What is the message that we want to send to our children?
• Behave in ways that maximize opportunities for mutually satisfying relationships
• Take personal responsibility for behavior
• Give effort to mastery [personal growth and development]
A curriculum is essentially a course of study. It is a road map to lead the student from one level of understanding to another. Analogously, we can draw a map from Philadelphia to New Orleans. We can decide where to lay the track and what type of track to lay. We can then decide what type of vehicle will travel on the track. Any of the decisions that we make must be tested upon whether we are able to reach our destination, how quickly, easily or efficiently we are able to get there and how exalted are customers are with such attainment. To fail in any of these is to fail the market test.
The goal, outcome or destination of social education is to relate to other human beings in ways that are mutually satisfying and gratifying.
The social person is one who is able to develop relationships that satisfy and gratify themselves and others. In order to do so, they must be able to:
• Think appropriately about themselves and others;
• Value themselves and others positively; and
• Have the skill capacity required by a multitude of social expectations.
The strategies of reaching the goal of satisfying relationships therefore will require that the person have enhanced cognitive, affective and behavioral mastery and be able to effectively use that mastery in demonstrable ways.
All of these requirements are best approached through learning based technology. There is a mountain of literature about cognitive, affective and behavioral mastery through learning. Our labor is to mold that literature into a course of study that will enable children to reach this ideal destination. It is the content of social experience in which teacher knowledge is variable, not the process of teaching. What is an appropriate cognitive triad? How do we place value? What skills are required? Teachers regularly model social behavior – is the behavior they model appropriate?
Curriculum development exists whether it is planned or not. The teachers are teaching something to children about social relationships, so that’s the curriculum. Teachers are knowledgeable professionals who can make an educated guess at what the curriculum should be. Even if the teacher ‘errs’ badly, there is a built-in failsafe: The student has a few more years to get ‘straightened out’. The problem is as Yogi Berra has pointed out, ‘if you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there’. Even kids who start school with good social education achievement may deteriorate in a system based on the chaotic notions of individual teachers of what is and is not appropriate communication to children. Those who start with poor social education achievement may never learn to have mutually satisfying and gratifying relationships, unless an appropriate social component occurs in school.
Social education occurs within and around an academic focus, and is not formalized as a practice. Social education occurs through communication, social education is concerned with the messages that are sent and received; and messages contain information. Bateson, has defined information as the ‘difference that makes a difference. The Neurolinguistic Programmers point out that the ‘meaning of your communication is the response’, suggesting that people do not always receive the message that was intended. Words and emotions are often ambiguous. If you praise a child and s/he lashes out in anger, s/he did not receive a message or praise. What teachers say, the words s/he uses, makes a difference to the information contained in the message.
Barr tells us that the nervous system has a great preference for news. There is ample evidence from a great variety of sources that people and animals actively seek novelty and informative stimulation, and that they have an enormous selective preference for significant input. In fact, he says that the primary function of consciousness is to facilitate this cooperative integration of novel information. The more informative an event is, the more adaptation is required, and the longer the event must be in consciousness for adaptation to be achieved.
Information in its conventional sense is a reduction of uncertainty in a set of choices defined within a stable context. The reduction of uncertainty does not necessarily mean a reduction in anxiety. To be certain the teacher hates you is not likely to produce a sense of satisfaction. The reason the response indicates the meaning is connected to the conditions found in the receiver. Since both the child and the teacher are both senders and receivers of messages, there is an ‘intimate dance’ that occurs in certain sequences of communication. Teacher says A, student hears B, student responds to B, teacher hears C, teacher responds to C – what happened to A? Teachers must learn that when s/he says A, and the child responds to B, s/he must find a way to reiterate A.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure that message A gets received by the child? We suggest that it is the teacher’s responsibility, and that the teacher cannot allow an inappropriate response to change the communication setting. But, one would argue, it is human nature to respond to what is being said to you. And we would agree, it is natural; it is just not professional nor helpful. Thus, parents can be excused from responding to B [although we hope to teach all child managers a better way], but teachers are professionals paid by the state to ensure that children achieve productive citizenship, and are therefore not relieved of responsibility.
Thus social education in the school is not an ‘add-on’ or an additional burden for teachers; it is the concentration of what is already occurring into a focused professional process. Teachers may provide social information within any communication to their students or they may concentrate social learning as part of the core content of what is being taught, as is sometimes the case with students for whom behavior is the exceptionality.
It is envisioned that social education can be provided in prevention, developmental or remedial modes. Prevention would be that the communication provided to all students in the district is professionally clear and ambiguity or misunderstanding is corrected effectively. Developmental approaches would include selected interventions, for example, of emotional literacy studies, which may be provided to all students or to a selected group. Finally, remedial services would be provided with clinical input.
Crisis management and fixing previous mistakes is not the way to produce quality and the facts indicate that students who do not develop a natural instinct for mutually satisfying relationships often lose their social roles in home, school and community because of the need for remedial approaches. Quality in social education can be controlled and maintained only if horizontal and vertical curriculum continuity exists. Vertical curriculum continuity means that there is a systematic introduction and reinforcement of significant learning objectives from Kindergarten through Grade 12, thus eliminating useless repetition and damaging voids. Horizontal curriculum continuity means that all the teachers within a grade level or subject area are following the planned curriculum. These two necessary continuities can be present only if there is an emphasis on curriculum development.
Most students learn to develop mutually satisfactory relationships developmentally. The school is simply a valued place where these skills are honed and enhanced. Such students gradually learn to transition into appropriate social roles when necessary, know how to take and give direction and criticism, and know when and where behaviors such as fun are appropriate. Their learning is an interactive process in which their positive thoughts and feelings about themselves, others and future prospects are shaped by their experiences and their experiences are shaped by their positive thoughts and feelings. Yet we know that behaviorally, the structure of the school process can damage even the best social learning1, if the student is not academically successful. For these students and the others who have never had a prosocial focus, the interactive process can become a downward spiral where the child’s negative thoughts and feelings are shaped by their experiences and the negative experiences shape their thoughts. A self-fulfilling vicious cycle is fulfilled in the negative instead of the positive.
This occurs, of course, because poor social skills tend to evoke negative responses. Human beings are social animals, and those who do not fit effectively within the cultural context are first punished and then ostracized from the group. This is a natural enough personal occurrence, but is not an acceptable professional occurrence.
In the same manner as learning inappropriate math techniques, matters get worse unless remedial action is taken. Thus a social education curriculum has a three-fold purpose:
• To ensure that every student is on track through prevention and early identification,
• To assist the proper development through pedagogical study, and
• To remediate inappropriate learning.
While remediation of problems in living which occur because of the lack of cognitive, affective or behavioral mastery is the proper arena of clinical or the criminal justice system, the process of achieving mastery is still a learning experience. It is for that reason that developing a social education initiative that will cross the boundaries between preventative, developmental and remedial services through educational and behavioral services is imperative.
It will require the on-going participation of school personnel, clinical, protective and juvenile justice professionals since each of these professionals is responsible for giving a message to the child in regard to appropriate behavior. Because of the importance of providing a coherent social learning experience to children, the process must start through the development of a knowledgeable and skilled group of staff, each of whom gives the same message to the children with whom they come into contact.
1Note for example, that testing is not concerned with mastery, but rather with competition. Thus, is a student fails the first test badly enough, there is no use in continuing to try since no score in future tests is likely to achieve the requisite grade.