The Essential Nature of Affective Education

May 25th, 2018 | Category: Church Work Professional, DCE Ministry, Faith/Learning
By George A. Guidera

Values and Social-Emotional Development

Abraham Maslow contended that after facing issues of survival and safety, humans address additional value and social-emotional needs. These include love and acceptance, leading toward self-actualization. He included acceptance, affection, confidence, self-expression, and creativity as human needs. For many children, these needs may be difficult to fulfill. While, some youth are well supported, many are minimally supported or not supported at all. These children may be unaware that their needs are even being addressed, let alone feeling stress over them. Others lack sufficient direction or attention-supporting development within their families, schools, and their community.

Maslow considered the issues of belonging and finding positive roles in the school and culture to be essential. Students benefit from silent and overt support for fitting into the culture of the school and of the classroom. They also need to feel and expressions of care and of worthiness in order to gain emotional health for themselves, as well as gain social perspectives for school and for life.

My Reflection on Social-Emotional Education

Prior to formation of an educational theory, I had appreciation for affective learning, but I would not have called it that as a child. By the third grade, I recall intentional decisions regarding what was worth learning, including things I viewed as less valuable. I knew school was about learning stuff (curriculum) and I trusted my family, school, and teachers would teach me the right stuff. It included formal and informal values and social curriculua regarding affective issues. I practiced independence beyond my family at school.

I enjoyed school and learning, and I trusted my teachers. I found at recess that I really liked dodgeball. It was a valuable activity involving physical challenges. It also involved learning moral values such as fairness and honesty. Dodgeball was important to me, even though there were no specific learning standards. I was good at dodgeball. Other students noticed my prowess. This built my confidence in who I was. We also had citizenship grades in school, describing behaviors regarding social, moral, and behavioral expectations. My parents paid attention to these grades along with my academic progress.

I carried these perceptions into my teaching preparation and practice, adding the spiritual concern of nurturing the faith in Lutheran schools. I wanted to develop a classroom that provided support to students reflecting affective learning goals. There were moral perspectives as well as knowledge. The curriculum in my days of teacher preparation featured a behavioral orientation, along with expectations for learning a secular/theological/social mix of values, attitudes, and motivations.

This behavioral orientation was also reflected in my observations of and responses to student actions and behaviors. I sought for students to experience joy, encouragement, success and perhaps some frustration and disappointment with poor behaviors. These experiences were all elements of their development. There was grace and forgiveness. Students knew that sanctions were not judgements of who they were. My sanctions were responses to behaviors that at times required admonishment, some for the sake of order, others for the sake of learning responsibility to society. Most of them were expectations for their success for understanding life within a culture. It was expected, not always perfectly executed, that students would comply with classroom rules within the Gospel’s promise and parental hopes and expectations. Teacher behavior in my early days of teaching included an assumption of in loco parentis, of teachers acting in an extended or quasi-parental role. The quality of values and behaviors were important to learning and life. This was true of both the perspective of the teacher and of the parent.

Maturing as a teacher, I perceived that curricula which included emotional and values components were also supported and shaped by my expectations and interactions with my student’s perspectives and needs. Some were formal, with goals and even sanctions. These goals and sanction provided the surest check for students to know if they had soared or trespassed was in observing their responses and expectations of others, especially teachers. Students can be master interpreters of the subtle. There were goals and encouragements plus the reality that God’s Law serves as both a deterrent and a recommendation when students appreciate its purposes, taking responsibility for acting appropriately.

My adult daughters have on occasion reported there was fear of getting caught breaking the rules and sanctions that were enhanced by the fact I was their father, principal, and teacher. They also knew that I failed at times, I was a sinner as well.

The church, the society, the school, and families all had notions of what social behaviors and emotional perspectives were desired and, which conflicted, becoming two-edged swords at times. Still, as in any game, when rules were mutually accepted, understood, and practiced, there was usually less pain or conflict. Rules require care, empathy, and restraint. Without restraint, majorities may become a mob without reflection, responsibility, or boundaries.

