Walker and Bullis  have observed that school children must make two primary adjustments in school. One involves adjusting to the behavioral expectations and demands of the teachers in the classroom, and includes obedience to classroom rules, attending to tasks, completing assigned work, and exhibiting other skills valued by teachers. These behaviors have been termed “school survival skills” and appear consistently in studies of teacher behavioral standards and expectations [Cobb, 1972; Kerr & Zigmond, 1984; Kerr, Zigmond, Schaeffer, & Brown, 1986; Mc Connell et al., 1984; Walker & Rankin, 1983]. Children also must adjust to the expectations and behaviors of peers in settings where social interactions occur (e.g., free play settings). Here, children must learn appropriate play behaviors and develop friendship patterns [Walker & Bullis, 1991].” [Nelson & Pearson, 1991]
Making such adjustments is more or less difficult for the child contingent upon two factors: 1) the compatibility of the cultural social expectations of the family and the school, and 2) the characteristics of the student’s internal or external responses. Children with external behaviors can exhibit high levels of conflict with adults and peers which leads to a disproportionate identification of such “acting out” children as emotionally and behaviorally disturbed. In addition, “Youths with chronic patterns of antisocial and delinquent behaviors are less likely to remain in community settings” [Nelson & Pearson, 1991]. There is a great deal of evidence in the literature to indicate that such removal from valued settings removes an important social valorization that will negatively influence the growth and development of the child.
The role of frustration
It should be clear to most observers that emotional and behavioral difficulties usually occur when goal-seeking behaviors are frustrated by mental impediment, interpersonal encumbrance, and/or social incompetence.
Incompetence can be defined as the lack of skill or capacity to act effectively; or the failure to have the capacity to meet the requirements of the environment. Such incompetence can be because of a lack of physical or mental capacity or the lack of a behavior repertoire that contains the necessary skills.
Interpersonal encumbrance, which can be defined as another person interfering with or being perceived as interfering with the individual’s goal seeking, occurs regularly and results in responsive behavior. Simply stopping goal seeking behavior may not necessarily result in emotional and/or behavioral problem since questions of self-affirmation [how I feel about myself] and other-confirmation [how others feel about me; and perhaps more importantly, how I believe others feel about me] enters the picture, but such occurrences are salient events which have emotional and behavioral potential.
Mental impediments can be physical or cognitive. An individual may have limited cognitive ability due to brain damage or mental retardation or have solid cognitive credentials, but make “cognitive errors” which effect the ability to effectively process information. In the later case, certain mental schemas [belief systems about self, others and prospects] may need to be restructured in order to allow the individual to “feel” sufficiently confident to deal with either the goal seeking or the interference. In the former case, the physical limitations must be recognized as interfering with the student’s ability to process information effectively and therefore information regarding social interactions needs to be organized and conveyed through individually designed instructional strategies just as we would do with academic materials.
Each of these factors contributes to a frustration of the student’s goal seeking behaviors. If the school is to develop methods to diminish frustration as a means of diminishing the context for social issues, it needs to better understand the parameters of its own involvement as well as the processes going on in the child. Howard Gardner  developed an interesting perspective of this context in which he sees neurobiological constraints [mental structures] on the one hand, and the school systems historical and institutional constraints on the other hand, frustrating children’s goal seeking intent.
Gardner defines three characteristic learners: The intuitive learner: reflects neurobiological and developmental constraints owing to species membership and evolution. These constraints are very powerful, and prove very difficult to dissolve. The kinds of materials and skills that we master easily seem to be those to which the species is especially attuned. Certain realms [like language] can be mastered in a natural way. The young child masters a great deal of information and appears highly competent in his or her circumscribed world being able to use and comprehend symbol systems fluently and offer workaday theories and explanations of the worlds of mind, matter, life and self. Because of the ease with which these performances are expressed, Gardner terms them performances of intuitive [naive or natural] understanding. It should be emphasized that these understandings are often immature, misleading, or fundamentally misconceived.
Children come to master many apparently complex domains easily, but not those matters for which schools have been designed. There is a gap between the intuitive learner and the traditional student. Students who have perfectly adequate intuitive understandings often exhibit great difficulty in mastering the lessons of school. It is these students who exhibit “learning problems” or “learning disorders”.
The traditional student has profound constraints that operate on him which are of an extrinsic sort: the historical and institutional constraints that are embedded in schools that have evolved over time to serve certain societal purpose in certain ways. Gardner notes that in the school context, educators have ordinarily sought and accepted rote, or ritualistic, performance. Even esteemed students typically do not successfully transfer their knowledge to new settings, and, worse, they typically do not appreciate that they have fallen back on the powerful but naive understandings of early childhood. Hence the traditional student emerges as at least as remote from the disciplinary expert as the younger, intuitive learner since even those students who apparently succeed in schools often have not understood in a deep sense the very concepts and principles around which their educational program has been designed.
Performances of disciplinary or genuine understanding are always changing and never complete; expertise is manifest when an individual embodies his culture’s current understanding of the domain. The gap between the intuitive learner and the disciplinary expert requires an awareness that the two understandings are of a fundamentally different order. One is the natural but naive understanding that has evolved over centuries to yield a reasonably serviceable first-order grasp of the world; while the other provides the best possible account of the world – even when that account flies in the face of long-standing institutions, received wisdom, or unwitting but well-entrenched stupidity.
Gardner goes on to define at least seven different ways of knowing the world [human intelligences] that include language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, the use of the body to solve problems, an understanding of other individuals, and an understanding of ourselves. He points out that the educational bias frustrates learners who are not language or at least logical-mathematical oriented. We would also point out that those students who have a high degree of intelligence in understanding themselves and others are often the one’s most able to negotiate the frustrations in some workable order; and those with the least adeptness in self-awareness and empathy are in real social deficit.
In short, there are sufficient frustrations for the developing child in regards to goal seeking interference in even the best schools. If we are to extrapolate from Gardner, we need to understand that children develop naive ‘social’ mental schema [understandings of themselves, others and future prospects] sometime between the ages of four and six. Often these understandings are maintained despite other learning that is more sophisticated. Since the student often brings this understanding of the world [and his/her place in it] into the school and finds the first potential for dispute of these understandings in the school; this dispute should be organized to be a positive and supportive one. A failure of the school to recognize the naive social education readiness of many of its students and to intervene in a proactive manner is incongruent with the mission of public education. On the other hand, intrusive interventions that focus on control are not only inappropriate, but challenge the student’s basic understanding of the world without providing an appropriate alternative.
Truly corrective interventions will require that the student develop a deep understanding of how they themselves function in relation to others. The technologies used by schools to reach this understanding must be coherent with all other educational approaches and allow the individual student opportunity to make choices about the validity of the content for their own lives.
The purpose of our discussion then, is to outline an appropriate approach for schools to take in dealing with students whose social problems interfere with their ability to play, learn and work effectively.
The ordinary process of intervening educationally is one of teaching. This is usually done through the conveyance of content information, usually in allegorical or metaphorical form, so that the student is able to build on present knowledge. If there are specific behaviors expected, such as doing a math problem, the teacher then models the behavior and has the student role play or behaviorally rehearse the behavior. The teacher provides feedback and evaluation. Then finally, if the teacher is a good one, s/he will reinforce the actions with a “good job”. This is just as true for math as for science. It must also be true for a social education process.
Despite our admonition against teachers having the responsibility to ‘control’ student social behavior, this is exactly the expectation that is most often placed. And it may be the very reason why the literature indicates that teachers give much more negative feedback than positive feedback. If the teacher is ‘modeling’ the behavior; what model is s/he displaying? In order for the educational intervention to be effective in changing social behavior and allowing the student to continue in the education environment, the intervention must meet the following criteria:
- The ‘content’ both as articulated and modeled, must be prosocial.
