. Our mentors can, if they are wise and humble, welcome us into a community paradoxically welded by this shared realization Of aloneness. Among our peers we can be nourished with the strength and joy of intimacy through the perilous sharing of vulnerability.

A graduating senior, shaken by the questioning of values he thought he had so firm1y established, said to his interviewer, Now I know I'll never know how many times I'm going to be confronted. Indeed, the deveIopment we have traced in college students reveals itself now as age-free.

Development as Recursive

Fowler's words, which speak of the paradoxical dialectic of holding absolutes in symbols acknowledged to be relativistic, reveal also the limits of the linear structure embedded in the metaphor of our journey. We have followed our students in their cumulative expansion of the meanings of their worlds. Our map of their adventure has required only two dimensions, for in the time at the students' disposal they could traverse this Pilgrim's Progress only once. But any adults who have perused the diaries of their teens know well that growth and discoveries are recursive. We are shocked at finding we knew at sixteen what we just discovered yesterday. Have we Just been going around in circles? Yet the same issues, faced over and over again may not really be the same.

Perhaps the best model for growth is neither the straight line nor the circle, but a helix, perhaps with an expanding radius to show that when we face the same old issues we do so from a different and broader perspective (Perry 1977). I have before me a letter from a professor:

I thought you might be interested in a sma11 example of passing through your series of stages more than once. Two years ago I spent three months working on a Danforth Faculty Fellowship Grant on a topic in faculty development, which was a new area for me. For many years I have been confident about skimming, picking and choosing within, and even abandoning books in my own discipline. When reading in faculty development materials, however, I found it necessary to struggle constantly against the impulse to dutifully examine and finish anything that was recommended to me whether it seemed fruitful or even bore on my problem or not.

The old impulse was there, but the new person was not subject to it.

Further Explorations with the Scheme

After the graduation of our last sample of volunteers in the original study, eight years passed before our small office found the energies to fol1ow another class through its experience of co11ege. Even then, since our daily work of counseling had doub1ed, we were unable to afford the systematic rating of the interviews necessary to form research and had to rely on the informal consensus of our impressions. The average Harvard-Radc1iffe freshman of 1970-71 seemed a full position in advance of his or her predecessor in 1959-60 — in fact, beyond the deve1opmental crisis of Position 5. We wondered if this accounted in part for the relative flatnes we felt characterized most of these students' four-year reports (Perry, 1974). Their concerns with Commitments, too, seemed to focus more narrowly on careers, usually with less sense of permanence of investment (reflecting the slackening in economic growth? post-Vietnam depression?). The overall progression, however, appeared congruent with that traced in the original study. We would say the same of our present sample of the class Of '79. The course of cognitive and ethical development outlined in our scheme appears to be a constant phenomenon of a pluralistic culture.

However, we could not subject our impressions to objective testing. Furthermore, the data, as in the original study, are provided by students in a single institution. It has therefore remained for other researchers to show that the scheme provides a usefu1 description of students' development of meaning in other settings, to refine the scheme further, to design more economic measurements, and to illustrate its power for the improvement of teaching and counseling in higher education. James Heffernan was the first to use the scheme for research in his study of the outcomes of the Residentia1 College at Michigan (Heffernan, 1971). Heffernan subsequently developed a cumu1ative bibliography of research and commentary relating to the scheme, a task currently under the direction of Laurence Copes3. This bibliography of over, 100 entries (as of April 1980) is included in the references for this chapter.

Here I shall mention briefly the work of those researchers and practitioners most familiar to me, hoping only to show the direction of their explorations. Readers interested in more detailed reviews shou1d start with Heffernan, 1975. Unti1 September of n 1975, I was unaware that anyone had taken up the study of our scheme — other than Heffernan and also Joanne Kurfiss (1975), to whose work I shall refer later. To be sure, I had received many requests for a quick pencil-and-paper rating scale to be used for all purposes from admissions to the evaluation of faculty. In the face of my doubts about the reliability of a quich checklist, my friend Eugene Hartley, of the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, made one from brief illustrative quotations from the original study, which students were to check acceptab1e or unacceptable (Hartley, 1973). This prodded me into making an improved version myself to demonstrate that no such things would work. In this exercise I was so successful that my null hypothesis was unequivocally confirmed (unpublished study).

Then, at the Annual Conference Of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1975, Clyde Parkes students came forward with the fruits of three years research on our developmental scheme. Carol Widick examined the scheme's theoretical structure. L. Lee Knefelkamp and Widick reported on college-level courses taught through Developmental Instruction based on the scheme. They adjusted four instructional variables to their students' Positions on the scheme: (1) diversity, (2) learning activity, (3) degree or structuring of assignments, and (4) personalism. Pre-post measures demonstrated superior substantive mastery and developmental progress in students in this special program, compared with those in a comparable course taught traditionally. A measuring instrument developed by Knefelckmp and Widick included sentence-completion and paragraphs susceptibIe of reliable rating. At the same meeting, Pierre Meyer reported on the uses of the scheme in a study of religious deveIopment (Meyer, 1977); Ron Slepitza and Knefelkamp demonstrated its contribution to a model of career counseling making sa1ient the shift from external to internal locus of control (Slepitza and Knefelkamp, I976); and Stephenson and Hunt confirmed Knefelhamp and Widick's pedagological methods for furthering college student movements from dualism to relativistic thinking (Stephenson and Hunt, 1977).

The outlines of this symposium delineated the types of studies that other researchers and teachers were already conducting with reference to our scheme and that later workers wOuld also pursue: (1) elaborations and extensions, (2) use of the scheme to illuminate particuIar aspects of development, (3) validations in various settings, (4) design of curriculums, instruction, and advising in the light of the scheme, and (5) instrumentation.