Learning how to play fairly by the rules is an important affective skill is. This leads to appropriate, fair, and moral decisions later within society. Affective learning is neither easy nor shallow. It is focused on feelings, emotions, values, and attitudinal outcomes. It has a lot to say about self-perception, affecting the child’s social and emotional needs. Affective learning is often about what we do and how we feel.

Later in graduate school, we discussed classroom management, creating classroom climates that enhance affective expectations. This affected my development as a teacher and led me to examine the theoretical reasoning of experts in the field of affective education.

Looking at Social-Education Perspectives 

Social-education theories demonstrate the need to consider the role a school plays in discovering, shaping, and supporting social attitudes and skills, values development, emotional health, and positive citizenship behaviors of their students. Schools are social institutions. The interactions that occur there help to teach and model student behaviors and expectations. At times, we lose sight of that reality.

It is not a question of whether affective modeling and learning should take place. They do take place. Further, this affective modeling and learning is both complex and essential for individual development. It often occurs in our daily transactions. It is of social value to the culture.

We expect schools to help prepare students for life in society. Robert Putnam holds in Bowling Alone (2000) that the schools are the most significant intermediate social institution in the society, only trailing the family in their impact upon children. Further, in Our Kids (2015) he goes on to describe how many children are in crisis with insufficient supports. He claims this is partially due to the decline of other institutions (clubs, scouting, churches, etc.) in importance as well as impacts due to greater individualism, social media’s impact, (too much screen time), a decline in economic support, and less parental  time and emotional support for many children.

Who are the heroes young people are looking to as models?  How loud are the media?  The solution is not to be found in memorized curricula or testing regimens. Pools of youthful ignorance are not helpful either. “Just don’t do it,” only works in fear or if the child does not want to do it anyway. Children may and will continue to act out improperly, despite knowing it is wrong within the culture. Appreciation for good behavior is part of growth and learning. Many young people are supported with sufficient assets and the environments required for a rich development of behaviors, attitudes, habits, and values needed to live well for the benefit of self and society. But self-image and personality are creative, complex developmental challenges. Too many children, do not receive sufficient support for this essential growth. The social curriculum is part of each day for growth or its failure.

Success within the practice of life is important. For children, much of this occurs at school. That is where curriculum and process must be initiated, modeled, and practiced for rich and powerful affective development. Schools and families must focus on living in the organic realities of development. There is no one thing that fosters a healthy development of self, but an awareness and intentional effort to help students learn, mature, and effectively operate within the affective domain is essential for such healthy development. Academic growth is essential, but social needs trump academics.

Looking at Values-Education Perspectives 

Questions of values in education often devolve into “what values should be taught?” and how to accomplish the learning of these values. An appropriate discussion for democratic values is Jefferson’s call to educate yeomen farmers to make wise democratic choices.

The issue in values-education is often a lack of support for cultural values or contested views of what those values should be, While these issues are debated, most children are seeking safe surroundings where they feel accepted to develop their own values and their understandings of truth. They are growing, budding individuals, questioning their emerging sense of worth, limits, authority, and power.

Values are more than memorized lists to be endorsed by students. They are observed, tested, and adopted attitudes and actions based upon students’ experiences and feelings. Children are busy developing their personal characters, both at school and at home.

Traditionally, schools are conservative, expected by the community to model and adhere to accepted social values including retributions for recalcitrant members and rewards for obedience. However, children may have less safe and supportive communities in which to build their personal values system. Technology has provided a global village that plays a significant social role in children’s lives, often with few filters. They are expected to do the right thing, they also face correction by multiple voices often without much coordination or credibility. Today, young children often live in multiple cultures. Living is complex in a diverse culture where consistency may be difficult to achieve. Children need acceptance. They also hear calls both for variety for and conformity. This call for both variety and conformity may set up tensions within the larger culture. It may also lead to debate between forms and levels of values, There may be a variety of views and practices within the community culture.

