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A social learning [cognitive behavior management] model of human services will require a new and different kind of helper who would probably benefit from a new, more descriptive name as well. Traditional human service professionals, particularly those with ‘mental health’ expertise are probably not qualified to carry out the new roles and functions required in the transformational system. Not only will this new worker need to have new technological skills, but s/he also will need to be able to carry out those skills in valued environments in situ. The helper will need to be able to work not only with the child, but in and with the people and situations in the child’s environment. Whether that environment be the family, the school, the job or a social event, the helper will need to be seen as an asset to the child and the environment. Failure to achieve that status will potentially increase stigma and overcome whatever gains the actual work with the child may have had.

In keeping with our educational focus, we may think of these helpers as mentors [a close trusted and experienced counselor or guide] or tutors [one having guardianship; a private teacher], although one might also want to consider the use of the terminology of coach, as the role is described in the employment field [Job Coach].

One can think of the child having an apprenticeship with a master of social relations regarding how to think and act in everyday situations and valued settings.

A profession may be identified by the selective nature of what it chooses to do in response to specific needs, requirements, and sanction of society. Just as the profession of psychiatry chooses to respond with biomedical and psychodynamic responses, so too the profession of social education chooses to use the technology of cognitive/behavioral skill building and to do so in a manner which enhances the status and dignity of the person with problems in living instead of the status of the helper. The concept of selective action serves to delineate the specific characteristics of the profession since action is the expression of certain preconditions that influence the nature, timing, and purpose of forms of behavior. When these actions are viewed as the outcomes of professional intent, they are indicative of the helper’s authority of knowledge, his or her values and ethics, specific objectives and the manner in which these factors will be translated into technical expertise.

This does not underestimate the human element in these actions. The attributes of those who assume the responsibility for carrying out this professional intent. Knowledge, values and techniques are lodged in the person. The expression in performance of this person is mediated by his/her personality and characteristics. It is the artistic use of these tools that sets the expert apart from the layman. In fact, lay people may become quite artistic in the use of some of the technology so that the recognition of expertise will be based more on the productivity of the relationships than on the credentialing of the helper. Because of the nature of art, the choice of which artist is most adequately is left with the client.

The methodology embodies a form of social intervention, which enhances, conserves and augments the means by which children1 can resolve disruptions in their social existence. It is governed by the combined recognition of the individual as a unique and active organism, the social environment as a dynamic force and the effects of their reciprocal and recursive interaction. While the methodology recognizes the importance of nature [genetic heritage] and nurture [cultural impact] on the development of the individual, it recognizes also the importance of the individual’s basic impact upon the way in which these influences are played out.

The objective of social education is the management of social learning, a process that develops within the context and as a consequence of a purposeful human relationship. The process is guided towards explicit goals and social change by the influence of the helper that evolves from his or her cognitive, affective and personal resources derived from a system of knowledge, belief and value. The Mentor must provide a context in which the possibilities of improved social learning may be maximized. It is the learning of new knowledge and new patterns of behavior that disposes the child toward more effective means of functioning.

The purpose of social education is to provide the means and opportunity by which children can work out, find alternatives for, contend with, or in other self-directed ways, deal with conditions [interpsychic, interpersonal, or environmental] that interfere with productive social living. The means will include the child’s growing awareness of his/her own personal beliefs and how these beliefs affect the perceptions and understandings of reality, training in appropriate techniques for rigorous analysis of the evidence to support or refute their own belief systems, and training in the skills necessary to carry out certain behaviors in certain situations including support for generalization over time and space. The opportunities will be supplied with unconditional positive regard and high positive expectation in the valued settings of the child’s life.

Although interim purposes may be directed toward emotional, attitudinal and perceptual factors, the methodology is essentially concerned with how children actively deal with their relationships and their environment within their social existence. The methodology provides a way, an access, a bridge, which the child may use to find a solution to or alternative for disruptive conditions. Whether the child will use the access bridge is up to the child, but the engagement of the child in a trust relationship of significance will enhance the potential for this choice.

The actions of the helper are not, in the final sense, unilateral. The practice of social education requires a significant degree of involvement and active participation by persons related to the objectives [parents, siblings, teachers, peers, etc]. The practice is an interactional process, with persons relevant to the purposes and it is carried out with the implicit or explicit sanctions of those persons. There is no coercion here; no doing something for some person’s “own good”. The extent to which the child is likely to change corresponds to the extent to which the presence of the helper is recognized, experienced and authorized.

