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ESE502: The Class: Balance: Student Role: The student

Human Being, Human Nature

by J'Anne Ellsworth


An infant is crying in the next room. One person drops everything and hurries to the child. Another grimaces and tries to go on with the vacuuming.

If a person operates from a belief that children have needs and a right to get those needs met, the response to the crying will be to go to the child and provide comfort. If the person believes the child needs to be trained not to cry and feels that attending to the child will increase crying behavior, it will seem important to try not go to the child until the crying has stopped. Our beliefs about the nature of human beings encode cognitive messages, so those things we tell ourselves about how to respond to the crying infant are based on what we believe about children.

These conclusions about human nature are also based on our own growing up experiences. The beliefs we acquire gain impetus from the social framework of how we were treated by parents, grandparent and our community. The underlying theories are also much more complex than a reasoned response. If a parent is weary, the personal need for rest may slow the response to the child’s crying. If the parent is self involved, the child’s demands may be viewed as selfish and the parent may respond with a sense of rage at the perceived unreasonableness of crying. If the parent is attuned to the child’s needs, the response will be made based on what the parent believes is best for the child at that moment. Nonverbal and verbal responses from others also alter the way the crying infant is addressed.

Most of us want to understand ourselves, to recognize and meet the needs of those around us and to be good at what we are doing. We want to be good parents, good day care providers, good teachers. We want to feel that we are freely choosing to do what is best for children and that we understand what is best. Most of us are trying to do the right thing, the best we can.

We are motivated to do what is best for ourselves and that includes doing what we think we should do for others. In fact, most of us internally or verbally beat ourselves up for mistakes, for perceived errors, as well as obvious ones. We question our motives, strive to help others, and wish to think of ourselves as good parents, good mates, good human beings.

We are having a hard time reconciling what we want to do for children with the theories about what is best for them and for us. We feel uncertain about our work with some children, because in each group of youngsters, there are youth for whom it isn’t working. We see that the current way of working with youngsters is not giving us a safer or more loving community, not leading to marital stability, to more genuineness, to more joy. The techniques for interaction do not even work well enough to pull most of us away from work, from television, from community service to be together as families. Though the ideas and beliefs about how to discipline children and interact with others do not work as well as we hoped, they are what we know.

With rare exception, the resilience of parent, teacher, child make changing management techniques both hard and hopeful. This suggests that everyone will be invested in maintaining the rituals they are used to. But we love to learn, we yearn to grow, and we are busy at both if we are emotionally healthy. So framing change as learning something new, trying new ideas, working together to create a new family portrait or classroom photo may ease the transition. That resilience also means that it is never too late to mature. It helps us move on to new ideas without regretting the past too much. It helps us to know that we can dynamically improve our relationships with children with even one small change, and the past errors and embarrassments will recede. It also allows us to accept the times when we fall back into old habits or children use old ploys to get wants and needs met.

Human beings and human behavior are complex; too complex to ascribe to one set of concepts. Culture, personality, maturity, fatigue, health, time of day, recency of last attention to the child, all present elements that blend together. This is important to keep in mind, because this offers one view, one snapshot that adds information about children, about relationship, about community. It is intended to initiate a different way of viewing work with children, of seeing our relationships and opportunities with children and each other. It is a platform, a launching pad for more ideas, more interest in thinking about children and ourselves from new viewpoints.

The material is presented as a culmination of many years of work. The author is a parent, has one natural child, and has adopted and fostered 36 children. Most of the youngsters were troubled. Certainly just the act of removing a child from a home is troubling. These techniques were developed and honed through life together. The ideas about children and human nature came about through the children themselves. Like a Polaroid snap shot, they became more and more visible over time. They have been field tested in schools, in a university setting, and have been passed on to thousands of teachers and parents. Many see a difference in relationships as soon as they begin seeing others from this frame of reference.

The purpose of this material is to lift up hearts, put new energy into efforts to build community with loved ones, to give more purpose to dedication to youth, to a life of service with others. It is meant to add radiance to each of us, to empower, enlighten and uplift. It is a message of hope to say we are capable and worthy of self respect, acceptance and love. In gaining that understanding of self, we can then move forward to make a difference for children.

Autonomy and Heteronomy

It is important to know what makes a person feel and behave in specific ways if we hope to support growing into a stable and successful adult. It is vital to be able to recognize patterns of behavior as well as motives for behavior, both common patterns and expected responses, idiosyncratic possibilities and behaviors that signal distress or dysfunction. By recognizing the human nature elements common to youngsters, to human beings, we can facilitate growth and development. The end result is not just a change in the classroom or the family, but a permanent systemic change in the way parents, teachers, children and society view the learning and growing process. It is a great help to personal growth, the healthy development of our own families and the world community.

What is the basic nature of people? What drives children? Two concepts keep asserting themselves through philosophy, religion, literature, the studies of man.

These two intertwining dimensions of human nature are basic to understanding self and society. As dynamic sources of human energy, they are like two magnetic forces, alternately repelling and attracting, that make up the "motor" or driving force of each individual's humanity and the social fabric of a society. When the two forces are working in concert, a balanced personality is the result. When one force becomes an exclusive focus, there is a dysfunctional effect.