At the same time, a juxtaposition of global values as presented through social media can add to confusion for children. Since there are varying degrees of compliance and sanctions regarding both simple and complex issues, this state of being will be challenging to children. For example, I can still recall watching a police officer explaining a traffic stop to my middle school students. Pupil focus for this issue was high. The students were engaged because the curriculum was seen as relevant. The students were developing values and attitudes. The event created a powerful teachable moment for my classroom.

We live in a global society. We observe the urge to return to nostalgic clan-like villages with compliant values. This urge competes with global goals for the benefit of a more politically diverse vision of culture. In addition, there is always the siren call of freedom. Erik Erikson’s work is helpful for describing the stages of development throughout life. His work is most often used to understand the childhood process of personality development. He describes affective conflicts in children’s lives that they need to resolve. These conflicts include trust, autonomy, industry, identity, and intimacy. Students deal with these issues in school as well as at home and in the community. The resolution of these conflicts is a complex process over time that is neither simple nor soft, but vital, complex, and sustained.

Complexity and autonomy battle with conformity and practice in a subtle dance seeking to win young hearts and souls. Cries can be heard in the UN as well as on the playground as the voices of children may challenge with the words, “you are not the boss of me.”  Personal freedom, choice, authority, and pleasure are primary goals in many young lives. These goals help children develop a sense of individuality and personal power.

It is not only world leaders who strive for power. These issues can be found in the classroom and on the playground every day. There are selfish actions and maturity issues. There are elements of convergence and divergence regarding children’s creativity and obedience. In addition, values operate on both an individual level and at a group level, producing issues among peers or at the community level. Children need the playground and recess as well as the classroom to practice life. They also need critiques from teacher voices. Students recognize they are asked to accept ideas and values they do not share or that are not consistent with their realities, at times causing them responding with disapproval when pressured.

How tolerant will we be with those who maintain different values? R.F. Butts addressed this issue on a political level in The Revival of Civic Learning, (1980). He speaks of a need for balance between Pluribus and Unum to sustain both the rights and responsibilities required to shape values and civility within a diverse society. If there is too little agreement on the Unum, this process is difficult to sustain. It takes energy and time to develop Unum. It is a thoughtful occurrence in young lives. Simply said, when everyone concurs there is less conflict requiring supervision or mediation, but it is healthier when not coercive or forced. At times, the miracle is how well students agree and compromise. At the same time, a multicultural classroom or community or nation will have important doses of pluribus. And in order to maintain that pluribus, there needs to be agreement to disagree. It is through those disagreements that negotiation is learned.

Theories of Values and Value Development

Taxonomies were developed by David Krathwohl and Benjamin Bloom in 1964 to describe both affective and knowledge domains of learning. It is the taxonomy of affective development that we need to consider here. The affective taxonomy addresses regarding value and attitude development, describing developmental stages in a sequence from:

1. Receiving phenomena;

2. Responding to it;

3. Making decisions regarding which concepts to value;

4. Organizing preferred values;

5. Internalizing the values into a system.

Their theory assumes that values develop from a variety of sources throughout childhood, including observing the environment and reflecting upon their own perspectives and experiences:  which are then considered, processed, organized, and adopted by the individual within the context of the society. It is an active, unfolding process. Their theory describes both an emotional and a cognitive process, but does not answer all the aspects.

There are additional factors to be considered. Some in society support absolute values, while others are more comfortable with more relative notions selected by individuals or a cultural majority. Krathwohl and Bloom (1956) suggest an order or process regarding how individuals develop or organize values. They do not address the development of societal values. Others in society may hold that it is simply a genetic process being unfolded, or that it is a behaviorist stimulus-and-response process.

One theory that appears in many discussions on values is Lawrence Kohlberg’s stage theory, called cognitive moral development. This theory includes six stages of moral development that begin with self-gratification and the perceived magnitude of a moral offense, then progress through to a consideration of the greater good of the community or of society a large.

