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    Why Might Developmentalism be a Limited Account of Child Development

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    Why might developmentalism be a limited account of child development? This essay will explore the question why might developmentalism be a limited account of child development? The essay will first look at what developmentalism is within the early childhood. The essay will then focus on three different limitations. Firstly, the essay will explore Developmentalism’s Restrictions on Teaching and Parenting. The essay will then move on to Personal, Social, and Cultural Implications. Lastly the essay will explore implications of school work. The term ‘developmentalism’ has first been mentiontioned by Stone (19991, 1993, 1994). However, similar terms have been used to describe a developmentally oriented academic activity. Sprinthall and Sprinthall (1987) used the phrase ‘ developmentalists ‘ in reference to teachers who focus their activities on developmental factors. Lawrence Kohlberg and Rochelle Mayer (1972) used a common term—’philosophical-developmentalist ‘— in reference to the opinions of John Dewey (1859-1952) and Jean Piaget (1896-1980).

    Both Deweys and Piagets Ideas have been reffered to as ‘interactionists’ where as Jean Jacques Rousseaus (1712-1778) ideas are reffered to as ‘maturationists’. In addition to these precedents, developmentalism as used by Stone (1991, 1993, 1994) applies to a specific theory which presumes that ‘ normal ‘ ontogenesis is ideal. Such an assumption is central to both maturationist and interactionist views of development; and it is evident in Dewey, Piaget, Rousseau, and the others here referred to as developmentalists. ( Stone, 1996) As the word here is used, ‘ism’ in developmentalism is the undisputed belief that the ‘normal’ path of development, albeit logically created, is the ideal possibility. It’s an obscure but vital form of romantic naturalism— one deeply embedded in American culture. Generally speaking, developmentalism is the perception of age-related social, psychological, and behavioural transformation which assumes the optimum evolution to be the delicate product of indigenous patterns evolving in an environment that is congenial to their assumed stable existence. .( Stone, 1996) This stresses (a) the suitability of a natural tendency to read, (b) the dangers of interaction with indigenous traits and proclivities, and (c) the desirability of learning experiences that mimic those assumed to occur naturally. Personal, psychological, and mental characteristics that may be unrecognised as a consequence of instructor involvement and parent interference are assumed to be expressions of the natural course of growth. Man, his cultural contrivance, and indeed his culture, are seen as distinct from nature; and concerted efforts to change the direction of child development are believed to conflict with optimum developmental outcomes. Developmentalism believes that the behavioural patterns arising from the child’s natural instincts and behaviours are desirable because they are part of the ‘culture.’ While their theories of creation vary, Rousseau, Dewey, Piaget, and all other developmentalists hold this idea. .( Stone, 1996)

    The role of developmentalism on educational reform must be understood in the context of its effects on schooling, parenting and socialisation as a whole. As the now famous African proverb implies,’ it takes a village to raise a boy,’ the impact of the constraints of developmentalism and the guidance on the behaviour of both parents and teachers is vital to schooling outcomes. In addition, developmentalist advice has motivated parents and teachers to be less assertive and to give children more autonomy. In addition, it prompted the weakened parent to focus on school research and commitment, and on mature and responsible behaviour in general. Parents believe that disappointment and delayed gratification must be reduced in a developing accommodative environment, whereas instant performance and happiness must be maximised. Simply put, developmentalism as well as its limitations on teaching practise contend against interference and instead support the kind of permissiveness seen in the teachings of Dr. Benjamin Spock (1976) and others (Gessell & Ill, 1943; Warner & Rosenberg, 1976). As a matter of fact, Spock, et al and academic developmentalists depend on some of the same philosophical principles. Developmentalism indicates that both teacher and parent perceptions of behaviour or accomplishment must be adhered to concerns about optimal development..( Stone, 1996)

    Instead of trying to influence the child into social or academic norms, developingly educated teachers and parents are considered to be responsible for delivering experiences and opportunities that are compatible with existing child trends. It is clearly accepted as the norm that such knowledge would result in commitment and success entirely consistent with individual ability. Clark and Starr (1991, p. 37) illustrate this opinion in their book on primary and secondary school methods of teaching: ‘Because learning is developmental it follows that one learns better when one is ready to learn.