Autonomous - Self absorbed



throw temper tantrums


high energy, use lots of space

insist on own way, on choosing

Heteronomous - Self in context

quiet and retiring

often take position as teacher's pet

may be decisive but not demanding

accept and give compliments

hold self "small" and contained

compromise, sees others’ views

The behaviors on the autonomous or self absorbed side are those that are most distressing for others and more invasive, harder to value in relationship in the classroom or in community. Although the behaviors on the heteronomous side are less distressing to others, it is not in a human being's best interest to give too much of self away, to lack a vision of self or fail in the attempt to protect the special gifts that are uniquely that entity's. Some youngsters seem to tend toward one extreme or the other from the first moments of life. Some cling to that position throughout life. Most of us are propelled from one extreme to the other in a slowly developing spiral.

The basic part of human nature is closely linked with ego or self development. The self is an interesting paradox for human beings, for we are, in fact, ourselves from birth, yet our self develops more fully over time, as we become more cognizant of who we are, who we wish to be, and as the fabric of our social surroundings imprints itself upon us. We are creatures who develop, redevelop, reach a point of stasis and then reach beyond ourselves. We are compelled at once to meet our own needs, yet even in early childhood are moved by the needs of others and alter our own course to attend to those necessities. We feel fully functional and shout to others of our maturity at twelve, in our brashness and certitude. Yet we are uncertain in our certainty, anxious enough that we protest the names like youth, adolescent, youngster, that would suggest we are not at the pinnacle of growth.


Vocalizations tell the tale. At two, we proclaim, “Me do it.” At four we respond to offers of assistance with “Leave me alone.” At ten, we announce, “I know.” At fourteen, we pout or rage at instructions, and decry any hint of imperfection or lack of wise choices. At forty, we begin anew, striking off in unfamiliar territory, certain of ourselves and disappointed with the lack of vision from those around us. We are filled with hope, with faith, with a need to create ourselves. We are filled with frustration, disappointment, a need to be valued by others in the way we believe we can be valued. We are turning, turning, turning. We are reaching, reaching, yearning. We are always and never enough for ourselves. We are always and never quite satisfied with who we are, and filled with hope for who we are becoming.

Thus we see that esteem of self is impelled by that same autonomy, heteronomy motor. Self-esteem is a complex part of being a person. There are at least two primary facets to self-esteem.

BEING . . . . .      and       . . . . . . . DOING .

I. The Infant is born with a personality and esteem

When children are born they have a great supply of self worth. Infants are born "being" great. We believe through some inborn expectation, that we deserve to be fed, protected and nurtured. Infants express rage and disbelief when those deserved things are not forthcoming. Further, somehow, we see ourselves as a being with power -- unquestioningly. The self-esteem that has to do with "being" is almost ineradicable -- it appears to be part of the will to live, and a great deal more we have yet to understand. The BEING form of self-esteem can be damaged with respect to the outlet it will take for self expression, but it does not appear to be readily accessible to destruction.

Generally new infants don't have to DO anything to be wanted and loved. Their simple presence is a reason for pleasure. This doesn't last long. As soon as the parent determines that the child's behaviors are interfering with life, expectations of DOING begin to appear. The parent wants the child to sleep through the night, to be appeased when comfort is offered, to be less controlling and disruptive in the family. After all, anyone who has gone through the regiment of change which a new baby's demands create, knows that at first, the baby, and no one else in the family, "is wearing the pants!" Further, the demands are inconsistent and create a feeling of chaos and unscheduled crisis for a parent who used to feel a sense of control over time, resources, life.

Because the infant is so helpless, and is biologically made to appear lovable (Harlow & Zimmerman, 1959 ) parents generally learn to juggle their own needs while training the child to fit into the family needs and schedules. In effect, the parents learn ways to train the child to DO without sacrificing the child's well BEING. Success in this process includes consistency and structure as a part of the high expectations or demands (Coopersmith, 1967). The more loving and nurturing the parent, the healthier the child's sense of DOING will emerge and the more fully the being and doing will compliment one another. The child learns to believe s/he can trust the parents, and thus the environment and to believe there is safety and warmth to life. The foundation for a healthy personality, good ego strength and resilience is thus developed for a child.

II. As we mature we are constantly drawn to have our own way and find a counter energy in wishing to please those we love or need.

The infant begins the cycle from an autonomous (child is seeing and getting own way) perspective having total concern with self, to a more heteronomous (awareness of the presence of "otherness") perspective. Thus the child begins to be socialized. Having learned to adjust to the needs of the parent, usually unwittingly, the child has made the first cycle toward socialization. It is an ongoing journey, not a static accomplishment.

This process of socialization is only begun in infancy (Brazelton, 1969). We repeat the cycle over and over again as we grow. The child who has been successfully trained to control the most essential body functions continues to grow emotionally, and by the age of two, has come full circle and demands total autonomy once again. It is the province of the two-year-old child to insist on having one's own way, to win at a clash of wills, to 'worship at one's own feet." It is a normal human stage to be grown out of, and then revisited periodically and less emphatically throughout life. That stages is certainly descriptive of the middle school student and explains much of the behavior and response set of the early adolescent.

Typical developmental ages for focusing on autonomy include 2,4, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17. The behavior of a thirteen-year-old is ideal to illustrate autonomous behavior. The youngster recognizes self as person and has a tremendous drive to get personal needs and desires met. The drive is so strong that the child may propel self in dangerous ways, despite the wishes or needs of those around. At every turn the child displays that autonomous perspective. Every request to the child generates an initial internal “NO!” Sulking, passive aggressive responses and anger are markers that the young adolescent feels thwarted. The immediate response tends to be an internal dash to overcome restraint, not so unlike the response of the two-year-old. The ability to perceive the needs of others is unused and unimportant as the child presses for immediate gratification and control. Parents of young adolescents often express frustration, depression, even hopelessness, as the child refuses to comply, to be friendly, to be appeased.

