Education, Socialization, and This Big Big World

Without education, a child leads a blind life. Do you ever look up into the night sky and wonder what makes all those millions of stars? Yes, I do wonder. But who will teach me?

Education is a gift. How can we best honor this process of learning about oneself and how one fits into society, community, country, world? In September, I began a new job as a mentor for an early childhood outdoor education program. Simultaneously, I returned to college to take early childhood education classes. The two overlap on a daily basis, and I have the privilege of putting theory into action. Here’s a reflection.

In Finland and Singapore, teachers are selected from the best in class and given ongoing professional training and support to ensure they are ever equipped for the important task before them: to help shape the futures of children. They are paid well. Their classrooms are a site of dynamic exchange between students and teacher. There is enthusiasm. There are pauses in between deep learning sessions for rest and processing. And there is plenty of play and outdoor time.

I ponder what type of setting and structure suits my young ones best at my outdoor education program. At four weeks in, the kids are becoming more comfortable, and their underlying behaviors are emerging. Strong personalities and difficult temperament push up against tentative boundaries within a democratic and free-flowing structure. A mentor told me, “a child must know the confines in which they are allowed to expand.” This allows them to be confident in their exploration knowing that they are ultimately held within this foundation. They stray only as far as it is safe, but retain their freedom within these bounds. Trust is established as they push up against these boundaries and receive consistent feedback from their mentors. And when all show signs of readiness, those boundaries expand. Here, the child can learn the organic consequences of their actions while trusting a foundation that holds them in their discoveries.

In each confrontation and experience, there are a multitude of influences at work. In my early childhood education class, I have learned about many theories on the socialization factors in a child’s life. For example, Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems model helps us see the bigger picture in a child’s socialization. It is easy to get lost in the chaos of the moment, especially if it’s a moment containing a child in a breakdown. The challenge is, can you hold the emotions and tend to the child while not losing the greater perspective? When a young boy in my program refuses to participate in an activity unless he gets his way, runs off and doesn’t return when called, then makes fun of the other kids for participating, and finally returns, but with teeth bared and claws out, the rage of a seven year old in his eyes…can I still hold steady and seek the bigger picture? What is really going on here?

In his unprecedented national survey in 1966, Coleman uncovered the single most important factor to a child’s educational success is family. Family education level, socioeconomic status, and what happens in the home. Albert Bandura witnessed in his bobo doll experiments how strongly influenced a child can be by observing behaviors in adults and modeling them. Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede dug into culture as a major socialization factor, and helped us recognize that many cultural factors exist below a line of visibility. Taking into account these theorists’ contributions, I can view the bigger picture. I can see that this young boy’s reactions stem from what he observes at home, the media he takes in, how his actions are reinforced, parenting styles, his innate personality and temperament that remain with him regardless of nurture, cultural norms within his home and community, and the greater envelope of time, what is occurring in our country and beyond at this point in our evolution as a species on planet earth.

Well now! That’s a lot to consider during this momentary meltdown! All of these aspects can guide me in adjusting my own response to the matter and how I work with the child in future occasions.

All of these influences also unearth curiosity about the role of the teacher, or mentor. If so much about a child’s socialization and future success is determined within the home, what role can a mentor play in the child’s trajectory? How can a mentor do her best to positively influence the child while respecting the parent-teacher boundary? What is needed within the school system to best service our young ones in realizing their highest potential even if the environment at home is hostile to it?

As I work towards comprehending the root of challenging behaviors in my program’s explorers, I also begin to see where my influence lies. There are elements that I can control, such as how I implement boundaries, manage conflict, and plan activity flow throughout the day, and there are elements that are beyond my control, such as the socialization influences the child is receiving at home. By simply understanding the many factors at play, I can adjust my decision making, step out of the emotional chaos of the moment, and see the bigger picture.

In my own life, I know deeply the value of disentangling past traumas and seeking out influences upon my behaviors, habits and decisions. I have reaped the benefits of bringing habits into conscious thought and choosing differently. I would like to take what I have learned throughout my life and place it within the realm of education to best assist a child at various points of their growth towards consciousness and understanding of themselves and their roles in this life.

This is a challenge that will keep me busy for a while!


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