Didactics - 17 : Psychology of Development IV
Last week we looked at theories of the cognitive development of the child. We saw that the Behaviourist approach, which regards all human learning as based on the S- R model, through reinforcement, could not explain the development of human thought.Jean Piaget's work provided the beginnings of an answer to the question of how children do grow into thought, but we saw that his scheme of stages had come to be considered as over rigid, and his belief that the environment was of little importance has been questioned.
Vygotsky, and his followers, such as Jerome Bruner, emphasized the importance of interaction between the child and either adults, or more advanced peers, and advanced the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development.
Vygotsky also sees the development of language as essential to the development of thought, whereas for Piaget, it is of less importance.
Today we are going to look more closely at the adolescent. Adolescence is a watershed in the development of the child, for it is, as Michael Rutter points out, through the changes wrought during this period, that the individual passes from childhood to the possibility of parenthood. Any teacher who is to work in the secondary education system needs to have some idea of both the physical and the psychological changes that their charges go through, and also needs to be aware of the social nature of adolescence.Adolescence itself is not to be equated with puberty, but pivots around it. Puberty is an essentially biological process, whereas adolescence is social; the person that we refer to as the teenager is a modern invention. Essentially, it points to a special status that is posited upon the development of mass schooling through to the age of 16 or later, and the partial exclusion of young people from the world of work.
This produced a mass of young people who were neither children, in that they were capable of full sexual intercourse and reproduction, as well as being as large as and probably more vigorous than adults, nor are allowed the full adult status of playing the role of wage-earner.
In many societies, people of this age, and particularly the young men, are looked upon as being a source of danger. It is not infrequent to find pubertal and immediately post-pubertal youth hived off from the rest of society into specialized groups or even sent to live apart from their families in special camps. Some attempt is usually made to give them an important role to play - thus in pastoral societies, they guard the cattle and do the fighting - just as in France, young men do military service. This keeps them out of mischief and ensures that they have an outlet for any aggressive impulses.
Often their change of status from childhood to adulthood is marked by a series of initiation rites, which may include learning the lore of the tribe, the infliction of bodily wounds, and subjection to psychological stress. Those who pass through such tests are then accorded adult status.
It has been said that modern youth suffers from the fact that there are no clearly marked boundaries to the ages of life, that there is no precise point when the individual can say to him or herself that he or she is now an adult. And indeed, it may seem that adulthood is bestowed in some areas and withheld in others, so that the young person can never be sure of how she will be defined by significant adults. The young may themselves be rather ambivalent over such questions, finding it pleasant to be treated as a child under some circumstances, and irksome under others. The adult who disciplines is regarded as a patronising martinet, the adult who supports as a surrogate, and probably in many ways superior, parent.
However, we should not make too much of the strains of adolescence. Whilst, as with any other period of life, there are difficulties and tribulations, most young people enjoy this period, move easily between their parents' homes, the world of school and the world of their peers.
Much has been made of the 'generation gap' which separates the older generation from the rising generation at this time, but those who have looked closely at the behaviour and the relationships of adolescents stress that, while there are, of course, frequent spats between parents and children over such things as staying out late, clothing and hairstyles, in the main, teenage children appreciate their parents, feel close to them, and find their feelings largely reciprocated.
The change from primary school to secondary school takes place at roughly the age at which children begin to go through puberty. This is a period when changes are considerable, and affect the morphology, the intelligence and the emotional life of the person. . Let us look first at some of the physical changes
These phenomena - to the extent that we can agree that they do exist - may be exacerbated by the social system within which they are placed. Where membership in a specific age group is determined by the bureaucratic criteria of date of birth, contacts between members who are at different stages in the maturational process are inevitable. In social systems where the date of birth is not known, group membership may be determined by specific signs of maturation - the first menstruation for girls, or the growth of a beard for boys. The social and psychological effects of differential maturation will be very different.
Developmental psychology can give us an understanding of some aspects of adolescence. The teenager is passing through a stage of physical and mental change that can only be paralleled by the early years of childhood and the last years of life. At the same time, he or she is subjected, in our societies, to the need to succeed at school, to pass public examinations and/or make a first entry into the labour market, and also to take responsibility over the choice of a partner for a long-term emotional commitment.For a large number of adolescents, the concerns of the school are less than vital - they have many other things to do with their lives, and one may, indeed, think that this is probably the worst time in a person's life to ask them to spend long hours memorizing the irregular verbs of a foreign tongue, the use of which is not immediately evident. Teachers should be aware of this, although it should not be seen as an excuse for low expectations - we can understand why young people are often distracted, why they do not always work as hard as we would wish them to, and why they often resent our authority, without becoming tolerant of bad work.
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