If people successfully grow beyond adolescence, we see autonomy emerge as a part of the crucial forces again in adult lives about every seven years. We often see adults working through autonomy at around 29, again in the 40's - mid-life crisis, and continuing on into elder years and culmination of generativity. It is not lost in emotionally healthy adults, but becomes mitigated and provides energy and an anchor in the development of unique gifts and skills, a force to maintain joie de vivre.

III. Healthy esteem is a result of successfully balancing personal needs and the needs of others - being and doing.

Most people learn to successfully adapt their wishes around the wishes and needs of others. The intense periods of personal demanding become tempered. The child's recognition develops that self and others pay a harsh price when no credence is given to the unfulfilled needs of others; loss of friendship, feeling of alienation, lack of positive response to requests or manipulations. The child hopefully learns that one can best achieve personal needs and succeed with personal goals by attending to the people around them and balancing self gratification with the needs of others.

This is a complex picture of self-esteem. It is vital to see how these facets of the person's emotional development mesh so that educators and parents effectively build the child. It is ineffective and self defeating for a society or an individual to continue to believe that correcting children and structuring educational experiences will ultimately result in emotional harm. To provide the best growing and learning environment for students we must understand then pass a recognition along of the socializing difference between 'right to be' and 'right to do to others'.

IV. Some esteem messages carry more weight than others.

Another component that is a part of the rounded concept of self esteem might be called referent source, or who a person tends to listen to in defining personal value. This link to valuing the self is an emerging and developmental dimension. In infancy the mother is the initial source of information about personal value and the trustworthiness of the world. As time goes on and the child's social circles broaden so also do the voices a child attends to as a function of emotional progress.

Usually the child's need to be valued by others expands to include another adult - most frequently the father, at around 18 months of age. The pattern may be influenced by the culture and social surroundings. Thus, a child being raised by an extended family will bond or "refer to self through others" within the family first, and then extend to neighbor children or those attending the same day care, with cousins, with siblings. The pattern is fairly set, that the child will define the trustworthiness of surroundings based on the ministrations of the adults initially, and then move to children.

Until at least age four, most children do not really "hear" messages from peers. Until preschool age most play is unilateral, even if children are sitting together. As noted in the following chart, that changes little by little, with friends becoming more important and then crucial by the time a child is in third or fourth grade. Children who are "street-wise" may turn to same age children as early as second grade, but that is done out of need for some human source of reassurance. By middle school and high school, peer messages become critical, and for some youngsters, those communiques are the only ones of value, the true measure of who and what matters.

A large number of today's youngsters appear to be growing up without making connections with others; perhaps associating with television characters, sometimes showing failure to thrive, withdrawal, depression. Many seem to be drawn to "things" for a source of self stimulation and self gratification. Examples of substituting a thing for a person as a referent may be money, drugs, sex for the sensation, video games, thrill seeking or cars. [Liking and engaging in these things is not the same as using them as a substitute for human engagement or companionship].

For this reason, the role of teacher is almost sacrosanct, since it can span a child's entire lifetime and can actually replace some of the human referents previously missing for the child. If a child arrives in kindergarten having made no other attachments, it is possible for the teacher to fill that need and to give the child a strong voice of affirmation, a bond, a sense of well-being and kinship to the wealth of joy in human relationships. Certainly many children who have made good bonds and have excellent self-esteem attach to the teacher, even calling her "MOM" and giving mother the teacher's name. Which parent has not heard: "Mr. Jones, I mean Dad, can I go now?"

To recap, the infant is attuned to the messages of the mother, and then the father. As development continues, the child grows to need the assurances and expressed pleasure of playmates. The child enters school and moves beyond the immediate valuing of the family. It becomes important to be recognized as a valued "doing and learning" person who is validated in the school (doing) setting. This is one of the greatest responsibilities (powers) educators have.

A student who finds validation in the first years of school may continue to look for and work for those successes throughout the 12 years of formal education. The better the initial school success experiences are for the child, the more worthy and validating the being and doing messages from teachers will appear. Unfortunately, the child who is devalued in the first years of schooling may stop attending to teacher messages before finishing primary school. If home messages are also mixed or punitive, the child is likely to move to form alliances with peers who also exclude the wealth of socializing assistance available from worthy adults.

Since most children are not cognitively able to tell the difference between right and wrong until age eight or nine, some children fail to fully develop and thus become under socialized adults. The peers, primarily gangs held together by similar feelings of social unworthiness, do not provide lasting or consistent messages to each other and CANNOT become positive sources of high self-esteem. Under socialized youngsters, those who have not established a sense of trust in others, typically seem unable to develop relationships with people. Instead, they appear to move toward defining themselves with “things”. Obtaining money and wealth, regardless of using legal or illegal means, is used to shore up and define self worth. It gives a sense of power.

Still others adolescents define self worth through a sense of might - physical, emotional or spiritual power over fellow beings. Some turn to stimulation - sex for sensation rather than relationship, mood altering substances, food, the adrenalin rush from speeding, daring, falling from heights, fighting, killing.