- The student must remain in the valued setting [home, school and community].
- The consequences must always provide the student with more information, be respectful of person, be beneficial, and fair; this requires student choice and noncoercive use of authority. Limits and accountability are essential ingredients in motivating the offender to change. The key is to place the responsibility and the power for making a choice on the offender and to both enforce limits and support ‘good’ choices.
- The school must support the parents to maintain their responsibility for the social behavior of their child. Such support may include teaching parents both prosocial content and skills required for this purpose.
In 1994, the Office of Special Education Programs developed a national agenda for achieving better results with children and youth, which states: “Effectively serving and meeting the needs of children and youth with serious emotional disturbance [SED] and their families is a national concern.” [It requires] a vision of transformed service systems, reoriented professional attitudes, and an emphasis on positive outcomes (italics added)” [A National Agenda – 1994]. While we would expand this to include all students who display social incompetence, we address the same concern for a transformed system. In addition, we seek a zero defect outcome such as that articulated by the Educate America Act: Goals 2000. “Every School in the United States will be free of drugs, violence, and the unauthorized presence of firearms and alcohol and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.”
Meeting such an outcome will require a transformational change in strategy. Both education, as articulated in the “National Agenda for Achieving Better Results for Children and Youth with Serious Emotional Disturbance”  and mental health, as articulated in “All Systems Failure” acknowledge the failure of the present systems to effectively serve students with social incompetence. In response, they articulate new values and ignore new technology; continuing to do what they have always done.
Organizations & Systems
Improving technology alone, however, is not likely to create effective organizational or systems transformation. In making the shift from a traditional model to social education model, one is required to look at a full range of organizational elements. In the 1980 article “Structure Is Not Organization” by Robert H. Waterman, Jr., Thomas J. Peters, and Julian R. Phillips, they identify structure, strategy, systems, style, skills, staff and superordinate goals or mission as the elements. It is not sufficient to focus on one organizational element as a multiplicity of factors influence an organization’s ability to change.
The idea is that it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to make significant progress in one area without making progress in the others as well. There is no starting point or implied hierarchy. A priori, it isn’t obvious which of the seven elements will be the driving force in a particular organization. The construct of ‘driving force’ is one of considerable importance. The ‘driving force’ of an organization is that idea or proposition which is so salient it is persuasive with the rest of the elements. We speak elsewhere of the ‘driving force’ as the key decision determinant of the organization; that notion that creates the strategy of the organization, its uniqueness and specialness.
We would suggest that when one examines closely the traditional organizational and systems models used to effectively manage atypical social behavior, one would see that the ‘driving force’ is the construct of ‘pathology’ and that support for this construct is apparent in each of the organizational elements. However, while the traditional model is quite congruent, it is contrary to the best current professional thinking in almost every case.
The failure to develop the new professional values into an effective system of service provision stems from the failure to address ALL of the organizational elements effectively. Attempts to change technology (skills) without changing other elements leads to an incoherent system that defeats itself. Values get articulated, but not acted upon. True transformation will not occur until all the organizational elements are consistent with the new technology.
In order to make the social education transformation, schools will need to address their own perspectives or beliefs regarding behavior and reorient professional attitudes. If school personnel were honest with themselves, they would recognize that they refer to the mental health system in order to ‘control’ the atypical social behaviors that disrupt the educational process in the same manner in which they refer to the juvenile justice system for criminal behavior. Such referrals abrogate the school’s responsibility to “teach students how to behave appropriately”.
Creating an organizational change
Along with an examination of belief system, schools will need to identify and alter adult behavior as well. “Intervention [for social misbehavior] is often limited to external control, with little attention given to internal development of self-control, self-management, self-advocacy, and conflict resolution skills” [A National Agenda – 1994]. These attempts at external control should be replaced by “(t)wo primary types of [teacher mediated] intervention (which) enable teachers to manage aggressive behaviors: rearranging behavior enhancements and behavior reduction contingencies for aggression and teaching appropriate, prosocial skills that are incompatible with antisocial acts. These two approaches are based on a social learning theory model that presumes that aggressive behaviors are learned and that prosocial skills that are incompatible with aggressive behaviors can be taught (Bandura, 1971).
Creating a prosocial culture
While contingency control has proven to be effective, it has been used primarily as a ‘response’ mechanism to social behaviors that are already considered inappropriate. We would recommend taking a more prosocial stance. One can develop a prevention posture by combining the problem solving prosocial skill techniques with an environmental enhancement of contingent reward. Through developing a set of shared values, attitudes and practices in regard to a five step process [1. Stop and think, 2. Good choice/bad choice, 3. What are the alternatives, 4. Just do it, and 5. Good job]. These prosocial practice approaches have proven effective in providing a milieu that diminishes social problems, providing the staff values and attitudes support them. Thus teacher/student and peer/peer behavior [social content] is structured through a school culture approach that provides both skills for problem solving as well as situational reinforcement.
Other techniques can be explored through attribution training and Marvin Marshall’s Discipline without Reward or Punishment – Fostering Social Responsibility. Generally ‘seeding’ the environment with prosocial memes, rituals and artifacts can go a long way to helping to prevent problem behavior from becoming accepted, though unacceptable behavior.
The use of a prosocial curriculum that focuses on specific content of emotional and behavioral skill areas and can be tailored to the social concerns of an individual school is also supportive to shaping a prosocial culture. However, it has the additional benefit of developmentally supporting a child who has learned survival behaviors in one culture that are now ineffective in school.
The most traditional example is that of the child who continues to fight because his parent tells him/her s/he should. The school should have no expectation of, or desire to, abrogate the role of parent, which would only confuse the child and potentially develop a conflict between child/parent, parent/teacher or all three1. At the same time, school personnel must recognize that such a student is not likely to have the behavioral capacity to meet the expectations of the school. Teaching appropriate alternative behaviors allows the student to choose the appropriate behavior in the appropriate environment.
Finally, there is the understanding that some students perform inappropriate social acts because they perceive them to be ‘effective’ given the circumstances. The underlying principle of all cognitive change programs is that thinking controls behavior. “It is simple, but not simplistic. We recognize that thinking, emotions, and behaviors form a complex network, with similarities and differences in different individuals. A given ‘cognitive structure’ is the individual system of cognitive behaviors each of us learns in the process of growing up. A cognitive structure includes thoughts, beliefs, principles, attitudes, and habitual patterns of thinking. Our cognitive structure helps us interpret, understand, and respond to the world around us” [Cognitive Programs in Corrections – 1997].
A teacher’s cognitive structure leads him or her to interpret the social behavior of the child. If the teacher believes that s/he must control the behavior of the student or that the student cannot control his/her own behavior; then obviously the teacher is cast in a role that is not only unsuitable but also probably undoable. The teacher is then doubly incoherent in that s/he believes that s/he must control the student, but does not believe s/he can. This should predictably lead to attempts at control that are ineffective. Combine this teacher behavior with a student whose belief system is that they “must stand up for themselves” and you can easily see how this interaction leads to a ‘conduct disorder’ label.
Students who display atypical behavior have cognitive structures that support those behaviors. An approach that helps this student discover for him or her self the particular way of thinking that drives his or her behavior is called cognitive restructuring. Such restructuring is predicated on self-awareness and self-responsibility motivating self-change. Every student is an individual driven by the same human needs as the rest of us. “The process of cognitive change can be defined as: 1) identifying the behavior to be changed; 2) identifying the thinking that drives this behavior; 3) learning to interrupt this thinking and replace it with new thinking; and 4) practicing this new thinking until it becomes habitual” [Cognitive Programs in Corrections – 1997].