In addition, Louis Raths and Sidney Simon popularized values clarification methods in the 1960s, receiving praise, criticism, and questions for their theory. In the 1970s, Milton Rokeach distinguished between what he described as terminal values, which were descriptive of end-states of existence and behavior, i.e., happiness, respect, wisdom, and intimacy as examples, with more behavior-oriented instrumental values, such as; courage, forgiveness, honesty, and imagination, which, as Rokeach posited, are often used as the means to achieve or support terminal concepts (Rokeach, 1970;1973).

From a cultural perspective, the values discussion of this era came to a controversial head of sorts when Joseph Fletcher presented his theory of situational ethics in 1966. His work was interpreted by many as a challenge to the notion of absolute values. Fletcher supported a more relative flexible values regimen. This relativity of values remains an issue for many in society today. While that may not have been his intent, it identified a dualism regarding relative values contrasted to more traditional absolutes of right-or-wrong value positions. Further, much of the debate regarding situational ethics occurred within a theological context.

The diversity of the 60s and 70s became a dynamic upon which there was intense and personal disagreement. The outcome seems to be a more utilitarian cultural view held by some as the modern secular view, with vocal disagreement concerning common values at the heart of continuing political debates. Life and death issues from abortion to capital punishment to genetic planning all continue as contentious issues within the various views of values.

All these definitions and distinctions seem to indicate that by 1900 schools had already become socialization centers for life in the culture with the actors merely fighting over how to present their views, or over who won the political arguments of which values to support. Growing global diversity and technological abilities have provided the schools even a greater challenge. It can be more difficult to address or teach values if we have not agreed about what those values are. This points to the importance of the family in the articulation of values and to the essential nature of family discussions about values and faith. The values and faith formation taught within the family then become experiences each child confronts within the culture.

The Crux of the Matter

The issue then becomes deciding both how to define and how to teach a values curriculum. Will it be a unified set of values to which each student and family will subscribe? Or will it be a diverse and pluralistic menu of values from which students and their families will choose?

As society debates values, students continue to build attitudes and abilities such as resilience and agency so that as citizens they can take responsibility for their lives as socially adept citizens. Students need to know the rules with some degree of certainty. Even as teachers present ethical choices and options, students will search for certainty even if there is none.

We ask questions about why some children seem to have more imagination, grit, or optimism. The certainty of self is a lesson that each child learns differently. The reality is that teachers have been responding for years to uncertain children whenever they refuse to give up on their students, go the extra mile to understand why a student does not seem to be very resilient or why a child is not able to improve social interactions. It even happens when they comfort a child who falls on the playground.

These are only part of the challenge. Often, for children with fewer assets, the teacher may be the child’s best hope in an unfair game. Can we step back and accept that schools are key institutions for learning how to live in modern society, which includes values and behaviors? Children are not to be trained, but nurtured and educated. Many parents desire schools to partner with families, but feel they lack a healthy contract. Educators and community leaders endlessly argue over finances, curriculum, and methods. Still, as other figures in education have suggested, school experiences help shape children into stronger citizens for the welfare of society, as well as to support their own futures. The solution is not so much a new curriculum of correct values nor an additional class period to teach values. Much of values education is personal and incidental. It relates to complex climates and relationships.

That does not mean that lessons or units should never focus on specific values, but that there is no one set of universal politically-determined values to be considered as the values or social curriculum if freedom and democracy are to thrive. Rather, values need to be generated and integrated into the flow of the school day with a curriculum addressing social issues and the academic curriculum supporting social development. Effective lessons need to be part of a context with stories and responses, even choices. For example, teachers teach a lot about fairness at recess.

Teachers or aides should supervise recess and other activities as it is much more than play. It is also skill and value development. It is about moral development, honesty, fairness, even empathy and care. We need to consider the values that society and students need in the flow of their days. Part of that is letting students practice their values, but other times it requires interventions. This is an art of teaching issue. In Lutheran schools, it is also about faith. We can deal with moral topics in a religion class, but Lutheran schools are first about the Gospel and the Creator’s plan, making faith an integral part of the curriculum all through the day.

Schools perceived as moral academies are expected to enforce lists of rules. This is too simplistic by itself. Teachers nurture the faith even as they teach geometry and spelling. The Spirit is there all day. The social process and curriculum are complex teaching challenges integrated throughout day and throughout the school year.