In spite of the fact that most adults will have little value as a referent source to adolescents, the teacher, (coach, advisor, band director, English instructor, shop or Home Ec. advisor, Science or lab assistant) may continue to influence the student and be valued as a source for legitimately reinforcing emotional well-being, for helping youngsters develop relationship and recognize the impact of their actions and gratification seeking on those close to them as well as the impact on society.

The task is a difficult one. Since these children tend to be “unlikable” and “unreachable” by the time they have reached adolescence, we tend to allow ourselves to unconsciously shut them out of our emotional view. Since they are unable to build and sustain relationship and unable to see how their behaviors impact others, building relationship is initially thankless. By their demeanor and poor socialization skills, they strike out at and hurt those who try to show caring and concern. Through lack of trust, they tend to misread caring and nurturing, to look for weaknesses to expose in those who show respect for them.

 The mistrust and striking at others is one way of coping with the loss of the internal sense of worth, of internally defining and responding to “being” undeserving of attention, thus looking for defenses rather than accepting the love and concern we are expressing. It is the sense of “being” damaged, but not negated entirely. Like a drowning person, the psyche clings to any overhang or proffered assistance, but with such fierce need that the source of assistance may be pulled down, as well.

Despite the lack of reinforcement and acceptance of the initial efforts to build relationship and express positive regard, it is never too late to make a difference in children’s lives. Though it may be years later, though we may never personally know the impact, it is certain that if we are to help children live effective and meaningful lives, they must learn social skills, social perspective, trust. If they are to contribute, they must find peace and acceptance of self.

If the adolescent progresses in a normal fashion and youngster begins to search for meaning in giving to others, and eventually will define self through a love interest and a significant other, a boy/girl friend, building a permanent intimate bond. Frequently the teacher, coach, band director, sponsor, will be an adult the student will turn to for advise and guidance, even when the relationships are shaky at home.

V. The affective filter or self fulfilling prophecy may have a place as a protection, but can and does work against those with poor esteem.

A final important dimension of self-esteem is a function of our sense of well-being. A person who does not feel worthy cannot attend to positive messages, no matter how sincere the message or how appropriate the referent source. It is easy to recall the communication patterns which negate sincere compliments.

As an example, a teacher may tell a parent that s/he has done a good job. The parent, in turn, may respond by saying to the teacher (or inwardly and silently responding) "You're just saying that," "Everybody knew how to do it," or "I just got lucky this time." Efforts to build the internal sense of worth may be consistently sabotaged by some type of internal filtering system.

Positive messages that are dishonest or manipulative may permanently damage the credibility of praise. An unfortunate occurrence for many youngsters in past years has come from the praising messages of adults who believed in building esteem with warm platitudes. Lulling children into believing that just "being" is enough, discounts the importance of “Doing Esteem”. When the child reaches a situation or grade (often middle school) where performance becomes important, the confusion of having been misled or feeling betrayed may be devastating. Many times that betrayal becomes generalized to all "doing" or task-oriented relationships. This underscores the importance of Glasser's (1965) message:

"The need for self-worth, to feel worthwhile, is infinitely related to the concept of love. If a child does not feel worthwhile, he cannot feel loved, and the best way to feel worthwhile is to be worthwhile.... Education which is still based on the homeostasis theory avoids confronting young people with ideals and values so that as few demands as possible may be imposed on them (p. xvi)."

VI. People need to be successful and to feel successful.

We all need to feel successful. Our emotional lives literally depend upon it. The ability to be successful in life may depend upon it. This should not be misinterpreted! Human beings do not just need to feel successful. They need to accomplish, to know they have accomplished and thus to feel successful; because they are successful, because they recognize that they have genuine skills and that they have mastery of media, of social setting, of themselves. This constitutes the integration of the BEING and DOING aspects of self-esteem. We are more likely to believe the world is a safe place and that we have the power to effect changes and feel good about self and community when there is a balance in Being and Doing esteem.

In summary, self esteem is a very complex and intertwined part of every person. We need to have clear information about the interactions of different components of self-esteem and how they coordinate the individual's world visions with respect to power, control and responsibility since it is the crux of so much of our lives and our interactions with each other. The growing and maturing person shows progress by spiraling along the path back and forth from autonomy to heteronomy - from having things "my way" to getting things done in a more socially acceptable and personally rewarding fashion.

Repeatedly, as human beings develop, we cycle through times of tantrum and trauma. As newborns we had a lot of control -- no responsibility. As weaning and toilet training came along, we bowed to the pressure of the care giver, gave up some of our cherished control and began the life-long process of gaining control over self and recognizing the needs of others, thus becoming truly powerful. In addition, as the child successfully completes developmental milestones, the social focus broadens to include a growing circle of referent sources. Having learned to successfully negotiate and control the demands of self, the child learns to add the dimensions of parental awareness and initial responsibility to family.

If similar success is possible in the school setting, the student becomes more socially adept and learns to accept social responsibility. This contributes to a sense of safety in negotiating peer demands, and eventually coming full cycle to responsible adulthood. With introspection we may gain awareness that we have attained varying stages of ability to control self, to sublimate pleasures, to appropriately vent frustration,and from these interactions, to derive and nourish a sense of well-being.

Neither parents nor teachers are the sole participants in this process. No one person contains a child's future well being and sense of doing esteem. Many people, family foremost and then teachers, relatives, scout leaders, clergy walk the path with the child who slowly emerges from egocentric - "all I can see is me" childhood to a maturing, sharing giving, accomplishing student of life.