Automatic or habitual thoughts are often not conscious. Our actions become reflex actions to a thought process we hardly identify in a conscious way. In addition, we often repress our thinking because the thought itself is bothersome to us. We need a ‘mirror’ – another person who will be trusted sufficiently to help us become a aware of and articulate our ‘inner dialogue’ and dispute our evaluation of the evidence as understood through our cognitive structure. Often the habitual thinking is so ingrained that even awareness does not sufficiently impede its impact. The helper may need to ‘dispute’ the thought with evidence to the contrary over and over; as the schema screens out opposing ideas and needs to be gradually worn down. A habitual thought that ‘no one likes me’ is so general that it can be disputed simply on the merits of the helper’s own position [if in fact the helper does like the student]. But such obvious ‘realities’ are not real for the person whose total personality is structured around the proposition that they are unloved.
This helper need not be a highly skilled practitioner of psychological pedagogy. S/he must be a person who is able to form a trusting relationship with the student, communicate well, and be caring and able to focus on a few basic principals of cognitive theory. A ‘formal dialogue’ can be developed for each individual student to assure that the ‘social education mentor’ is addressing the appropriate issues. Such “social education mentors”, however can only “lead the horse to water”, whether the student drinks or not is up to the student. The social education model is still reliant on consumer choice.
These three levels of approach: prevention through use of a prosocial culture, development through a prosocial curriculum and remedy through cognitive restructuring, are the basis for the development of a school based program for social education. However, this technology addresses only the area of skills. Organizationally schools have to additionally address the six other interrelated elements that shape the ultimate message.
We would argue, for example, that for any intervention to be effective, the child must feel appreciated and secure, which is surely related to organizational style. Interventions that remove the child from family and/or peers have a contrary effect and should be avoided; which will require a change in organizational structure. We cannot continue to take the child to the program; but must take the support to the child. More important, the intrusion of adults on the child without the child’s sanction reduces the potential effectiveness and therefore every effort to engage the child in authorizing the intervention should be pursued since the child’s participation in the change is essential, which is a dramatic change is strategy from control to choice.
Good intentions are not enough.
Good intentions, with or without professional credentials, are not enough. Interventions intended to change behaviors demand techniques that focus on key problem areas.
We propose that those key areas include:
- How the child the child thinks about him/herself, her situation and her future prospects.
- How the child analyzes new propositions about self, situation and prospects.
- How the child determines the cause of success and/or failure.
- How much energy the child has available for such analysis.
- How imaginative is the child in developing alternative solutions.
- How proficient is the child in recognizing the feelings of others.
- How competent is the child in weighing potential consequences.
- How extensive and effective is the child’s behavioral repertoire.
- How supportive are the social cues reinforcing the child’s thinking and behavior.
If schools are to effectively begin to intervene on behalf of the child regarding the development of appropriate behaviors, several other assumptions will need to be considered. Providing services is not enough. For too long, systems of intervention have perseverated on the process of intervention with little or no regard for the outcome of the intervention. Even the data elements collected by information systems tend to collect the number of units of service, but ignore collecting data on outcome. Definable and acceptable outcome must be obtained within a reasonable period of time. What is more, failure to reach acceptable outcome expectations must be recognized as a failure of the intervention process, not a failure of the child.
Because we believe so strongly in the need for the child to participate proactively in the solution, an effective intervention will require that the child is engaged in a significant trust relationship in which the child authorizes both the outcome expectation [end, goal] and the intervention [means, process]. Such authorization avoids the coercion of models that “do things for the child’s own good” and ultimately help the child decide what is good. The inclusion of the child as a proactive participant does not simply reduce coercion, but in fact, improves the expectation of successful intervention through a salient ‘you’re OK’ message. The measure of quality is that the child is able to function substantively better in a specific area of his/her life.
As far back as 1953, the Southern Regional Education Board  sponsored a study of mental health resources. “The study made clear that a national mental health program for children could not be based on traditional psychotherapeutic methods because of their high cost, their uncertain effectiveness [emphasis ours] and their demand for highly skilled professional people -….” [Hobbs – 1983]. Despite this finding and continued documentation of the failure of both the school and the mental health system to effectively serve such children [the latest – All Systems Failure – 1993], both the schools and the mental health professionals continue to perseverate in old models.
“Over the past twenty years, numerous reports 2 have chronicled the lack of appropriate services to meet the needs of children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances. These previous studies report that children in need of mental health care often do not receive it or receive care that is inappropriate or inadequate.”[Koyanagi & Gaines – 1993]
The shift from medical [or therapeutic] models to behavioral models and then to cognitive models of intervention is indicative of an evolution toward teaching modalities as the preferred intervention in emotional and behavioral disorders… Medical or expert models make decisions about and for people in an attempt to control the way they behave through constraint or restraint. Behavioral approaches attempt to manipulate the punishments and/or rewards to help the individual decide to do the “right thing”. The movement away from adverse contracts to positive contracts made the manipulation more powerful. The cognitive and skill training approaches attempt to enable the person to think differently for the purpose of deciding for themselves to act differently and then providing them with an appropriate repertoire of behaviors to fit the new expectations.
In the process, there has been a continuous power shift away from the institution and the ‘expert’ to the individual and the presence of some level of power is beneficial in itself since it affects how one feel about oneself. However, empowerment is not simply the gaining of power, but must include the competence to utilize the power available. If the power is available, but not usable, this becomes debilitating to the individual, often reinforcing their most self-depreciating thoughts. Knowledge and skills are the tools for creating competence. It is a professional responsibility of the ‘expert’ to provide sufficient usable knowledge to enable the person to make an informed and appropriate choice of self-rehabilitation. One of the skills that is most essential to enable the individual to overcome the ‘pathology infection’ of the last fifty years, is the skill to think positively about one’s self. Two significant influences on this process have been identified: 1) a process of conveying positive information about the person to the person, and 2) a ‘how to think’ process which helps the individual examine the outside stimuli in a cogent, objective manner in order to seek to identify for themselves a more gratifying self concept.
Part of the exchange is to provide the individual with different social cues and expect that through a more rigorous examination of the evidence, they will begin to identify more positive outcomes. Changing the environmental cues to a person who attracts attention for maladaptive behaviors is quite difficult. It demands the ability to tell the person that what s/he is doing is unacceptable while at the same time telling her that s/he is acceptable. The separation of these two constructs is not always easy for people to understand and probably the most successful ‘metaphor’ has been the construct of ‘tough love’. Tough love hinges on a directive communication that paradoxically makes the child feel competent. Non-pejorative, non-moralizing authoritative directives can convey a belief that the person is capable and competent and if done in a manner that also conveys an acceptance of the person, such mandates can be quite empowering. This is quite contrary to conveying to the child that the reason s/he behaves in ways that are unacceptable is that s/he are incapable of behaving any differently because of a defect of emotional, cognitive or physical quality and therefore need someone else to control her for her own good.
While it will take time to provide the general public with the skills to implement such positive notions [particularly since we have spent many years, energy and dollars convincing them otherwise], it is becoming apparent that such concepts are entering the ‘common knowledge’ domain. What is needed is to assure that the most significant adults in the child’s life learn to improve their communication. Both directive and transactional communication have reasonably good potential of being incorporated by parents and teachers.
It is clear that these new constructs will cause conflict with traditional constructs and that people relating in the old methods will hardly become the experts of the new. To believe that they will either change or give up their power positions ignores the potential mutations of the present idea. Historically the expert model has defeated new ideas through a “join them and destroy them” behavior. Medication and social rehabilitation are better than social rehabilitation alone. Such mutations have now become acceptable and the psychosocial rehabilitation movement, which showed such great promise, is essentially dead. Since ‘Moral Treatment’ is the treatment of choice [most effective] and since the doctors are in charge of treatment; the doctors should be in charge of Moral Treatment. And Moral Treatment disappeared. It was suggested by Thomas Kuhn, the creator of the concept of “paradigm shifts” that a new paradigm must wait for the old experts to ‘die out’.