Schools are the market place or village square (Plato, xxxx; Powell, Farrar, & Cohen, 1985). Our children practice and discover the truths by which they will live. In a democracy, school is about helping young people observe their world to discover the best understandings and realities; then to apply them. Students do watch their teachers. They are silent interrogators of teacher leadership. Yes, our effect is often quietly judged by their cooperation and relevancy of our responses. That point is not a criticism of schools, rules, or their performance, but I fear that often, along with their students, teachers, parents, and citizens are lost in the weeds chasing after false prophets, power, and fleeting rainbows.

The affective domain is often personal and usually most effective as an inductive activity where the student discovers best practice and personal belief. We need to focus more strongly on the main things if school is to help kids figure out life. Those main things include:

1. How to turn down the media channels that may lead young people toward more selfish behaviors or destruction rather than purpose;

2. How to support families that do not provide strong observation platforms from which children can view the world around them or to deal with issues and conflicts they face; or

3. Communities that realize poverty and health issues need to be addressed because they are assets for healthy students and positive emotional behavior.

The winner is not the one with the most toys, greatest fame, or best fast ball. How do we select and honor the goals of being sincere helpful human beings? Or select the best steward of the rich gifts God provides us to live within a society? Part of the problem is the variety in the lives of children and the fact that they require various levels of support. Part of the issue is the difficulty to reflect upon the process when they are at the center of the drama. Students need a variety of personal and institutional supports or scaffolds to complete the task.

Children need to clarify values, but it is a nuanced and complex discussion that is modeled and taught throughout the school experience as well as during the rest of life. It is not just another topic to add to the curriculum list Instead each child needs to build his or her own understanding. This is the core curriculum. It is this building of core values, one child at a time. That is the core of schooling for children. Districts and schools use a variety of plans and strategies to address the social and emotional needs within schools, some more effective than others.

Special Concerns

Concerns arise regarding the institutionalization of teaching values beyond those mentioned above. Can we even ponder what a description of values to be taught might look like?  Can there be a single universal list?  Or would that make the notion of democratic freedom a folly? If the question of universal values is addressed, the notion of a curriculum of values and behaviors that are to be taught to all children will likely limit personal freedoms.

The concern about affective education is that it is so much more than factual knowledge. It is about the process of learning, the actions and reactions of children, and the real-life fears that every child addresses. Many efforts to address affective education may likely be either too general or too simple. One criticism of Kohlberg’s work was that even if a student could be convinced of an appropriate moral position there is no evidence that the individual will act appropriately using that understanding. All we need do is study our human history around diet and exercise to understand this issue. Moderation and self-control by themselves do not prevent unhealthy living. Examples abound. We know what we should do, but add a little stress and we fail to do it.

In the Christian school, we recognize there is still sin, leaving us to ask what freedom of life choices we have. You might as well remove whatever makes life a challenge or adventure. Life is intended to be lived boldly as saints, despite our sinfulness.

A related notion is that before we can agree to a curriculum, someone will want to make money devising the ramp-up and testing needed to declare accomplishment or mastery of a value or behavior. This results in a valueless quantitative piece of datum. Then we must ask, what do we do with the factory rejects, those who fail to develop enough grit or demonstrate enough resiliency for a passing grade on some normative curve? Yes, we need to do both assessment and evaluation, (and they are not the same thing), but only after consideration of how and what to do with the data. Schools used to give citizenship grades (many still do) on personal and observed social behavior, likely assigned as a pass/fail or needs-improvement measure, or based upon a qualitative form or rubric. Finally, who would want to hang out with people who earn a 99% on a perfectionist fulfillment score? They would never finish the project.

We need to give much more thought to a very complex and difficult goal of helping all children develop within a rich and caring environment. This needs to be an environment where teachers are not exhausted by the process, but have some energy to care and to mentor.