Environment or child

Acknowledging power and control as functions of individually discrete manifestations of personality as well as part of a social context, contributes to understanding the dynamics of child and student management (Johnson & Johnson, 1994). One focus in the literature refers to the classroom as an environment to change and children as all made of the same fabric, all trainable and manageable by external forces (Skinner, 1987; Canter & Canter,1976). The tacit corollary suggests that understanding human nature and studying or attending to individual differences is unimportant in classroom management. In fact, the name classroom management itself defines the role for discipline - managing “things” and environments. The emphasis is at least an unconscious choice, for parenting is not called home management.

Our beliefs about the purpose of the classroom and our own maturity impact the structure we develop and try to keep in place. If we view the classroom as an environment to be managed, then students who resist rules and guidelines are seen as a threat. Behavior management techniques are initiated, then punishment, then one to one behavior contracts. If a student refuses to be managed, the next option is removal from the classroom, and sometimes from the school. A ground rule in such a classroom might read. “I am here to teach, you are here to learn” [Comply and let me teach ] (Canter, 1989).

If we view the classroom as an extension of ourselves, then student attempts to change the environment may be viewed as personal assault. Any move toward independence may be a threat to the stability we arrange, any deviation may be perceived as a mutiny. Student attempts to establish personal parameters to achieve personal learning or meet a ‘needs’ agenda, tend to be viewed as at least thoughtless, and more likely as disrespectful.

In this framework, the teacher uses personal power and charisma to “charm” students into cooperating. It is a powerful model in many ways. Students love to feel included and like the personal involvement of the teacher. The teacher feels rewarded and feels a sense of bond and community with students. The deviations from teacher choices are accepted for a while as the teacher tries to “reach” the errant student. Failing that, the teacher and student progress to veiled dislike. The student baits the teacher, the teacher responds with sarcasm. The student defies the teacher, the teacher refers the student for counseling. The enmity builds between the two major players and the emotions and unrest splash into the classroom. Again, the teacher looks for a way to remove the student from class. The ground rule in this class is “I want to be liked by you.” Sometimes there are sophisticated additions to the message, but again, if students comply they are seen as likable and if they do not, they become the enemy, are seen as hostile, or are referred to special programs.

Both of these typical scenarios from today’s classrooms focus on the idea of managing the environment. Teacher is leader, teacher is boss. Teacher, by careful planning, good lessons and good intentions provides a beneficial milieu. Healthy students learn in these environments. Students who do not learn and comply in sync with others, need to be adjusted. What may appear just as obvious is that individuality, creativity, and divergent thinking or behaving are assaults to the carefully tuned environment. Students who insist on engaging in them are likely to be viewed as willful. The further the ideas or actions are from the teacher’s carefully tuned classroom, the more cacophonous they sound and the more uncomfortable they become. Eventually, environment wins out and the youth is brought into compliance or removed.

It is a very small monster, indeed, the idea of focusing on children rather than environment, but it grows to take over rapidly (-- -- and it really frightens many educators and parents, this wee monster of a philosophy). A central focus on children suggests building a relationship that features training, then educating each to become competent human beings and capable citizens who eventually become partners in community (Mischel, 1979). The environment becomes a milieu and moves to a more secondary position. We act from the presumption that children have predisposed universal tendencies and states of being and we also assume they have individual gifts, talents and tendencies that are unique and that each who shares in the community will bring change and richness, texture and complexity.

We recognize that this idea of management literally involves helping each youngster set up the optimal structure for self and, simultaneously, that each participant [adults as well as children] learn to blend self desires with needs of the learning community (Johnson & Johnson, 1994). Skills for socialization and attention to individual and personal development become mutually valuable. The teacher or parent attends to acquiring a deeper understanding of human personality and honing the ability to value idiosyncratic aspects of each child. After all, learning is not a linear task, but rather an intricate and interwoven evolution of product and process, thinking and relating, sharing ideas and reframing concepts based on new and emerging perspectives.

By viewing children as the primary focus of education, our role as teacher shifts from manager of class to enhancer of each student. As environment becomes more secondary and less a personal agenda, we can feel freed to empower students to enter into the process of shared management. That includes an expectation that the social setting we devise will call forth management of self and participation in the learning community from all learning community members. The process is similar in the home environment. The child is dependent and subject to the authority of the adults at first. Over time, the decisions and functions of the family are shared. As the child becomes more able and adept, choices and consequences become mutual and cooperative agreements.

Recognizing and valuing inherent natural skills for socialization and attention to individual and personal development become important, as well. Understanding elements and components of personality and valuing idiosyncratic aspects of each youngster adds crucial elements to teaching and learning success. This knowledge base, knowing how to understand self, looking for, recognizing and valuing each individual in the family or learning community, the strengths, the idiosyncratic personalities, the needs, the desires helps in building healthy community. This further enhances the need to understand more about power and control.

As shown in the following discussion, realizing the mechanisms of power and autonomy may be the most fundamental, foundational piece for successfully moving interactions from a focus on environment to valuing and focusing on people and building relationships. If, as it appears, the human need for power and control explains most of the interactions of life, then it is crucial to see how it manifests itself and how it develops.