A change or leave directive to the ‘experts’ who are dealing with atypical people is difficult, if not impossible, since they hold the reins to the entire system of relationship to the affected population. Destruction of the entire system, although sometimes a seeming political objective, does not seem prudent because of the personal perspectives of the disabled population who have been trained over many years to be helpless victims. [You are not responsible for your behavior, you are mentally ill!] The creation of a new expert group is difficult because of the potential ‘contamination’ or abuse by the present expert leadership.
One strategic approach to replacement is to create a separate cognitive behavioral component in the school system, which is provided by school personnel. This system would be strictly educational in nature although in dealing with social education it would address the very issues that have been the bailiwick of mental health and/or juvenile justice.
When talking to lay people and experts alike, we find that one overriding description is used when talking about ‘troublesome’ children; lack of self esteem [self-affirmation]. When we refer to self-esteem, we are talking about a high degree of self-appreciation. Appreciation – meaning both to like and to increase in value. Thus, when we appreciate ourselves we not only like who we are, we can expect to appreciate or improve. If we dislike ourselves we can expect to depreciate, or decrease in value over time. The process of self-appreciation requires both an internal and an external aspect. We must both affirm ourselves and be confirmed by others. While dictionaries tend to use affirm and confirm as synonyms one is an active process the other reactive. Affirm – to certify or authorize; confirm – to corroborate or authenticate. The implications are that one must affirm him/her self in order to be confirmed by others.
Affirmation is not appreciation. It is an affirmation of oneself as being appreciated or depreciated and the confirmation often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of the affirmation assumed. However, the development of this affirmation/confirmation process for the child is an interactive one. Thus incremental affirmation of self-appreciation is confirmed by the appreciation of others as that confirmation supports the affirmation. A spiraling effect. A similar, but downward focused spiral effect happens through a depreciation process.
It is doubtful that the infant ever affirms either appreciation or depreciation before an outside instigation by an adult. And yet, it is difficult to perceive of a high percentage of adults not appreciating infants. One difficulty is contained in the nuances of language, in which moral imperatives replace corrective statements, and a second difficulty is in the operation of the mind that accepts all propositions as true until proved otherwise. When the significant adult states that the child is bad for performing a certain behavior, rather than that the behavior is bad, or better yet, wrong, or inappropriate, the child is being told that they are depreciating in value. Even when the behavior is identified as bad, the child by implication of having performed the behavior may deduce that s/he is morally devalued. Statement that the behavior is inappropriate for the context, inefficient, ineffective or even dangerous, even when authoritative and directive, avoids the depreciation quality. Unfortunately, not many parents and teachers are cognizant of the moralizing aspects of how they use the language and use it without conscious thought.
The development of a child is an interactive thing, however, and children code even these moralizing signals differently. Some, who feel well loved for other reasons, may be able to re-code the words to a more appropriate understanding. Thus each appreciative confirmation becomes a prophylactic for each depreciation. However, it also works the other way around. Children who are depreciated in other ways, subtle [i.e. overhearing how they were an expensive ‘accident’] or otherwise [psychological or physical abuse], will code in the most negative rather than the most positive manner. Each depreciation confirmation becoming a prophylactic for any appreciation that might be given.
Additional impact of the appreciation/depreciation perspective is how it is connected to the people from which it is derived. People of significance [parents, teacher, siblings, intimate peers] give the confirmation that counts. Incidental confirmation of appreciation may cumulatively help, but these can be devastated by one depreciation from someone who counts! Thus significant adults have a responsibility to identify, confront and eliminate moralizing distortions whenever and wherever they can. They can also help directly by encouraging the child to begin to develop rational methods of checking for evidence, rather than simply accepting the implication of generalizations and labels.
The problem for the depreciated child is that s/he has incorporated the criticism into her own coding system and therefore uses the same moralizing generalizations and labels on themselves. For children who have incorporated self depreciative concepts of themselves, five specific areas of help can be offered by adult family members and school personnel to help change this perspective:
- Separate the child from the behavior. Children with self-depreciating attitudes often behave in ways that are disruptive and unlikable. The significant adult must remind himself that it is the behavior that is disruptive and unlikable. The behavior is not the child. The child is affirmatively acceptable because s/he is a child; if for no other reason.
- Give unconditional positive regard. An attitude, not an emotion or feeling, of a constructive nature must emanate from every significant adult to every child. This attitude acknowledges the dignity of the child as a responsible human being capable of making decisions about his or her own life with appropriate support.
- Provide a pervading climate of positive expectation. While it is important to determine that the desired performance is reachable by the child; an overall belief that the child can achieve is critical to their success. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you are probably right.” This essential belief in the potential can only improve the possibility of its manifestation.
- Support the child in quitting his/her critic. The child must be helped to externalize the self-accusing voice, question over-generalizations and labeling and develop a method to find evidence. These are not easy processes for the child and the younger the child, the more difficult it is. The offset is that the younger the child, the less established is the critical voice.
- Communicate transactionally adult to adult. Helping the child stay adult to adult in communication is supportive in and of itself since moralizing, generalizing, personalization and anger are child/parent attitudes [in a transactional sense]. Adult communication provides regard and supports positive expectations; it helps the child keep focused on rational rather than emotional views. While it may be directive, it remains informational and objective.
Observer Created Reality
The classical ideal of objectivity – the idea that the world has a definite state of existence independent of our observing it, has been effectively ravaged by quantum physics. “The actual state of existence depends in part on how we observe it and what we choose to see. Objective reality must be replaced by observer created reality.” [Pagels] The conceptual framework of observer created reality is carried into the macroworld through the functioning of the mind. What we will examine is how the mental structure of each person, developed over years of interactive involvements with the environment, particularly the significant people in that environment, determines to a large extent not only what the individual thinks, but what s/he perceives and experiences, and to a large extent how s/he reacts [specific reactions, however, may require a repertoire of skills, which is a second level of intervention to be discussed later].
The observer, in the way s/he chooses to observe, encode, retain and react to the perceptions of life around her, defines that reality in a manner which is coherent only to him/her, based upon the interpretation and understanding of the perceptions and understanding of those around her. “The problem is that when we say a person seeks true information we really mean that the person seeks information that [s/he] considers true. … subjective truth is largely a matter of coherence; statements that complement (rather than contradict) what one already believes are likely to be seen as true.” [Gilbert – 1993]
This is a theory of correlations of experience. We cannot assume objective reality apart from our own experience as access to the physical world is through experience. The common denominator of all experience is the “I” that does the experiencing. In short, what we are experiencing is not external reality, but our interaction with it. This interaction is mediated by the personal interpretation of experiences through analytical work that may or may not be rigorous. Since our behaviors are contingent upon our beliefs, we respond according to our understanding, not necessarily the stimuli; and our response is equally analyzed and interpreted. We impact and change our environment, even as our environment molds us.
It follows therefore, that behaviors such as aggression or caring are not properties or characteristics of the individual; but rather properties of interaction with the environment. Al Capone, after all, was said to be very caring for his mother. All of us have basic characteristics of fight/flee, but which of these responses is evoked is a product of interactional relationship and the interpretation of events and experiences. The fight/flee characteristics are mutually exclusive, or complimentary aspects of the individual. One of them always excludes the other because people cannot both fight and flee at the same time. Although the conversion from one to the other can seemingly be instantaneous and blends of these characteristics emanate as strange mixtures of behavior such as the oxymoron passive aggressive implies.