Social interventions may take many forms and may be expressed within various types of human associations. However, all interventions are guided by four interrelated factors. These are:

  • intentionality – the immediate or long-range plan and aim related to specific outcomes;No mentor can entertain serving a child without a clear understanding of the child’s preferred future goals and some strategies to enable the child to reach those goals. Any mentor who does not believe the child is capable of continuous improvement towards such goals should disengage themselves or be dismissed. The intentions of social education are improved performance and this cannot be enabled by someone who does not believe that such improved performance is possible.
  • cognition – the knowledge and information needed for implementation of the intentions;Each mentor must incorporate into his/her own personality an optimism based on the values of dynamic growth and development in all people. The mentor must be prepared to supply the child with information that is relevant to the tasks at hand. How the child uses information is up to the child, but the mentor must always be prepared to assure that the child is informed regarding the decisions that s/he makes.
  • strategy – the means by which the intentions are carried out; andEach personal goal demands an individual strategy so that the unique child can best optimize his or her unique personal goals. Such strategies are not mystical incantations, but are readily available for discussion and sanction by the child and his or her significant others. Such strategies arise out of the situation regarding child and context and cannot be prescribed. No academic knowledge will enable the mentor to help develop the right strategy. Only the instinctive understanding of another human being in need will enable such strategies to be effectively designed.
  • interpersonal relationships – the abiding awareness of the immediate and anticipated meaning of the human association.The ideal social experience is when each individual in the experience is the figure and not ground. This experience starts one person at a time, and the mentor/child relationship is the beginning. When the mentor/child fit as two figures in an Escher drawing, they create a powerful force for continuous improvement. The mentor is neither a foil for the child’s whims nor a force to corral the child; rather the mentor seeks to be a catalyst to the child’s own desire to grow and develop. The helping relationship differs from most other human relationships in that it selectively provides those conditions which can facilitate the most productive forms of learning on the part of the student, There is conscious and deliberate, thought and planning which is selected to accomplish these ends.

The participants in the learning experience may achieve:

  • substantive knowledge – concrete information about objects, events, and situations;
  • psychological knowledge – information about the self, motivations, needs and past-present-future connections; and
  • social knowledge – understanding of self in relation to others and the meaning and implications of the behavioral patterns involved.

Social Orientation

The importance of belonging as a psychological construct is supported by its importance as a social construct. The helping relationship is a socializing force that impels its members toward order and change. Persons in relation tend to move toward some measure of congruence as they increasingly commit themselves to the worth and meaning of the association. The psychological desire to belong is the motivation to improve performance at least to the extent of acceptance. The helper must view the child in his/her social context and attempt to understand the child in the social and physical setting and the interaction between them. The mentor is not simply there to observe and monitor the actions of the child in this environment, but to demonstrate the appropriate behaviors as well. This may require that the mentor involve him/herself in direct relations with teachers, adult family members, and other children, including the child’s preferred peer group.

Social Education operates on the principle of autonomous action; a principle which complements a practice of action and choice. The child is seen as a unique being who may also share common human characteristics, but who translates them into his/her own style and manner. S/he can only be known in this holistic sense – the pattern of living -rather than a molecular sense that fragments mind and body, thought and action, and past and present. As a consequence of his/her autonomy, s/he is capable of spontaneous expression and can actively integrate and deal with stimuli coming from internal and external sources.

The significance of these conditions lies in the resultant ability to continue to advance to higher orders of performance, to perceive the self differently, and to strive toward objective goals. Behavior is neither fixed nor permanent. It is subject to unlearning, relearning and new learning. Behavior is purposefully and directionally based on what is deemed valuable, and it is influenced by what is interpreted and what is known.

The social tendencies of the child come from both survival and affiliative needs. S/he seeks interaction to attain a response that has meaning for her being. Affiliation with a group is contingent upon the ability to change, put aside, or exchange certain personal values and goals for the benefits accruing from interdependence with the group. It is this ability to diversify behavior that makes it possible for the child to enter in and become an active, contributing and responsive member of various social groups.

Social education is distinguished by its basic concern with the social well-being of persons perceived simultaneously as unique individuals and as active, responsible members of various social systems. Although the child may be regarded as a distinct unit from an objective point of view and for objective purposes, in the actuality of the human experience, s/he is not encountered as and entity, but as an affiliate of a series of social systems [a figure within a ground]. This is true whether the affiliation is constructive or destructive; voluntary or involuntary; willed or not. It is the interactive quality of this affiliation that we hope to influence. An awareness that the field [group] applies a force for change and an appreciation that behavior is purposive, adaptive, and, at times, survival-oriented assures the presence of regard for individual need.

Social education is most frequently practiced in circumstance which are critical and which reflect the vicissitudes and complexities of human behavior. The helper brings to these encounters the ability to bring order to or to reorder the situation, to give meaning or purpose to and make viable what was formerly discontinuous, diffuse or conflicted. The mentor’s competence includes the ability to develop new relationships, to become a pivotal and significant member of an existing relationship, to manage distinctive courses of human conduct and interactions, and to direct these relationships towards the attainment of explicit goals.

The helper facilitates and sustains a relationship or a network of relationships [groups] as a medium for change. The mentor is not limited in scope of working relationships and must take responsibility to model, role play, and dialogue with those people who populate the child’s social experience. The competence to meet the diverse and differential requirements of practice with an array of persons, social situations, and social problems encountered, requires the availability of a repertoire of systems and social interventions. The practice is not governed by constraints of rule or regulation, but requires that the helper enter into the social experience in a purposeful manner to accomplish preset goals. Social education is an art that utilizes the knowledge and techniques within a specific context and belief, toward explicit ends, in a highly personal way.

  1. While the methodology is applicable to adults as well, we will identify it with children to be consistent with the use of educational settings and personnel.