The power and control phenomenon appears to be present in the earliest human behaviors. The initial bonding between child and mother takes place in the first moments and hours, almost in concert with those first breaths. The infant goes through a series of eye contact moves, nuzzling behaviors and “flirting” maneuvers that contribute to bonding in the first days. (Kagan & Moss, 1962). As nurturing from the mother takes place, the bond increases. Love, if it is defined as the mutual giving of trust and a sharing of power, is not yet present in the infant, though certainly the appearance and initial foundations are in place.

In those first infant months of total dependence, the infant “controls” the mother to get needs met. The infant cries, the mother comes. Baby squirms, the mother attends. The infant makes sounds and coos - mother applauds.

The child is helpless to fulfill needs; immobile, unable to forage, incapable of toilet care or personal hygiene. It is crucial that the parent respond positively to the needs and demands of the tiny dependent. We view these gentle ministerings almost as a birthright, something synonymous with our cultural vision of mother.

The infant heralds dramatic shifts in the family relationships. Parents recognize a sharp change in every aspect of life. Already the dynamics of power and control are evolving. The infant becomes the center of the family who emerges as the new “boss”. Everything seems to revolve around the needs of the helpless baby. Is this loss of power? The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (1993) definition cites: Power - ability to do or act, capability for doing or effecting; strength, might [Offensive?] Is it loss of control? The definition for control, Control - to exercise restraint or direction over, to hold in check, to restrain (Merriam-Webster, 1993) [Defensive?] The family struggles with redefining the hierarchy and regaining a sense of control in their lives. As parents adapt to the infant’s needs (often seen as demands), there is a waning sense of disorder.

Personality traits

The child’s personality contributes to the ease or difficulty of the adjustments. Some babies are “easy” while others are irritable and irascible (Ilg & Ames, 1955). In the context of power and control, this means that some infants impinge lightly and are easily comforted. The changes demanded of the family are modest. The sleepless nights are few, the episodes of crying, brief. The parents feel successful at nurturing. Other infants are less easily pacified and their needs are not so well contained. They turn the family schedule and dynamics upside down. If parents maintain the careful loving demeanor with these infants, it is not without cost to them! Typically all of life is impacted; the parents’ relationship is deeply strained, work is effected, energy levels are pressed, time is at a premium, emotional drain is high for all concerned.

Research (Brazelton, 1983; Ilg, Ames & Baker,1981) suggest that this infant response set may be a continuum. Some children, 10 -20% of infants, appear to be easy; 10-20% appear to be testy; the rest fall in the more intermediate ranges. In addition to this genetic mix, there appears to be an increase in number or percentage of high demand infants due to chemical assault. Both crack-cocaine and fetal alcohol syndrome infants fit the latter description (Murray-Lyon, 1985) of fussy, difficult to comfort, irritable, demanding of time and attention with little positive response to comforting. This extends our understanding of dynamics in the classroom. Not only are children difficult or easy as babies, these tendencies are embedded in each child’s personality and continue into the school setting and into adult life. In classrooms, the same percentages of youngsters who are cooperative and disruptive are likely to emerge. Knowing that these personality traits are an intrinsic part of student personality helps us to see our teaching role as recognizing and understanding difficult students rather than personalizing their actions. It also alerts us that disruptive students will need more assistance and practice in acquiring successful socializing than those who seem to enjoy cooperative practices.

Personality - Traits and States

As the studies progress in genetics and biochemistry we are gaining evidence that personality has more to do with the genes we are dealt than we had suspected. Recognizing this emerging scientific evidence does not mean discounting environment or culture, but it does mean that we must reassess our assumptions about personality. It now appears that each child has the blueprint for a very personalized and unique set of skills, gifts, abilities and strengths at birth. Further, each child brings predilections and response sets into each environment.

Let’s begin with a metaphor which compares personality to the current model of music to help turn the idea of personality into a concrete construct. By visualizing DNA strands, which actually look very much like a twisted keyboard, we might make a mental comparison of personality being very much like a key board. Using the piano keyboard visual, personality components would be quite numerous, and would include actual traits we could name and individuate through definition.

 A Continuum of Traits

On the piano, there are over 100 different keys which can be pushed -- over 100 different notes can be individually struck or played. The possible personality variations or traits may be as numerous. During the 1930’s and 1940’s a lot of work was done to name, define and do research on personality traits (Cattell, 1946). Though identifying a litany of traits is no longer a trend, psychologists have checklists which are used to recognize, define and measure traits like ascendance or submission, extroversion or introversion.

In addition to the named notes on a keyboard, there are a large number of oscillations or “off key” sounds that we can slide along between two named tones. On the key board there are no notes possible between the notes we have named “B” and “C .” However, many musical instruments can produce a large range of tones between any two notes. This bears similarity to viewing personality traits as a continuum. Sliding along a personality trait continuum is not nearly as exacting as the oscillations in the tonal spectrum. As an example, if compassion is the trait, what are the two extremes to be? Would we use magnanimity to indifference? Pity to ruthlessness? Self involved to empathic?

Cattell and other associates became caught up in an ensuing controversy of what part of personality might be traits (relatively permanent) and which characteristics or behaviors were due to states (transitory). In addition, the difficulty in researching and reaching agreement among theorists on common definitions of widely recognized traits made the task arduous. As an example, creativity is defined in widely divergent terms, and while Cattell (1963) and Guilford (1967) might refer to it as a trait, many others would see it more closely represented as a transitory moment, as a form of actualization or as an altered state of being.