We start therefore, with an understanding that each individual is not an independently existing analyzable entity. S/he is, in essence, a set of relationships that reaches outward to other beings. There exists a web of relationships between individuals, each developing as a personality wholly from their relationship to the whole. The implications are that there is no behavior that is isolated from this web of relationships [system] and the behavior has meaning only within the context of this system. The social context provides cues as to what behaviors are acceptable and/or encouraged. The question of a ‘troublesome’ child cannot be extracted totally from the context that supports such behavior.
Howard Gardner  in reflecting on a paper by Paul Rozin  entitled “the Evolution of Intelligence and Access to the Cognitive Unconscious” suggests that human beings differ from lower organisms in two crucial respects, and these can be said to characterize our peculiar form of intelligence. First, we humans have the capacity to join together two or more of those originally separate biological mechanisms or systems in order to perform a new task. This linking capacity has radically increased the intellectual compass of the species. Second, it is possible for human beings to become aware of the operation of such mechanisms and to use that knowledge productively…we can gain access to our systems information processing.
Gardner indicates that the development of intelligence of our species consists of ever-greater access to elements of our cognitive repertory. This is a profound statement in light of our thesis of cognitive skill building. He goes on to state that human beings are not simply at the mercy of their senses; we have the potential to become aware of the operations carried out by these analytic mechanisms, to go ‘meta’. Through the elaboration of higher-order cognitive mechanisms, we can understand and perhaps even control the manner of operations in our brains; we are not merely a reflection [or a reflex] of elementary neural mechanisms.
However, a perhaps even more important implication of Rozin’s paper is that it straddles the usually disparate realms of biology and culture. Humans, Gardner reports, are creatures of the brain, but not solely so. Unlike all other organisms, we participate in a rich culture, one that has had its own evolution over many thousands of years. He quotes anthropologist Clifford Geertz as saying, “A cultureless human being, we are told, would probably turn out to be not an intrinsically talented though unfulfilled ape, but a wholly mindless and consequently unworkable monstrosity.”
This seems at first an exaggeration to even one that recognizes the influence of others or the developing individual. However, when you consider the contribution of cultural artifacts and inventions, as well as the contributions of other live human beings, you begin to appreciate the impact. An individual restricted to his own devices is unthinking, if not unthinkable. Along with physical and psychological satisfactions, the culture contributes language, technology, knowledge, prejudice, ideology, systems of morality and even wisdom. According to our new and expanded understanding, mind exists equally within the skull, in the objects strewn about in the culture, and in the behaviors of other individuals with whom one interacts and from whom one learns.
If we begin to glimpse a conceptual framework in which each of us shares an ownership in the creation of physical reality, it has critical importance to our expectation of ourselves during the helping process. The image of ourselves as an impotent bystander, one who sees, but does not affect, must dissolve. Observer and observed are interrelated in a real and fundamental sense. We cannot observe something without changing it. What we perceive to be physical reality is actually our individual and collective cognitive construction of it. If we truly wish to intervene in a positive way, we must begin to validate the cognitive reality of the individual in need, sorting through to identify how this reality extends to the system of relationships [family and culture]. Only from this holistic context can we begin to understand what the behavior is responding to. As we examine the idea of cognitive skill building we shall need to understand that a change in mental construction must change intimately the child’s perception of reality and in that change, offer new opportunities for changed relationships.
There is no way to predict individual events. Prediction can only concern itself with group behavior. We must intentionally leave vague the relationship between group behavior and individual events because the individual’s relationship within the system is constantly changing. While there are certain probabilities that certain behavior might take place; it either happens or it does not. Human probabilities have no classical analogue, because they are simply not linearly additive; they are non-linear. They are self-reflective and involve the classic ‘strange loops’ of any self-reflective system. This uncertainty principle makes it difficult for positive intervention to take place without ascertaining where the individual is in relationship to outside events. Thus, the only way to intervene is to deal with the here and now, real life issues that are creating the cognitive reality of the individual. To garner information on this strange uncertainty, we must ask.
We should not assume that the individual is only the product of the system of relationships. The ‘I’ who does the experiencing is also the ‘I’ who has the ability to “choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances [Frankel – 1959]”- to do the analytic work and to decide what is true, and to decide how to act in response to that ‘truth’. Human behavior is not a simple cause and effect. It is this ability to choose which makes the predication of individual events so uncertain. While we cannot presume how the individual will act under any given circumstances, we know that that action will be fundamentally related to their perception of their environment, to their perception of their own best interest, and to our method of intervention.
“The most important questions of life are, for the most part, really only problems of probability”
Language & Thinking
Having developed a consciousness through the use of language symbols humans are capable of an awareness of their own mental processes and through that event become amenable to modification and adaptation of the very schemata that creates their reality. The result is that each individual, within some limitations, has the capacity to modify their own reality to make it more satisfying.
Mental processing [thinking] is activated through symbols that are developed to identify and describe the sensations caused by the integration of various stimuli impacting upon the senses. Such sensations help the individual to organize these various sense perceptions into a single comprehension [intuition, hunch]. These comprehensions are then subject to the development or adoption of symbolic representations [language] that not only allow us to consciously comprehend the idea caused by the sensation, but to communicate it as well. In modern society, as we become less aware of nonverbal or intuitive sensations, we increasingly use words or symbolic language in our thought processes. This is not to underestimate the importance of physical modalities that might be described as style, tone, affect or demeanor which are apparent in living things. Such ‘feelings’ have substantial impact on our reactions to the world and in fact, intuitive comprehension give us considerably more information than we are able to codify into language. The salient power of intuition can be easily demonstrated by discerning our ability to recognize a person whom we know from very little perceptual information, while at the same time being unable to verbally describe that individual sufficiently to allow a stranger to pick them out of a crowd.
However, as we attempt to ‘sort out’ these feelings, hunches or intuitions, we do so by putting them into words. The assignment of organized symbols to such ‘feelings’ enables us to understand how we feel and therefore to find the ways and means to cope with these feelings. Often when we cannot quite grasp the quality of the intuition, we develop metaphors to describe our intent. The development of a way of stating sensations through words is an attempt to understand it.
Thus WORDS, and their conscious formulation are an important part of helping each of us find our place in the world. While we might know something on an unconscious level, we will tend not to be comfortable with it until we can understand it through common language symbols. This loss of ability to accept things that we cannot understand is epitomized through verbal attempts to delineate our faith; which is inherently unknowable. Faith can be defined as a belief that has no provable, logical, systematic basis; one believes or one does not. Despite this, in many religions it is the WORD that is important. The allegorical Word of God through which we come to understand. Levels of civilization might be identified as the degree to which commonly held beliefs are conscious and able to be symbolized or unconscious and without symbolic [at least language symbols] explanation.
Many people, even in civilized societies operate with beliefs that are unexplainable. Many others have explained their beliefs in nonlogical and inconsistent patterns that fluctuate between the conscious [able to be understood in symbolic terms] and the nonconscious [without common symbols]. Where the understanding breaks down, the faith comes in. What is difficult to define is why people believe what they believe. We are aware that people absorb knowledge [used here to define understanding through common language symbols] and lore [used here to define understanding through subconscious characteristics such as style, tone, affect, demeanor, etc.] through their senses, but we are not able to delineate why they know what they know. This is of course, because the very existence of what we are calling lore is predicated upon our inability to define symbolically these experiences, thus we know more than we can say. Even belief systems that appear to be formed based on logical, rational data often rely on unsayable mental constructs.
