A thriving civil society depends on a people’s habits, customs, and ethics – attributes that can be shaped only indirectly through conscious political action and must otherwise be nourished through an increased awareness and respect for culture and in any modern society, the economy constitutes one of the most fundamental and dynamic areas of human sociability. [Fukuyama, 1995]
Social competence has a major impact on the ability to form trust relationships which are fundamental to business. Thus, social competence and the resultant social affiliation has both an individual and a collective social impact. Recent occurrences of corporate malfeasance has suggested a decline in trust, while at the same time we see in certain segments of the inner city “the absence of a proclivity for community that inhibits people from exploiting economic opportunities that are available to them”. “The ability of people to work together for common purposes in groups and organizations” has been called by sociologist James Colemen ‘social capital’, and it seems apparent that the accumulation of social capital in the United States is waning.
The accumulation of social capital, however, is a complicated and in many ways mysterious cultural process. Law, contract and economic rationality provide a necessary but not sufficient basis for both stability and prosperity, but they must be leavened with reciprocity, moral obligation, duty toward community, and trust, which are based in habit rather than in rational calculation. [Fukuyama, 1995]
While public schools can certainly not take responsibility for the entire cultural capacity for social affiliation, they can and should take a responsibility for the social competence of those they teach. If academic and vocational skills are not sufficient for providing opportunities for self suffiency through economic success, than perhaps school can provide the social competence which is the mortar in social and economic success.
While the origins of positive social adjustment may have genetic, cultural, educational and other factors, there is a developmental process which takes place in the family, peer groups, preschool, and elementary school.
Infants engage is a ‘reciprocal matching’ process in which both the infant and adult attempt to match or copy each other by approximation of each other’s gaze, use of tongue, sounds and smiles [Bruner, 1978] and these social interaction processes undergo continual development, constituting a ‘fine tuning’ system for the child’s language and cognitive development. A growing bonding attachment, marked by strong mutual affect, with at least one particular adult, is critical to the child’s welfare and social-emotional development. Babies who lack human interaction may “fail to thrive” – filing to gain sufficient weight, becoming listless, withdrawn and in some cases will not survive [Clarke-Stewart and Koch, 1983].
It is interesting to note the importance of “listlessness, apathy and apparent inability to enjoy life” which denotes childhood mood disorders. Along with somatic disorders “many complain of headaches and stomach aches; they can be sulky and irritable”. They have few friends. They may say that teachers and other children do not like them (which is often true)…” [The Harvard Mental Health Letter, 1993]
Thus the basic underpinning of social competence starts with a relationship with one adult, although there is evidence to suggest that it is important for infants to maintain close relationships with more than one adult. In addition, the style used by the primary adult in family management can have an impact. Some fairly predictable styles include:
• authoritarian [high control]
• authoritative [having knowledge and providing direction]
• permissive [low control]
• some combination of the above.
It has been found that ‘benign’ instructive direction appears to result in the child having greater social competence at home, with peers, and in school settings. [Oden, 1998]
Thus, the ‘ideal’ setting for grounding a child in social competence would be a strong attachment to an adult who provides directions along with a series of adults who relate socially to the child. Failure to bond effectively is to risk death and destruction.
After the child has received a basic supply of trust and security which is the basis for ‘social capital’ or the ability to work with others towards common goals, the next socializing step is one that occurs in the relation to peers. As a toddler, the child needs opportunities for learning to sustain interaction and develop understanding of others. While adults may be protective, peers are likely to provide the ‘real life’ challenging experience of give and take which is necessary for social development, particularly of role-taking and empathy. Through building and sustaining different types of peer relationships and social experiences, children acquire knowledge of the self versus others and a range of social interaction skills. Mixed-age peer interaction also contribute to the social-cognitive and language development of the younger child while enhancing the instructive abilities of the older child [Hartup, 1983].
Two sets of children may be deprived of appropriate peer experiences, those with a disability and those whose fundamental ‘social capital’ is not sufficient to gain peer acceptance. Poor peer acceptance results in fewer peer experiences and those few of are rarely positive, thus creating a vicious cycle of peer rejection. The infant without good grounding may not overcome that deficit as a toddler, unless learning is sufficiently rapid, and become less and less likely to participate in social experiences to help overcome the deficit. Schools often identify children with such difficulties, but fail to provide remedial instructional approaches and experiences to increase the child’s social competence.
Sociocultural experiences in a prosocial culture provide an environment which helps to support and direct a child towards socially competent actions. But select instruction around developmentally deficient areas [listening, making friends, anger management, sharing, etc] can also be scheduled and implemented. With these methods, social, cognitive and behavioral skills can be developed which provide poorly accepted peers with the ability to break the cycle of peer rejection and bring them within the “threshold of peer acceptance” [Oden, 1987].
Some children, however, can not reach this threshold even with such developmental support. These are students who present a ‘hardcore’ image of being unwilling and uninterested. These may be students who never created a bond with an adult, and are variously extremely angry, sad or fearful. Such emotions are the ‘value markers’ – they indicate what matters. And what matters when extreme emotions are involved usually has to do with self/others. How the child feels about themselves and how the child feels about others [including, how they believe others feel about them] are highly salient thoughts which affect how the child feels about their own future prospects.
While powerful ‘feelings’ may impede examination of these beliefs, an examination needs to be made and a rigorous evaluations needs to occur. If the maladjusted beliefs can be proved to be untrue, the potential for an entirely new mental schema becomes available. If that schema can provide social capital [the ability to associate with others and to work for a common purpose] which implies ‘trust’, the individual becomes available to learn the competency skills. Each accumulation of ‘social capital’ creates the potential for other incremental gains, since a person with social capital is capable of passing it on through mysterious cultural processes.
If social competence is not the goal of public education – what is? And if social competence is the goal, how is this responsibility to be fulfilled? These questions can only be answered through a cognitive process of dealing with the formative and cumulative beliefs of the children of the culture and dealing with cognitive errors which allow these children to grow into adulthood without every dealing with their own sense of object thinking [victimhood]. Making changes will require a through examination of how the culture of the school initiates and maintains such thoughts and how a change in the logos curriculum must be matched by a change in the mythos curriculum. With logos indicating the logical or formal curriculum which is the message which the district consciously decides should be conveyed; and the mythos being the informal ‘word’ about how things are done.
Such change will demand of managers a cultural restructuring which will demand a change in the thoughts of each individual member of the staff.