In summary, for the purposes of initiating this rubric as one way of describing human nature, we take words which have been generally defined to describe emotional responses and see them much as we view the tones between notes in music. Using this idea, anxiety would be much less a labeled and carefully defined set of symptoms or behaviors and much more of a continuum of behaviors and ways of being. This disrupts the ability to make easy discriminations and then label them in a diagnostic manner, but it appears to contribute to a more complete look at personality.

There are a number of very different ideas about why people behave as they do and which work to explain human behavior. Depending on the school of thought initiating the anxiety definition, it may be a heightened state with legitimate precursors (a grizzly bear chasing someone through virtual reality or the bathroom scene in the movie,”Psycho”). Anxiety might be seen as a trait (from infancy the child bit his nails and engaged in “self stimming” with every perceived change in the environment). It might be seen as a symptom (as in one indication of agoraphobia). Perhaps it would be better described as a precursor or motivator (so the student, to alleviate the feeling of anxiety about the exam, studied through the night).

As a biochemical state or symptomatic marker it could also describe the efficacy of an adrenalin injection (the rapid eye movement and heightened blood pressure, blood level). The teacher might look at a child and say that s/he appeared anxious. That might be enough information. S/he looks at the child, the student seems anxious based on these three non-verbal cues, so there is a decision to build a little better rapport before beginning testing.

In other situations, particularly those which are more attuned to a diagnostic or therapeutic frame, there might be a need for a great deal more information. To that listing of nonverbal evidence of anxiety, one might add historical clues about previous evidence of anxiousness and even review medical data which might indicate biochemical precursors.

Multidimensional layering of information is already constructed in the DSM-IIIR [Diagnostic Screening Manual, third revision; used by psychologists to determine diagnoses of medical and personality problems] (1987), and has continued with the DSM-IV. The layers, or dimensions certainly assist in diagnostic pursuits when we move beyond behavioral indicators. I believe it is important to construct a similar type of model to define and understand behavior. Thus we would apply a matrix system as a way of thinking about personality and in defining and explicating human nature.

Social Context

The growing global village has brought culture shock into nearly every classroom and many social situations. Children are growing up around peers who have different languages, behavior patterns and sensitivities. The blending of cultures is occurring all around us, so social context and multi-cultural interpretation are part of most lives and are part of the biological ecology surrounding and encompassing our interactions. What used to be a textbook discussion about recognizing and being attuned to peoples’ differing cultural contexts is the reality of four students from divergent countries in the world, sitting in my course and struggling to understand my rapid-fire English while also attempting to make sense out of my American sense of humor.

At the end of my class, all 45 students who have been in attendance will have had a different experience. Each individual review of the lecture will have a unique tone to it, since my world view about a subject was subsequently sifted through a temporal, cultural and personal sieve as it became study notes or was taken into the memory for storage and retrieval. This will occur if we listen to Beethoven, The Grateful Dead, visit Disney World or go see the Grand Canyon together.

We are human, and thus it is true that we have much in common. Still, we can better understand human behavior and personality if we are able to expand our notion of what is occurring and what we are seeing in the actions of others by including the possibility that our views do not match. We are not necessarily seeing or sensing what the other person sees and senses, and if we were to perceive the same scene, we still might interpret those perceptions in vastly different ways. Knowing this impacts on the art of teaching in significant ways.

Perhaps a musical example to illustrate this point might be the recognition of a favorite song. Today, teens will rush to buy songs which have been chosen number one. Some will truly fall in love with the songs on the recording, while others will listen a time or two and then replay an old favorite. Because of my individual personality, my favorite songs will continue to be favorites, but what I hear in those songs eludes my daughter and my best friend is clear that she does not want to hear Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (R. Strauss) for the 99th time.

Personal context

Personal context might be likened to tonal qualities as part of the musical metaphor. Middle C sounds different as it comes through an oboe or a French horn, is sung by a soprano or played by a cello. The number of possibilities or permutations on personality traits and their expression explodes as we range through an orchestral compliment. The note is still middle “C” but the distinctions and differences, though subtle, are recognizable and clear to those who are attuned or listening for the difference. The reverse is also true. To the untrained ear, to the person who is not gifted in musical tones, or who is attuned to other sounds, the differences and distinctions are lost.

Using compassion as an example, we can recognize its manifestation if we are looking for it, regardless of who is expressing it. Compassion has a unique quality in every person who exhibits it, not just a variance in quantity exhibited. And if we are not attuned to compassion, compassionate acts may be ignored or go completely unrecognized because of a personal affective filter or focus.

The environmental and societal impact might also be likened to variations on a musical theme. In this example, a refrain of music might be played in a Gershwin style, as Chopin might have written it, or in a more Bach kind of fugue presentation. Using the example of compassion again, the compassionate behavior might be showy, seeming staged and more of an act than a true expression of empathy and concern. An act of compassion might be more of a quiet, unobtrusive reaching in and assisting with unassuming perfunctoriness, or it might be so repetitive and pervasive that it subsumes the other person’s ability to care for self. Thus compassion is not only a property which exists along a continuum, it takes on dimensions and meanings according to the backdrop and actions surrounding it and who is perceiving it.


Like the notion of the rests in music having as much impact as the actual tones, so does the acoustical space in which a note is played. The energy, the consistency, repetition, percussive involvement define how we attend to the notes we hear and the message we derive. A myriad of ideas surround this notion. Has the audience heard the melody before? Is it a familiar refrain, warming in tone? Is it raucous and stimulating, intense, romantic? Is it music for another generation? Does it evoke a nationalistic sense?