Gilbert , in writing about Spinozian theories, suggests that all we mean when we say that a person has a belief is that there exists in a person’s mind a coherent mental representation that contributes to that person’s behavioral propensities. He further suggests that these beliefs are what bind us to the reality outside. What we believe creates our reality and that we believe that which is coherent with our prior beliefs. In this process, each person creates his or her own comprehensive perspective of the world based on an attempt to make all experiences congruent to former experience.
Gilbert further cites Spinoza’s speculation and later research evidence, that all propositions [mental representations using symbolic language] are considered by the person to be true unless the person has the energy and desire to do the analytic work to determine the proposition’s coherence. This analytic work must implement the set of rules that the system has available and the truths that that system already accommodates. This suggests that a system [child] needs energy, logic and information to create belief system that provides an independent view of the reality of the world. Thus the capacity of an individual to arrive at a more or less objective sense of the reality around us is contingent upon an energetic desire to learn the “truth”, a finely honed set of logical skills and a willingness to expose each “truth” to stringent tests of empirical evidence, and finally a large and growing set of beliefs which have stood the test of time; been shielded from personal feelings which cannot be supported through evidence, and exposure to critical thinking.
But the child who has a poorly developed set of logical skills; whose information cache is personalized and moralized; and has little energy to deal with noncoherent propositions, will develop a reality which very likely depreciates his/her self concept which is likely to result in antisocial behaviors which set in motion a reality which reinforces this perspective.
The important impact of words, both internally [thinking] and externally [communicating] upon people is of concern if we are to develop a society that is capable of creating a more or less objective reality. Of particular importance to the development of competent children are metaphorical words that convey large generalizations of concept. [i.e., bad, lazy, stupid, etc.] Such words, when used pejoratively, without consistent data to support them, become euphemisms for who we are. While the logical [conscious] part of our brain may be significantly less powerful than the instinctive part, it is nonetheless important. We must be able to help people process the use of symbols consciously and correctly, if we hope to find a way to have significant impact on how people perform [communication and behavior] in day-to-day life. The hope is to strengthen analytic work through motivating [energizing] children to make conscious [be attentive and aware] of their present schemata [coherent belief systems] and to teach them the skills to develop logical analytical processes; in order to defuse metaphorical generalizations through an investigative process; and to enable people to make conscious those aspects of their thought which prove to be toxic.
The mental construction of beliefs, the degree of intensity in which they are held, and the conviction with which they are conveyed are all a part of how they impact others. Each part of this trilogy is important and each can be enhanced. To the degree in which human beings use others to shape their own beliefs, they develop a culture [which can be defined as a group reality]. The ‘common sense’ or ‘common knowledge’ of which we refer is a common mental process in which a group of people have influenced each other to believe in certain ways of looking at the world and have defined from that perspective appropriate ways of behaving. This process shapes the ‘reality’ in which that group and the individuals in it live. To create a new reality demands a new and persuasive idea that can be conveyed to many people in a manner that can be believed. Whether it is true or not is relevant only to those who are persistent in a personal, systematic search for incongruence.
Ideas, like viruses, grow and evolve; infect, mutate or are purged by the ideological environment that they meet. The American society has been struggling with a virus of despondency and self-depreciation or debasement that has infected our ability to grow and develop. In abandoning the belief that a force [supreme being] outside ourselves which looks out for us, we have failed to develop a sufficiently powerful idea, that we are capable of looking out for ourselves. Without religious belief in the inherent goodness and salvation to immunize us against such viral attack as moralization and personalization, we spiral down into a world perspective of pathology and defect which becomes its own self fulfilling prophecy; since the identification [label] of failure become the reason for failure.
Along with the attempts to develop more prosocial and less pathological personal approaches in all children, Gilbert has indicated at least two variables that can also potentially help improve the disabled child’s self-depreciating perspective. The first is that a de-energized system finds it difficult to perform the analytic work necessary to deal with incoherent propositions and therefore will tend to accept them as true without analysis. The second is that human beings prefer their beliefs to be gratifying as well as true. Thus several intervention strategies become available to the practitioner:
- The practitioner can bombard the child with incoherent propositions [in this case – you’re OK statements to overcome the belief that s/he is bad, stupid, etc.]; fill the environment with propositions which, if they are believed, provide a schemata which supports prosocial behaviors.
- The practitioner can use techniques to de-energize the child while the incoherent [you’re OK] propositions are being made; i.e., during self-instruction the child is telling him/herself that s/he is OK and the telling de-energizes the system sufficiently to avoid analytic work 3.
- Finally, since the “you’re OK “ message is much more gratifying than a “you’re not OK” messages, there is an enhanced acceptance of the belief.
The process of accepting a belief that I’m OK is a self-affirming process; the process of accepting a belief that the person telling you that you are OK is a process of confirmation; both are necessary if the child is to develop a schemata [set of truths] which will support prosocial behavior. These mental structures can be conceived of [although not totally accurately since the individual person is self-activating, while the individual computer is not] as similar to computer software or programming. As with that structure, human beings have been mentally programmed to respond in certain ways given the stimuli: “when this happens go there or do that”. The programming happens over time through interaction with the environment and the significant people in that environment. Through directive communication, we learn what is right and wrong. Through moral labels and personalization, we become right or wrong. Through play we become socialized [learn social behaviors] with peers. This is not to imply that the individual does not participate in this programming. From the very beginning the child must interpret the nuances of both the conscious [language symbols] and unconscious [intuitive sensations] meaning of these relationships.
The cognitive sciences have helped us understand that how a person thinks is important to what they ultimately perceive and how they behave. While Freud suggested that “Thought is action in rehearsal”, it is not clear that he fully understood the mental structures developed which support thought. Nor perhaps did he understand the social interrelatedness of people and their thinking. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. intuitively understood this interconnection:
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affect all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
Intuitively, men of spirituality have grasped at this sense of oneness. Only now is science beginning to confirm its reality. Wegner and Erber  in discussing mental control or the ability to suppress a thought, concentrate on a sensation, inhibit an emotion, maintain a mood, stir up a desire, squelch a craving, or otherwise exert influence on one’s own mental states, suggest that all mental control is an internalized form of social control. “…even when thought regulation persists in private…it should be traceable to prior or anticipated social pressures. These social pressures are for the child, often most appropriately developed in play. “ In play, the child copies, imitates and finally identifies with those adults in the environment that are of crucial importance to him” [Lovinger-] But while the child tests out adult roles, s/he also is being socialized in appropriate behaviors through interaction with peers. “The group reinforces appropriate behavior, and helps children conform to rules and regulations”. [Ibid] Belonging is an important human instinct for which the individual is willing to give up personal desires for the good of and acceptance of the group.
But not only has our society failed to keep childhood play alive, turning instead to the use of noninteractive activities in a technical world such as television, ‘walkman’ and computers, children who are started upon a road of ‘troublesomeness’ are as a point of preference removed from normal peer groups and peers situations. Little wonder that the proposition that you’re bad, stupid, lazy, etc. takes solid hold. The environment has confirmed the belief system4 often to the point of using the labeling process to exonerate the child from appropriate behaviors that are by definition beyond his/her ability. [If the child is actually limited, s/he is unlikely to be able to act in highly intelligent fashion.]
Lovinger suggests that the whole process of thinking is reliant upon appropriate and sufficient peer play. She suggests that play requires and develops perceptual skills. Perception, she says is a process of organizing and interpreting sensations that arise in the body and that come through the various sense organs. Perception is the beginning of thinking and the raw material of thinking and perceptions are sensations [or awareness of some stimuli without interpretation]. The peer group engaged in traditional games provides opportunity for stimulation of all of the senses, the development of thought, ideas and beliefs about those stimuli which are propositions which build internal belief states upon which the child will behave. This social environment additionally provides the opportunity for the child to observe and try out new behavioral skills which other children have found effective in interpersonal relations. In short, we could probably improve present strategies for dealing with atypical children by placing them into playgroups and teaching them old fashioned traditional games. Along with providing stimulating socialization and skill building opportunities, we would be sending a “You’re OK” message.
Direction & Communication
This does not negate the directive communication technologies. Children often need to be told what to do. Such directives do not need to be pejorative, personalizing or moralizing; they need to be informative. The directive communication must specify what the adult expects and how the behavior is to be performed. The message must clearly indicate the acceptance of the child, but not of the behavior. In order to implement such communication, the adult will need to be very specific about his or her own belief systems, since if they really do not believe that the child can perform; s/he will not.
Words have the effect of force because all propositions are beliefs until analytic work reveals them to be incoherent. De-energized systems fail to do the work. Self-instruction de-energizes the system thus occupying the child to believe the propositions being stated. If a belief is gratifying as well as true, its acceptance is enhanced. Since the child is predisposed to act upon his or her beliefs, the more self-affirmative the belief system is, the more prosocial the behaviors can be expected to be, and the more reinforcing [confirming] the response from the human environment.
Behavioral Skill Training
But along with the self-affirmative image and socially accepted beliefs [interpsychic skills], the child may also need to learn the specific behavioral skills necessary to gain the positive social reinforcement. As an extension of the educational process, a cognitive/behavioral skill training set of interventions holds significant promise for the school. Unlike traditional methods, the development or replacement of skills goes beyond simple reduction of unwanted symptoms [asocial behavior] and provides alternative ways of functioning [thinking and behaving]. Further, these interventions have proven useful when applied at the school, class and individual level. Since the basis of these interventions is the learning of both cognitive and behavioral skills, the methodology fits well within the formal mission of the school.
Children need to learn both cognitive skills [how to think] and behavioral skills [how to act] in order to meet societal requirements in a positive proactive manner. The fact that thinking and behaving are so closely connected makes the coordination of these activities important. The more the child is able to master the “mental control” necessary to achieve serenity, the greater the likelihood that s/he will need and learn the appropriate behaviors to perform adequately to society’s needs.
Cognitive Skill Building
The development of cognitive skills is a process of learning to control one’s own mental events – thoughts and thought processes. Such mental control can be viewed as a function of attention. People can attend toward things or ideas [and away as well] and this apparently voluntary flexibility in how consciousness is linked to its contents can be taken as definitive of mental control.
Attention is consciousness voluntarily applied. Hamilton suggested that there were different kinds of attention and conceived of each as degrees. First, purely involuntary attention as occurs when visual images strike our eyes. Second, attention governed by desire, as happens presumably when images of desired objects catch hold in the mind. Finally – the aspect that concerns us here – purely voluntary attention.
It is important to note that the amount of attentional energy is limited…. It cannot be sustained voluntary for an indefinite period of time. Therefore, the development of cognitive or interpsychic skills require a time of attentiveness and then a return to an ongoing involuntary process with occasional attention checks.
Mental processes are largely involuntary and go on without conscious effort. However, just as with the reflexive acts of breathing or blinking, a voluntary attention effort can interfere with and change the cycle of production, so attention to our mental processes can have the effect of taking some level of control. What is projected here as different is that certain mental structures can be altered during the attentive period and that in the return to the involuntary process the structural alteration allows a different process to take place.
As an example of a changeable structure, we can identify an individual person’s belief system. This is a schema of coherent truisms that the individual uses to determine whether new propositions are true or not. This is done in the same manner that a body of scientific knowledge is used to determine the coherence of a new finding. And like that science, the individual will be greatly inclined to disregard incoherent statements, rather than change the schemata. Occasionally, however, a statement is obviously incoherent with the template, but also inherently so true, useful and/or gratifying, that it deteriorates the structure of the body of knowledge, belief system or schemata. If this new statement is true, all other truisms must be examined in relationship to it. In this manner, the mental structure is altered and the process of checking against the standard is changed because the standard is changed.
Another structure which could be addressed for change would be the logical rules used for analytical work. Following our previous analogy, the scientific community would have a rather rigorous logic set to analyze data. In contrast most people allow the analytical work to go on ‘involuntarily’, in such an unconscious manner and with so little energy that their ‘body of knowledge’ or schemata is more or less chaotic to begin with. Training someone with such a liaise-faire system to understand, use and attend to more rigorous analytical rules, logic and evidence in their work, is also a structural change that would be likely to dramatically affect the outcome of the process.
Such interventions can be used to help people begin to change their internal mental workings and to improve their mental health in the process. When determining what mental states could be addressed in such a manner, we find that any mental state a person can initiate or inhibit as a result of instruction would seem to be a potential target of mental control.” “Although important exceptions may exist…those mental states for which people are commonly held responsible may be the one that are open to mental control.”
Some of the mental states that will are most likely to be considered as options for skill development might include improving self concept though affecting attitudes about self, situation and prospects for the future; controlling the ‘stream of consciousness’ through mediation of the internal and external environment; reducing ‘worry’ and panic to name a few.
The interest in memory is somewhat peripheral. While improving memory itself may be a cognitive skill that might bring empowerment through competence, it is not a major focus in regard to the development of amplifying the enhancement of troubled children. The mental process of memory, however, includes encoding which may be described as the creation of a memory trace of an event or experience; storage which is the retention of that memory trace which provides the body of knowledge from which a belief system [schematic set of truisms] is organized; and retrieval through recall or recognition of the stored information. Both the encoding and the retrieval processes are important to the development of several cognitive skills.
The encoding of propositions [mental representations] is apparently always believed at face value. This should not be surprising. The mind does not reject sensations, even when it is being fooled. Touching an icy cold object may feel like burning and the mind immediately orders the muscles to withdraw. Only afterwards does the mind evaluate the sensation in light of other information to find it was cold, rather than hot. This same process appears to be true of the impact of words. Statements are automatically believed until analytic work compares the new statements with the store of previous statements [schemata] to check for coherence. If the analytic work is not done, the memory trace is for a truism; if the analytic work is done, the memory trace may be true or false based not on reality, but upon coherence with prior beliefs.
When a schema of truisms [beliefs] is constructed, it becomes the basis upon which the person decides what is reality. Obviously, some schemata [and their contingent set of logical analytical rules] support a more objective reality than others. Other schemata are more interested in supporting a more gratifying reality. The schemata which is most like that of other people in the cultural environment and, in addition, makes the individual feel good about themselves and the world they live in, is one which is most likely to provide prosocial behaviors and social reward. There is merit therefore, in a society supporting the development of culturally congruent schemata in individual children. These culturally congruent belief systems enable people act more compatibly with others [more socially acceptable behavior]; feel better about themselves and others [more open to difference and new ideas]; and, probably enhance their ability to perform creatively in their personal, social and vocational endeavors [since they will be able to use their mental energies in initiating, rather than in defensive ways.
The process of retrieval has similar impact upon people and the way that they act. Adler has pointed out that memory is a creative process, that we remember what has significance for our ‘style’ of life. In this context, the future determines the past. Whether or not an individual can even recall the significant events of the past depends upon his or her decision with regard to the future. The problem is not at all that an individual happens to have endured an impoverished pasts: it is rather that s/he cannot or does not commit him/herself to the present and the future. S/he seems specifically, to have lost the ability to abstract, to think in terms of ‘the possible’. Individuals who perseverate on what they consider to be a deprived childhood and see it as a barrier to achievement in the future act much differently than those who remember their childhood as strengthening their character in Nietzchiean fashion – “that which does not kill me makes me strong.” Others may simply choose to not remember the difficult times of their childhood and to live in the present. Each of these remembrances provides the rationale for one to act in certain ways in regard to their future.