    ‘ Bigge and Hunt’s (1962, p. 377) text is much more clear: ‘A young person is ready to learn when he has achieved sufficient physiological maturation and experiential background so that he not only can learn but wants to.’ What ever the quantifiable effect of developmentally educated teaching and parenting on the course of child development (a remarkably little explored subject), it is immediate. Developmentalism leads to a debilitating reluctance and confusion as to how or whether adults will seek to control kids..( Stone, 1996) It clearly raises the possibility of injury, but it does not provide clear instructions on a safe and efficient plan of action. This needs an assessment of the child’s developmental condition as a requirement to intervention, but it does not provide a reliable means of determining the level. The necessity to properly determine individual developments is a major barrier to the implementation of developmental theory. Prototypic human development studies Gessell (1940, 1943, 1946), Gesell, Ilg, and Ames (1956) and McGraw (1945/1969) monitored physical and motor development— both low-inference constructions. .( Stone, 1996) Development indicators — height, weight, number of teeth, number of steps, etc.— were noticeable but also easily measurable. On the other side, the stages of cultural, emotional and cognitive growth to which developmentally appropriate education and discipline must be adapted are high-inference structures, i.e. those that are said to represent dynamic patterns of behaviour. The underlying analytical issue is apparent in Piaget’s theory of intelligence (Furth & Wachs, 1975): for Piaget, intelligence is productive and creative; in reality, intelligence production is but the incremental creation of new learning mechanisms.

    It’s a production because it’s not a synthesis or a replica of anything that’s physically present. Classes and probabilities can not be found in the physical world. These are ideas that are uniquely created by human intelligence and can not be handed down by way of words or other representations. (pp. 25-26) In contrast to the imprecision and complexity of the requisite conclusion, Piaget’s hypothesis suggests that the correlation between current behaviour and developmental status is neither established nor self-evident, and that the fundamental developmental transition is marked by spurts, instability, and inconsistent dispersion across the different social, psychological, and cognitive realms..( Stone, 1996)

    Again with respect to Piaget (Furth & Wachs, 1975): this variation assumes three types, each of which is contradictory to the moral standard. First of all, different individuals disagree on the same mission and would have us think much more than the IQ mindset. A second type of variation is found within a given individual (intra-individual variability) as it performs on a variety of different tasks[ tasks requiring the same underlying intellectual capability]. A third type of variation is found both within the same person and within the same mission. In other terms, the child’s output fluctuates from day to day— a completely normal occurrence that we all witness..( Stone, 1996)

    The identification and approval of this variation is particularly important in the case of cognitive processes that are slowly and almost imperceptibly evolving[ italics added]. (pp. 28-29) In contrast to their uncertainty, assessments of the cognitive state of adolescents are inherently conservative and limiting. Conceptually, current levels of intellectual skill, commitment, competence, accomplishment and other measures that understate but not surpass current levels of development. For example, a child whose logic is pragmatic may be functional..( Stone, 1996)

    Exhibiting skills that are representative of an earlier preoperative stage, but would never misleadingly show abilities that are suitable for a more advanced structured standard of service. Progress evaluations focused on the child’s current behaviour may therefore underestimate, but not overestimate, the present developmental level. Considering that developmental learning and parenting must be tailored to the child’s actual developmental state, and considering that efforts to encourage or otherwise facilitate improvement beyond the child’s developmental capacity are deemed at best to be dangerous, teachers and parents are provided to recognise that anticipating too little is a much better choice than expecting too much. .( Stone, 1996) From a developmentalist point of view, if the opportunity and conditions for developmental advancement have been maximised, the developmentally guided teacher or parent has done all that can be done safely. Throughout addition, developmentalism discourages teachers and parents from expressing standards or behaving otherwise to encourage more responsible actions. Even in the presence of obvious defects or inappropriate actions, the developmentally appropriate course of action is that which is congenial to the child’s evident developmental state, i.e. to his or her present conduct and inclinations.

    Continuing lack of progress given adequate encouraging circumstances is taken to represent the accelerated appearance of developmentally controlled potentialities, not inadequate teaching or parenting. ( Stone, 1996)

    Personal, Social, and Cultural Implications

    The implications of such a perspective are far-reaching and may be relevant to well-known concerns about the declining influence of homes and schools. In an environment where there are few tangible opportunities for positive and productive actions, children whose teachers and parents are enthralled by developmentalism may be dramatically disadvantaged: they are too little affected by those people who have the greatest interest throughout their well-being. .( Stone, 1996) To the degree that educators, family, and other culturally prescribed forces were excluded,’ normal contingencies’ (John Eshleman, Personal Contact, 26 February 1993)-i.e. factors organised by colleagues, the music and leisure industry, etc.-are driven. Not only does developmentalism tend to contradict educator and parent assertiveness, but children’s expectations implicit to developmentalism may be adversely related to the ‘birth’ of maturity, character, and sense of personal responsibility.( Stone, 1996)

    Rather than urging parents to view children and youth as individuals responsible for their own actions, developmentalism promotes tolerance and acceptance of immaturity, irresponsibility and loss. Yet with the assumption that mature and responsible conduct only occurs when appropriately orchestrated, an infant that struggles to show the anticipated social and academic success is excused as a victim of adverse circumstances–a justification for human shortcomings that has become a societal standard (Birnbaum, 1991). The power of developmentalism and its theoretical base, romantic naturalism, can reach far beyond teaching and parenting..( Stone, 1996)