Using compassion as an example again, one can recall a time when compassion was defined in one instance as a political coup, a time when one might refer to a compassionate act as a sissy way to behave, as an heroic act, as cowardly and unworthy. Depending on tender nuances, a man who is hit and turns around without striking back may be a peacemaker or a coward. A woman who strikes back may be unladylike, or protective. A child who strikes back may be undisciplined or cheered on. A policeman who strikes back may be a bully, or protecting others in the crowd. A feeble person who strikes back may be foolish, whimsical, pitiful.

. . . . and thus we compound the complexity. . . .

Factored and “heard” together

Another way that this metaphor assists us may come in separating out the clusters of characteristics which we have pulled together to define a trait, much as notes that come together to make a chord.

Intelligence is an example that has gained universal attention. The aspects which cluster together and are connoted as intelligence are so closely aligned that we have given one name to multiple traits. Even the original developers of intelligence tests, Binet & Simon (1916) Terman (1917), Cattell (1963), knew that many factors were involved and utilized statistical analyses to narrow and measure the components. Today we have listings of seven types of intelligence, multiple types of inter-intellectual modes of reasoning, Guilford’s three faces of intellect, four styles of thinking and learning .

With all of this, we have experts who are attuned to looking for and measuring intelligence, but we are not in agreement about what it may be, how to truly measure it, what all the manifestations of intelligence are.

Seeing intelligence as a series of notes played together, or a series of chords which make a refrain, is probably a more accurate representation than stating that a person has an IQ of 125.

I’ve got rhythm . . .

In addition to the concept of traits being more than a fixed point, the repetition of markers or behaviors for a trait affect the way a personality appears. Part of the search for who I am and who “you” are has to do with a hope that once and for all “I” will be able to understand myself, know what “I” will do and then get about doing it. For safety sake, knowing what “you” will do is even more important, since it will allow “me” to have the time to better plan my own response, so “you” never catch me unaware, and perhaps, so that I have a better sense of control or power over situations and possibly, over “you” as well.

In music this is like the time signature. The piece we are playing is a waltz, and until I know that the music has come to a conclusion, I want that repetitive feeling of three beats. If the composition changes, I want a cue to alert me to that change. Composers who have traded on constant changes in rhythm patterns have

a following, but have not gained wide exposure of popularity.

Human beings who are consistently unpredictable tend to be described in symptomatic terms, i.e., there is a sense of “dis - ease”. Some of the terms used to describe the lack of rhythm might be conduct disorder, lack of impulse control, emotional lability. Human beings do a great deal of maneuvering to feel that they have control over life and to declare that they are consistent. As is true of composers who write unpredictable sequences, there is limited tolerance and acceptance for behavior patterns which are aberrant or unpredictable.

Repetition of predictable behaviors is a vital part of human needs. Another name for this might be routine, organization or ritual. Human beings want stimulation and excitement, but they also want predictability and safety.

Using the notion of rhythm in another way, we can describe repetition of behaviors which appear to others as unstable. Obsessive and compulsive behaviors, tics, Parkinson like movement are categorized as symptoms and of something being amiss. Monotony - just one tone sounded over and over again, one action repeated over and over again, even if syncopated, lacks acceptance.

Full Speed Ahead

1) Each person has value that is unique to that one particular individual.

2) Each person has a personal and idiosyncratic response set. That is both normal and acceptable.

3) “Hearing” each person’s melody and then assisting in validation, strengthening, and refinement of that refrain is important:

a. helping the child recognize the ”solo” is a valid goal.

b. assisting the youth with “control” of the sounds and times for performing a “solo” is invaluable.

c. promoting a complimentary harmony and relationship is a crucial life aspiration.

4) Youth misbehavior or off key passages are often a short practice session or two away from good performance.

5) Viewing actions along a continuum often promotes energy and gives a sense of hope to the task of developing a better response set.

6) Looking at youths’ “misbehaviors” as a developmental or occasional possible response rather than the symptom of a serious emotional state, frees up energy and optimism to help youngsters make better choices and see more options. It also tends to energize the adult to keep believing in the child and working toward development of harmonious practices rather than engaging in power struggles or resorting to punitive measures.

7) An adult’s “world view” is almost certainly not the view held by or heard by most youngsters.

8) We may not understand why a child behaves a certain way in a situation, but we can worry less about poor choices if we recognize these ideas:

a. everyone is the same in some ways, and VERY unique in others.

b. one person’s world views and images may be very different from another’s and both be accurate in some way.

c. all of us are inconsistent and frequently more unpredictable than we let ourselves believe or wish to know.

d. nuances are primarily cognitive in nature and can be addressed.

9) Getting better behavior from ourselves and others is much like preparing for a concert.

Each person must be willing to practice one individual part and take responsibility for playing it well and on time.

Each must be willing to allow others to play individual solos at the appropriate time.

Each must be willing to play together in concert.

The conductor (teacher) must be willing to give direction to each and to the group.

The conductor (teacher) must be willing to adequately practice with the group until there is true harmony.

The great performance is always more than the sum of the parts. It is greater than each note played. It derives much of the greatness from the tension of good will, good wishes and the sharing of gifts that is passed among participants and audience. by J'Anne Ellsworth


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