Elaborations and Extensions. Blythe Clinchy and Claire Zimmerman at Wellesley College have been engaged in a 1ongitudinal study (1975) in which they first assumed the general validity of the original scheme in order to explore it in greater depth. Their interviews are therefore more focused than those of the original study, with interviewers offering the students groups of statements from which to start their thinking, and following with probes. In 1978-79 they will have thirty complete four-year sequences of rich data. Movement along the scale is aIready evident, regression rare. They have elaborated on several Positions, especially 3-5, in which they find substages. They are especially interested in exploring the process and contents of Commitment in women. In this regard, they found differential development of girls in a traditional and a progressive high school (Clinchy, Lief, and Young, 1977) and plan foIlow-up studies with alumnae. In exploring linguistic and other differences in the voices of women and men, they're presently collaborating with Ann henderson of our office and with Carol Gilligan.

Referring to this scheme as an initial framework, Patricia King (1977a) analyzed the forms of Reflective Probabilistic Judgment evident in various levels of development, especially the later ones. Her labeling of Multipilistic thought as Relativistic (see the distinction made earlier between these modes of thought) led her to refer to the reasoning she examined as beyond relativism (King, 1977b, pp. 12, 17), whereas it wouid seem in the terms of this scheme to articulate relativistic processes themselves. However, her analysis and scoring procedures, together with those of her colleague Karen Kitchener (1971), provide an invaluable contribution to the understanding of the development of disciplined re1ativistic thought.

I have already mentioned Basseches; contribution to the identification and analysis of dialectical in the upper stages of development4. King (1977a) documents a decline in strictly Piagetian forma1 operations from high schoo1 through graduate school, remarking that such logic, so necessary to solutions of puzz1es in physics, is inadequate for addressing prob1ems in 1ife. I wou1d add that a premise common to most formal logic, namely that nothing can be A and not-A at the same time, is too humorless to live by. As one of our students said, Irony gets both sides.

Joanne Kurfiss, in her early study (Kurfiss, 1975), examined in depth the conceptua1 properties of the developmental scheme and individua1s' comparative rates of development in different areas. She compared five areas — (1) Moral Va1ues, (2) Counse1ing and Advice, (3) Evaluation of Essays, (4) Responsibi1ity Of the Professor, and (5) the Nature of Knowledge — using as a measure the person's capacity to paraphrase statements characterizing various Positions of development in each area. She found considerable disparity in 1evels of deve1opment within individuals. Correlations were found between the areas of Mora1 Values and The Nature of Knowledge, and a1so among the other three areas, but not across these two groups. She surmised that the former pair are each relatively abstract and the 1ater trio more concrete.

Use of the Scheme to Illuminate Particular Areas of Education. Confirming the usefulness of our scheme in respect to development of women, Caro1 Gilligan reports in the present volume on the consequence of rescoring Kohlberg ratings on the basis of the distinction we made between Mu1tip1icity (anything-goes personalism) and contextua1 Relativism. The rescoring reverses Kohlberg's previous1y reported differences in rates and achievements of moral deve1opment between men and women at the upper leve1s see also Gilligan and Murphy, 1979; Murphy and Gilligan, in press). Women appear less interested than men in the issues of conflict of rights presented in Kohlberg's di1emmas; rather, they develop contextually relativistic thinking in their search for the loci of care and responsibi1ity in human relationships. Where this concern has been rated as persona1istic relativism (Mu1tiplicity), it has been deva1ued deve1opmentally. The findings of Murphy and Gilligan (1980) are therefore of first-order import in the study of mora1 development. Their work also rescues sophomores from the condition of anoma1ous regression to which the earlier scoring had consigned them.

I have mentioned the work of Knefekamp and Slepitza in career development and of Pierre Meyer in re1igion. Yowakows and Launey (1978) are working with Knefelkamp on the uses of the scheme in the design of training in health careers, Clyde Parker initiated a Faculty Consultation Project with the Co11ege of Agricu1ture at Minnesota (Parker, 1978b). Interviews revea1ed the faculty's purposes to be coached in terms proper to our Positions 5 to 9:

Proessor C: One criticism I've had is that I ask questions that don't have absolute answers… I give them these kinds of questions because that's what life is. There aren't nice clean answers. They must come up the alternatives, weigh things, and make a decision.

Students were responding with comp1aints characteristic of Positions 2 to 3:

Student A: In biology, there's rea1ly not two ways you can look at it. A bird has two feet. That's pretty conclusive.

These are brief samp1es of findings that are proving seminal in many undertakings in faculty development throughout the country in which the present scheme forms a point of reference (Chickering, 1976).

  1. Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1970; first published Cambridge. Mass.: Bureau of Study Counsel, Harvard University. 1968). It embarrasses me that in the argot of the field this ponderous title has been shortened. inevitably, to The Perry Scheme; the evolution of the scheme required teamwork involving more than thirty people over a span of fifteen years — six to eight counselors at any one time, working in a small office without formal provisions for research.
  2. For a discussion of the relation of bull and cow see Perry 1969.
  3. In compiling this biliography, Lawrence Copes has received assistance from L. Lee Knefelkamp, Katherine Mason, John Griffith, and others. Clyde Parker at the University Of Minnesota has contributed library facilities and supported the distributions of a newsletter of which Copes is editor. Interested persons may address Copes at the Institute for Studies in Educational Mathematics, 1483 Hewitt Ave., St. Paul, Minn. 55104.
  4. For a study of the whole developmental progresson itself in dialectical terms, see Heffernan and Griffith, 1979.