    For example, the growth of so-called ‘anti-science’ (Holton, 1993; Kurtz, 1993) and of certain forms of environmentalism seem to be linked to the same romantic assumptions about the wholeness of nature that are integral to developmentalism. Over a period of 75 years, developmentalism has been a prominent feature of educational practise and has had the opportunity to infuse American culture thoroughly from this venue. Nevertheless, the degree to which mainstream thought in America may have been affected by romanticism within public schools is far beyond the present study. ( Stone, 1996)

    Implications for Schoolwork

    Inevitably, learning of the kind sought by schools requires a very substantial commitment of student time and effort (Tomlinson, 1992). Nevertheless, developmentalism discourages educators from any effort to explicitly influence them. Instead, developmentalism requires teachers to strive to produce ‘learning in ways that are stimulating yet minimally obtrusive, challenging yet requiring only comfortable levels of exercise’ (Stone, 1994, p. 65).

    An exception occurs (Stone, 1994): Schools[ are encouraged] to waste little time or money to provide students with guidance while receiving little in return. The student’s inattention and apathy were overcome by herculean efforts to generate curiosity and excitement. Deficient results are offset by lowering expectations to the point of whatever the participant is able to do. Even the practise of providing [motivating students]. accurate feedback about accomplishments is deemed questionable because of its purported detrimental effect on intrinsic motivation and self esteem..( Stone, 1996) recurrent failure to attain even minimal achievement is accepted as lamentable but unavoidable and treated accordingly. In essence, developmentalism just allows the educator to work, not the pupil. (p. 62) In fact, developmentalism refers to schools in which enrollment is mandatory but not obligatory. Students are expected to make an effort only if they feel interested and enthralled. Research is supposed to be more enjoyable than work.

    When learners waste time and educational opportunities when they consider schoolwork tedious, their conduct is not merely tolerated.( Stone, 1996) it is recognised and excused as the result of inadequately motivating teaching, i.e. instruction that does not promote the development of a postulated ideal. In the result, educators were burdened by unattainable aspirations. We, their colleagues and the community are led to assume that if an educator is adequately imaginative and resourceful to maximise the ability of each individual student, the desired learning results will manifest in a manner that the student will perceive as intuitive, normal and relaxed. It is a concept based entirely on the expectation of creation, but it has come to define good teaching. Developmentalism’s concept of taking work out of school work may be liable not only for poor working practises and behaviours beyond the classroom— an issue commonly recognised by employers (Mandel, Melcher, Yang & McNamee, 1995; Survey, 1991). So long so preparation and commitment is required only if the individual is so inclined, the self-discipline needed to put school work before fun is generally excluded from the educational regime. Instead of work ethic, learners expect significant results with minimal effort (Shine, 1993).


    1. Bigge, M. L., & Hunt, M. P. (1962). Psychological foundations of education: An introduction to human development and learning.
    2. New York: Harper & Row. Clark, L. H., & Starr, I. S. (1991). Secondary and middle school teaching methods (6th ed.). New York: Macmillan.
    3. Furth, H. G. & Wachs, H. (1975). Thinking goes to school, Piaget’s theory in practice. New York: Oxford University Press.
    4. Gesell, A. & Ilg, F. L. (1943). Infant and child in the culture of today. New York: Harper and Row.
    5. Gesell, A., Ilg, F. L., & Ames, L. B. (1956). Youth: The years from ten to sixteen.
    6. New York: Harper Kohlberg, L. and Mayer, R., 1972. Development as the aim of education. Harvard educational review, 42(4), pp.449-496.
    7. McGraw, M. B. (1945/1969). The neuromuscular maturation of the human infant. New York: Hafner Publishing Company.
    8. Spock, B. (1976). Baby and child care. New York: Pocket Book.
    9. Sprinthall, N. and Sprinthall, R. (1990). Educational psychology. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Pub. Co.
    10. Stone, J.E., 1991. Developmentalism: A Standing Impediment to the Design of the “New American School”. Network News and Views, 10(2), pp.1-3. Stone, J.E., 1994.
    11. Developmentalism’s impediments to school reform: Three recommendations for overcoming them. Behavior analysis in education: Focus on measurably superior instruction, pp.57-72. Stone, J.E., 1996.
    12. Developmentalism: an obscure but pervasive restriction. education policy analysis archives, 4, p.8. Stone, J.E., 1996.
    13. Developmentalism: an obscure but pervasive restriction. education policy analysis archives, 4, p.8. