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In Takes a Village | but probably not one with torches

An essay on the approach of community in raising children in light of current social situations.

A shift in the social values of modern America has greatly impacted the educational and socioeconomic development of childhood development that is echoed in a very “hands off” approach to raising children on very personal levels in the family and the world around them. The autumn sun rises and children are prepared for school. As early as five years of age parents and guardians package their children in neat sweaters and new backpacks and load them into yellow metal boxes to be delivered to a public school system where they will learn about the world from teachers and peers. The mid-day leaves empty houses grinning at empty streets in empty neighborhoods. This new era of connected disconnection has left the American dream of the 1950s, of family vacations and door-to-door salesmen, of apple pies cooling in windows, of self creation and exploration, to merely sit on the street corners of every town and every city: a homeless vagabond that has been forgotten with a cardboard sign that simply reads, “Where are we now and where do we go from here?”

The current recession in the west has brought the educational system back into the line of fire with a barrage of claims, criticism, and more new policies and ideals, basic changes, on a large scale. This is the final effect of change in the development of the child and the area of social environment that has a great influence in the development of children. This is an indicator of the short-siding, child developmental skills America has adopted as a whole, in that when the world is economically sound the educational system is seen to be in-tact, but when the numbers start to drop the system is brought into out-group status. The problem of economic stability is not a problem that lands on the shoulders of the school system, but on the irresponsibility and the fact that society and American families, again in general, have been caught asleep at the wheel. Historically it is not the school systems that raise children and teach them values, but families and small communities.

To put it more succinctly and simply, I could say that the influence of environment on child development will, along with other types of influences, also have to he assessed by taking the degree of understanding, awareness and insight of what is going on in the environment into account. If children possess various levels of awareness, it means that the same event will have a completely different meaning for them. We know that, frequently, unhappy events may have a happy meaning for a child who does not understand the significance of the event itself, especially in view of the fact that he is now allowed what he is normally not allowed – just to keep him quiet and prevent him from pestering he may be given sweets and, as a result, the child might end up experiencing his mother’s dangerous illness as an event which for him is joyful and fun, and to look at him, he may appear like a birthday child. The crux of the matter is that whatever the situation, its influence depends not only on the nature of the situation itself, but also on the extent of the child’s understanding and awareness of the situation. (Vygotsky, 1935)

                Vygotsky, a renowned developmental psychologist, studied the effects of influential interaction between society and childhood development, makes an interesting observation in a lecture about the effects of the role of families and the child’s progressive understanding of environment influence.  This moves the burden of responsibility, emphatically, back on the shoulders of the family: first with parents and then to extend family. The reason this is important is because the child’s understanding is going to change as the child becomes a literate social observer, this requires a focused and controlled environment for the primary development that will continue to grow and emulate an atmosphere of stability and security. This is a necessity that cannot be offered by a large, corporate institution; it is simply impossible. Corporate institutions, of education and otherwise, should only be seen as secondary resources to the primary development of children that take place within the bonds of a dynamic family development.

The statement, “it takes a village to raise a child” (which is not from Hillary Clinton but an attributed old African Proverb), comes in to play as the process of social identity grows and expands. Children are not mathematical equations, and neither are families. Just as children derive their identity from their families, families derive their identity from secondary social organizations which stand aside to primary society: mainstream America. The present complication with this ideal, along with “No Child Left Behind”, is that it is presenting a more controlled view of education and expansion of government. The reason this does not work is that it does not cut to the core of the issue: healthy children develop in homes that are influenced by direct social influence, in general. Hillary’s idea of “village” is understood to be one of greater influence where the “village” leans more too governing structure than to community involvement; which can be chalked up to many of the short-comings in the West’s social structure. This said merely as a statement of framework to define what a “village” is.

The Andy Griffith show is saturated with the desirability of community and a sense of belonging. Opie Taylor jumps on his bike and rides with his friends around Mayberry. He’ll run into Floyd, the barber who is the information source among the men of the community, or Barney Fife, the deputy Sheriff that works for his father, Andy Taylor. The mark of the show is a strong sense of character, belonging, and position. The community works as a unit to ensure the stability of the children in the show, which is presented in a very organic form and characteristic of many towns, probably more so at the turn of the 1900s then in the 1950s. This is the village that is required to raise a child. It is only limited to the extent that the nuclear family has a direct position within it. This makes larger organizations, such as the government, ineffective because no single family has any strong bearing in its development. It must be a sizable community that also reflects similar social attitudes as the nuclear family unit.

Social identity theory posits that situational stimuli in-duce individuals to enact primary social identities. Partial membership in different identity groups offers individuals latitude in choosing social referents. Choice of a primary social identity, whether based on affiliation with an organization, a function, religion, gender, nation, or other categories, indicates an ordering of social reality and the individual’s position in it. Social identities serve as bases for self-evaluation and enhancement, as well as for comparison with others via in-group identification. Moreover, social identities, to the extent that they arise from a dynamic relationship of individual perceptions with social reality, are an important window on intergroup and organizational dynamics. (Salk and Shenkar, 2001)

                When the rubber meets the road and America asks who has the check for their gross misallocation of social responsibility, it has to be understood the current manifest destiny that has made the functioning family nothing more than a figment on the television is what caused the downfall in the first place in what developmental psychologist Dr. Robi Sonderegger has called “the greatest social experiment in human history”. The value has made a complete paradigm shift which has caused the children all around the country to be left behind because there is little importance on an internal focus on family and small community. It takes a village to raise a child, but not in a large concept of standardized anything, but specific knowledge, focus, and social identification. Until there is a return to this ideal the problems that are aggressively attacking the youngsters of this age will be amplified in their adulthood and will come back in greater force with the second and third generation. It’s time for families to step back into the game and understand that “there is no surrogate for good parenting” (Sonderegger, 2010).

Bibliography

Salk, Jane E and Oded Shenkar. “Social Identities in an International Joint Venture: An Exploratory Case Study.” Organization Science 12.2 (2001): 161-178.

Sonderegger, Dr. Robi. Protecting Your Tech-Savvy Teen from Pornography. Denver, CO, 19 October 2010.

Vygotsky, Lev. “marxist internet archieve.” 1935. The problem of the environment. 21 October 2010 <http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/1934/environment.htm&gt;.

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