Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A "New" View of Child Development

I just finished the first chapter of Awakening Children's Minds by Laura E. Berk, a book on RDI's hot list. The author starts off the chapter called "A New View of Child Development" by pointing out how changes in society and information overload have baffled and bewildered parents. One major problem is conflicting advice hashed out in the glut of books on the market to guide parents, alternating between adult supremacy and child supremacy. My favorite part of the chapter is when she juxtaposes the two polar opposite camps against one another so like Charlotte Mason, who wrote of eighteenth century parents, "They had clear oracles in their Locke and their Rousseau" (page 44).

In the section on adult supremacy, Laura Berk points out how John Locke's concept of tabular rasa (the child's mind as an empty slate) led to behaviorism, the belief that external stimuli shapes behavior and trumps other factors. She concludes that "regimented tutoring not adjusted to the child's interests and capabilities undermines rather than enhances learning, motivation, and self-control" (page 11) and "the behaviorist presumption that development can be mechanically engineered by social input, guaranteeing brighter, socially more mature children, is not born out by the evidence" (page 12). Charlotte Mason did not believe in using prizes, places, rewards, punishments, praise, blame, or other inducements to secure attention, which she found to be voluntary, immediate and surprisingly perfect (page 7).

Charlotte wrote about the tabula rasa dovetails nicely with Laura Berk stated:
We have perhaps got over the educational misconception of the tabula rasa. No one now looks on the child's white soul as a tablet prepared for the exercise of the educator's supreme art. But the conception which has succeeded this time-honoured heresy rests on the same false bases of the august office and the infallible wisdom of the educator (page 29).
In the section on child supremacy, Laura Berk shows how the ideas of Jean Jacque Rousseau surfaced in the work of Jean Piaget, who outlined four developmental stages and whose ideas "stressed the supremacy of children's engagement with their surroundings over adult teaching, parents' and teachers' contributions to development are severely reduced relative to the child's" (page 14).

Charlotte predates Piaget, and she held a dim view of Rousseau, too:
Jean Jacques Rousseau had not enough sterling character to warrant him to pose as an authority on any subject, least of all on that of education. He sets himself down a poor thing, and we see no cause to reject the evidence of his Confessions. We are not carried away by the charm of his style; his 'forcible feebleness' does not dazzle us. No man can say beyond that which he is, and there is a want of grit in his philosophic theories that removes most of them from the category of available thought (page 1).
Charlotte found herself in the same dilemma, stuck between two opposite theories, and quoted a Dr. Rein,
Shall the educator follow Rousseau and educate a man of nature in the midst of civilised men? In so doing, as Herbart has shown, we should simply repeat from the beginning the entire series of evils that have already been surmounted. Or shall we turn to Locke and prepare the pupil for the world which is customarily in league with worldlings?(page 97).
Reading this book reminds me of how far ahead of her time Charlotte Mason was—-so far ahead, typical educators of today do not know her work. I checked the index of this book and saw no hint of Charlotte Mason even though their ideas run along parallel lines, separated by a century.


JamBerry said...

There's still nothing new under the sun. Go, CM!

Niffercoo said...

I took several classes in college on the "history of education" and never heard a single mention of Charlotte Mason until I became a homeschooler! It's a shame!

Anonymous said...

This is SO interesting! It sure explains why I've always resisted the behavioural teaching notions for out autistic kids - giving a food reward for performing a simple task for instance. Not that such rewards don't ever have a place, but when a child will already respond well to praise and social motivators, why the insistence on using food to motivate?

Sorry, I digress. But it's interesting to see the comparisons.

BTW - Thanks for updating my blog address on the blogring for me Tammy. I meant to thank you earlier but I forgot... well, better late than never!

Prince Andrew and the Queen Mum said...

ok- how many of you ARE there?? blogs, egroups, books, do you find the time??!!! Seriously- I put this in my 'shopping' cart at amazon for when I get enough more free$$$ to buy. it looks good. (I have about 20 half finished good books on my shelf!)