Bartlett  saw memory as schema driven [see also Loftus – 1980] and also suggested that post-event misinformation can overwrite and replaces event information. Such overwriting changes the whole context of the memory to suit the needs that are required in the present. This is probably particularly true of memories that are used to justify present and future actions. Thus the childhood deprivation becomes ever more evil as it reasonably accounts for the individual’s failure to achieve. For Bartlett, reasons are created to make recalled events more sensible, for Freud, to make them more palatable. In either case, the memory becomes a crutch that enables the person to avoid dealing with their real potential.
This is not to suggest that the memory trace itself disappears. Rather as Herbert [1816/1891] states: Ideas compete for entry into consciousness and the stronger or dominant ideas inhibit, that is, repress, weaker ideas, which however, are not destroyed but remain in a ‘state of tendency’. Attention [consciousness voluntarily applied] is again apparent. “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” [James – 1890] And what I attend is MY decision.
The whole question of what is remembered and how it is remembered and its relationship to the schemata of previously encoded information is significant to how one participates in personal and social life. Helping an individual attend to these processes is the first step in helping them to recreate the inner structure that so impacts on their perception of the outside world.
The mind is in constant mediation as to inner and outer stimulation. As William James [1890/1952] long ago pointed out, a fundamental influence upon human experience and behavior is our awareness of an ongoing stream of thought. Humans must constantly adapt to shifting their attention between the external environments and an ongoing thought stream. It is the ability to control this constant stream that was earlier referred to as the serenity of self-acceptance. The reason for its importance and for the language used to delineate it is that “the basic activity of the conscious organism is to make sense of the world, to assign meaning, labels, and to form organized meaningful structures such as schemas and scripts that permit effective storage and retrieval of the information necessary for adaptive functioning [Bonanno, 1990; Kreitler & Kreitle, 1976,1990; Singer & Salovey, 1991; and Tomkins, 1962-1963].”
The motivating properties of positive and negative emotions may be aroused by the rate, novelty, and difficulty of assimilation of new information into established schemas. This cognitive-affective link becomes an overarching motivational principle of existence… [Bonanno & Singer – 1993]. Two crucial needs that determine well-being, first articulated by Otto Rank, are concerned with security and opportunity; which can be thought of as a persisting existential dilemma in which we seek affiliation and intimacy or belongingness on the one hand and autonomy, individuality, and uniqueness on the other.
The monitoring of the internal-external stream of consciousness and the way in which the individual “controls” his own mental state in such affairs has major impact on how they relate to the social environment in which they interact. “Learning to attend to and, then gradually to direct one’s reflective cognitive processes may be ultimately a key feature of all human adaptation. Such activities may include the benefits for development evident in children who learn to play at make-believe and to develop ways of miniaturizing the complexities of the adult world or of establishing a metarepresentational dimension that greatly enhances their cognitive capacities [Leslie, 1987; D.G. Singer & J.L. Singer, 1990].”
Since being ‘in control’ describes the adaptive shaping of internal and environmental events to one’s goals, thus, checking against one’s personal standard or goal; someone who is “in control” is accepting of their own and (perhaps) others’ goals while responding to both internal spontaneous desires and external novelty. Some one “in control” is accepting and directing of internal events, but also accepting of external influences. Being mentally ‘in control’ suggests a person comfortably integrated within self and so able to deal with others.
In a contrary fashion we speak of a person who is ‘unbalanced’; perhaps indicating a person who is unable to feel serene enough with themselves to be able to deal with the novelty of others. People seem to have a core motivation to feel in control of themselves and to influence their environment; a motive to predict and control events. People experience anxiety if events are outside the predictive capabilities of their construct system. The more secure they feel in their ability to predict, the more able they are to accept challenge and novelty in their construct system.
People anxious about the predictability of others tend to assign reasons, causes and connections [attributions] to events and people that may or may not be logically connected. Attributions constitute the causal reasoning of the person seeking congruence with their own internal predictive schema. Such attributions of motivation projected on other people often leads the individual then to be able to rationalize or justify why it is okay to treat them badly or to try to control the way they behave. Teachers who see Johnny as being ‘mean’ are justified in not wanting Johnny in class. Someone who asks Johnny why he behaves the way he does, may find that there is a different motivation entirely.
Helping an individual develop a highly skilled logical, scientific process to examine the evidence outside present schema is one of the goals of building cognitive skills. For most people “control motivation varies from time to time, functioning in a homeostatic manner so that deprivation of control leads to increase in control-directed behaviors such as the generation of attributional explanation of events. Others, however, have a great deal of anxiety and either spend a great deal of emotional energy “controlling” themselves since they are afraid of the emotions that they feel through their inability to either be satisfied with themselves or able to predict the actions of others OR they spend a great deal of energy attempting to control other people in their environment at all times. These people, whose behavior is incongruent with their social context and culture, are the ones who need to learn these cognitive skills.
While the school cannot and should not be “all things to all children”, it has a significant child & family development role to play. The technology of teaching has now emerged to include academic, behavioral and cognitive aspects. These new ABCs provide the capacity for an enlightened society to have the opportunity to provide to every child the capacity to develop to the greatest extent possible into a citizen who will not only obey the laws of the society, but contribute to the greater good.
The question of values is one that perhaps needs to be answered, for to help a person redesign the structure of their thinking is a powerful intervention. While on the one hand, what is important is to note that the process deals only with the structure [how one thinks] and not the content [what one thinks]. While there is emphasis on a rigorous, logical examination of the evidence, the process does not rule out spiritual or metaphysical aspects of a person’s life. The only contingency is that the ‘belief’ be congruent with the conscious self; thus a spiritual belief that cannot be fully explained is fully acceptable as long as the intent of the spiritual direction is congruent with the basic belief system of the individual. A religious belief that supports prosocial activities would be coherent with a way of thinking about oneself, ones circumstances and ones future that is in itself, prosocial. On the other hand an antisocial mystical belief [Satan worship] would be incongruent and hard to believe.
At the same time, this approach, like all personal interventions, is not without its inherent potential for misuse. For this reason, the parents should be involved in any child specific interventions [as opposed to group or environmental approaches which are much less threatening]. Adult family members should not only condone the involvement but also participate in it. Part of the understanding is that as significant adults in the child’s life, they control the process and its outcome. If the adult family members are unwilling to change their own input to the child’s thinking process, it is unlikely that the impact can be anything other than marginally successful. The confirmation of school personnel for the child is likely to be overwhelmed by the family’s confirmation thus holding the values to the family norm. In many ways it can be argued that the family system needs to address these beliefs and the concurrent actions as a matter of course.
- It must also be acknowledged that in some cultural environments, such as the inner city streets, the parent may be providing their child with the only advice that makes sense for survival. This is often hard for “middle class” teachers to understand; but it is often real.
- “The Joint Commission on the Mental Health of Children , the President’s Commission on Mental Health , the Office of Technology Assessment , The Institute of medicine  and the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families  all concur that there are too few resources and that too many of the services that do exist are uncoordinated, inefficient and ultimately ineffective.” [Koyanagi & Gaines, 1993]
- Perhaps even more important than that, Jones, et al  suggests that “We may come to believe what we say about ourselves… Or even believe something just because we expect to hear it” [McFarland, et al – 1984] since the operation of tactical mental control makes our minds reflect our outward social performance.” The implications are a “form follows function” model of Confucian philosophy – “If you want a polite man, first have him act polite.” If we extrapolate and have children say they are OK, and teach them prosocial behaviors with which to act OK, there is every likelihood that they will become OK.
- The process of confirmation is incorporated in the contingent reward aspects of behavior management and as such, can play a powerful supportive role in the cognitive, skill training effort.