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Child Development Theories (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Behaviorist Theory

The behavioral theories of Skinner (1974) and Bijou (1989) also continue to influence what goes on in schools, especially for some special education programs. The mechanistic theory of behaviorism emphasizes the role of the environment on an individual's development. Preparing the environment for appropriate reinforcement is a major goal.

Two examples of Skinner's (1974) contribution to education include behavior modification and programmed learning. Both of these rely heavily on immediate reinforcement, in which a child has to exhibit the "right" behavior or produce the "correct" answer in order to be positively reinforced.

Teachers using behavioral theory will consider any difficulties a child has as being found within the environment. As with Gesell's (1925) overemphasis on nature, Skinner's (1974) overemphasis on nurture limits our understanding of children and their differences. Applications of this theory have resulted in an overemphasis on isolated skills and drill, as well as a heavy reliance on teacher-directed and teacher-reinforced activities. Consequently, teachers often ignore children's curiosity and prior knowledge.

Many educators believe the theory behind No Child Left Behind is behaviorism. The methods reported to be scientifically based are rooted in the behaviorist tradition, and so the methodology recommended under No Child Left Behind is behavioral in nature.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Freud's (1935) psychoanalytic theory served as the theoretical basis for analysis of behavior disorders during the 1920s through the 1940s. "Behavior problems displayed by children were viewed as symbolic manifestations of unresolved conflict, often emanating from early caregiver-child interactions" (Hinshaw, 1994, p. 10). Problems with attention and activity levels were attributed to unconscious processes. Play therapy was the recommended form of intervention, with accompanying therapy for the child's parents. Psychodynamic models continue to have an effect on education and intervention for children with special needs.

One of the biggest problems with psychoanalytic theory is the inherent allocation of blame on parent-child interactions—more specifically, on the mother's actions. Fortunately, theoretical shifts have moved from a blame-the-parent model to more bidirectional, transactional, and interactional models of childhood differences.

Constructivist Theory

Although there are several "brands" of constructivism, Pia get's theory (1952) continues into the 21st century to affect what goes on in many classrooms. This theory relies heavily on logical-mathematical knowledge and universal invariant stages of development to the neglect of other forms of knowledge and the importance of context in a child's development. Even though knowledge is constructed from the "inside out" through interaction with the environment, the focus is more on the individual's coordination of relationships rather than on socially constructed knowledge.

Autonomy is the aim of education in constructivism (Kamii, 2000). Constructivist theory, however, has not adequately addressed either individual differences or cultural and contextual contributions to development and education (Delpit, 1988; Kessler & Swadener, 1992; Mallory & New, 1994). Thus, the needs of children who are different often are not met in constructivist classrooms.

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