Kyle Bjorem ED3000 9/13/11
The Adolescent as Subject and the Dialectical Relation to the Teacher No matter what stance you adopt after digesting the research and theory surrounding adolescents, one must resist the temptation to objectify the group as a whole or fall back into easy stereotyping. Instead, a quasi-personal subject-to-subject relation is required in each particular case and one must engage the adolescent subject dialectically and begin an up-building discourse from where they are as that unique subject. No amount of abstraction can possibly replace this concrete and symbiotic relationship. I believe that there are several instances throughout our recent readings which reinforce this view. In “The Invention of Adolescence” (Fasick, 1994) we are shown how the contemporary social class known as adolescents came to be in America. The most interesting portion of this brief overview is the concept of the adolescent as marginalized citizen; someone who is not afforded the rights of the adult yet is relied upon to drive the economy forward. Essentially I believe that there is a “youth culture” that is created by adults that caters to and exploits the dissonance in the adolescent consciousness; a dissonance that simultaneously pulls them towards rebellion and pushes them towards conformity. An adolescent does not yet have a fully formed sense of Self, is guaranteed unrewarding toil as the only option for work, and has a very limited amount of freedom (in many school environments, even freedom of thought). They are easy targets for manipulation; they can become a sort of super-consumer (I would contend that more than half of all popular culture/media/product is geared towards adolescents). One of the main objectives of the educator then is to break through the objectification of an entire class of citizen (including to buying into the mythology of adolescents being half-crazed howling hormone monkeys), and engage the learner in a personal manner, understand where he/she is coming from and where they want to go outside of the rubric that has been created for them by social and economic forces.
Bjorem 2 Jeffery Arnett, in his article “Adolescent Storm and Stress: Reconsidered” (1999), lays out the “storm and stress” hypothesis both historically and in relation to what could be considered modern causes. He considers the importance of “adolescents’ inherent need for activity and exploration” in contrast to the urban sedentary lifestyle many of them actually lead, and I believe this is a vital point for all educators to take note of. There is a teacher/learner relationship that is comparable to simply sitting in a recliner and watching television and a teacher/learner relationship that is comparable to actual exploration. Arnett also points out that adolescence is a time of massive growth, the opportune time to strike while the iron is hot. By simply lecturing, giving rote exams, “teaching to the test”, and being a distant unrelatable authority figure one is doing nothing but cooling the iron and making them hard, resistant to learning. By engaging in them as Subjects and building their knowledge with them, dialectically instead of dictatorially, one keeps the iron hot and is able to shape them as well as allow them the freedom and space to shape themselves. Barbara Kantrowitz and Karen Springen, in their article “A peaceful adolescence: The teen years don’t have to be a time of family storm and stress” (2005), contend that there is a “widespread misunderstanding of what happens during the teen years” (the “storm and stress” stereotype) and that “A lot depends on youngsters' innate natures, combined with the emotional and social support they get from the adults around them” (p. 50). An emphasis is placed upon communication with individual adolescents on a personal level, as well as upon an effort to help them build their support networks (be they peers, adults, even an online community). There should be a rational give and take, a structure should be presented to be adapted to as well as a significant amount of slack for an adolescent to find their own passions in life and grow their relationship to society as a whole gradually and organically. The most important concept to be taken away from all of our early readings is the notion of the “5 Cs”, those being competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring. All of these are essential in the type of teacher/learner relationship I hope to promote in my classroom, and I would also point out that a lack in any of the five would most likely lead to a proportional decrease in the levels of the other four. To
Bjorem 3 enhance the confidence a learner has in his/herself as well as the confidence the learner has in the teacher, the other Cs are necessary components. Also, for instance, without a connection, the confidence you try to build within the adolescent will not take root. Detached praise from an authority figure you have no real relation to is far less meaningful than from someone you do have a personal connection with. That lack of true confidence would lead to a lack of character and competence, etc, etc. The history of adolescent research and methodology has evolved very much over the past century, evolving from a more philosophical outlook, founded on grand theories and all-encompassing systems, to a more scientific/behavioral outlook, to a current method which is more sociological with a focus on interdependence and contextual elements. However, the fact is that you cannot teach “Adolescents” as some sort of objectified whole or Platonic Idea, you can only teach a singular adolescent, the actual real-life subject before you. A teacher must be willing to adapt their methods to specific situations, communities, and individuals, and actively do so constantly. Hiding behind one particular theory or research guided method, even if it is clearly not working, is a danger that I believe many teachers fall into and one that I hope to avoid.
Bjorem 4 References Arnett, J.J. (1999). Adolescent storm and stress, reconsidered. American Psychologist, 54, 317-326. Fasick, F.A. (1994). On the “invention” of adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 14(1), 6-23. Kantrowitz, B., & Springen, K. (2005, May 16). A peaceful adolescence: The teen years don’t have to be a time of family storm and stress. Newsweek (International Ed.)