Community and environmental engagement: learning from the experiences of rural women
This research documents the lives of ten rural women who, in their day-to-day learning experiences, are actively involved in their community and surrounding environment. In order to support and engage rural women, this study seeks to understand the role of the rural context in the learning process. For the purpose of this research, transformative learning provides a starting point and is viewed as a learning process. However, to avoid confusion between our common understanding of transformative learning and the transformative learning process used here, this research will develop a parallel "forms of knowing framework" to bring together and analyze the community and environmental engagement practices of rural women with their forms of knowing. The Forms of Knowing Framework provides a new perspective on our traditional view of transformative learning generally identified as a ten step process beginning with a disorienting dilemma and ending with reintegration. Culmination of this profound experience often equates dialectical knowing with perspective transformation, thus earning transformative learning the reputation as an elitist theory. The ability to differentiate four forms of knowing, with the possibility of transformation occurring between each form, provides an alternative to our traditional perspective of transformative learning, and may negate the criticisms of elitism. Using a narrative format, ten rural women from south western Ontario were interviewed to ascertain their ideas, feelings and learning experiences relating to their community and environmental engagement. Five women lived in villages or on acreages and five were farmers. Analysis of the transcripts provided data relating to their engagement and evidence of their form of knowing. As noted in the literature, 21st century thinking is needed to confront 21st century challenges. Literature supporting this study argues that the resolution of 21st century challenges will require dialectical thinking. In order to prepare for that eventuality, we must first determine the forms of knowing now generally being utilized by women in rural communities. The gap between the current form of knowing and the required form of knowing for meeting challenges of the 21st century, once identified, may provide insights into the further development of strategies to meet the learning needs of women in rural communities. This research identifies patterns of community and environmental engagement of rural women that relate to their forms of knowing. This study also provides an alternative framework which expands our traditional understanding of transformative learning, providing a process that might be accessible to all wo/men each to their own ability.