Education for Values and Social Development as a Core Purpose

Social and emotional growth occurs as we face and practice life. Moral behavior is a key aspect of the experience. Social skills are an essential aspect of human development. “How well did my practice of life go today?” is a great question as you drift off to dreamland at bedtime. It is great for dinner table discussions about values, which are more than announcing your own truth. Nel Noddings calls it a climate of pervasive care. Your curriculum and plan will reflect those realities. At times, we can all recall how a rehearsal at an earlier point helped us in a time of deep joy or sorrow.

This is not an activity just for children or students, nor do we ever get it all totally right or figured out. We teachers may be sainted, but also still sinners. We must also repent. If we are interested in helping others, especially our students, we must maintain a human concern and focus on how we behave and share the experience with them. Responsibility is a holistic goal.

Discussion and reflection are intended to invite a person to consider what is important in his or her life and to then perhaps be more open as in sharing and witnessing the values in listening, planning, and advising fellow supporters on the journey. These observations describe the need for disciples to awaken to the very purpose of addressing values and behaviors, thereby sharing hope with their students.

In, An American Childhood (1987), Annie Dillard speaks of the time when you realize that you are of age, you are responsible. That you are no longer a child, but are now responsible for your life or destiny. That strikes me as an affective experience or realization, discovering your essence, which can be both a terrifying and an invigorating time in one’s life. Before that, the family and culture have primary responsibility, but after coming of age you begin to sign off for your own actions. It used to happen around the 8th grade when the church confirmed children and knickers were replaced with long pants. A critical eye and reality were needed, along with a more mature affective perspective. Dillard addresses this experience with the following question and answer:

“What does it feel like to be alive?” Knowing you are alive is feeling the planet buck under you, rear, kick, and try to throw you; you hang on to the ring. It is riding the planet a long way downstream, whooping. Or, conversely, you step aside from the dreaming about some fast-loud routine and now feel time as a stillness about you, and hear the silent air asking in so thin a voice, have you noticed yet that you will die at some point? Do you remember, can you remember? “Then you feel your life as a weekend, a weekend you cannot extend, just a weekend in the country.” (Dillard, 1987, p. 151)

Her description is powerful, even breathtaking, to clarify this awareness and practice of life, to clarify an understanding of its meaning and implications. Learning is a part of life, even at school. Further, there are common elements, but no two people experience them in the exact same way. As above, it may be a flash of insight or it may happen so gradually that you are not sure when it occurred. It may scare you to the point of despair and panic, or make you as giddy as a Saturday-night dance. It is both simple and complex, and, to a degree, an internal awakening we become aware of, then realize what the teacher meant in telling us to take responsibility for our own actions.

Many people can help prepare and support us in our journey toward values identification, but it is a journey that, at some point, we each take alone. We often do not reflect upon our journey very much, because we are so busy just existing and surviving. Yet, this journey is at the heart of how we become human, engage life, and celebrate our very being. In that way, it is a common part of the journey that we all experience individually, each in our own time, way, often privately. It can be extremely out loud at times and may then also serve as a small spark that lights our own imaginations for the rest of our lives. I can recall dealing with bullies, struggling with spelling skills, realizing girls were different and interesting, organizing my own academic projects, and guilt over a class’s corporate meanness toward a teacher. These issues all expanded my affective abilities, understandings, and self-image.

Therefore, as you seek an educational reformation agenda that will address the key questions; put right at the top of the list, the question of how we help release the power and imaginations of our students to learn. How do we encourage them to use their talents to make life a richer and deeper experience for themselves and the worlds where they live?

There is no best test, practice, or standard; no magic path, no app to solve it, and there is no cheap way. It is a costly collaborative, requiring care for our students as God’s gifts and taking the time to know them as individuals as we prepare them to take responsibility alongside us for the care they will provide the world. It is one generation preparing the next to care for life and pursue hope for the future. It is the serious work of parents, educators, leaders, and society. It is the most important work we do. We must understand children’s needs and act upon them to help children relish becoming citizens.

So, I am encouraging you, the reader, to join in passing on the sense of responsibility that we once assumed, seeking ways to care, helping children take responsibility for the future. May God smile on your efforts. LEJ


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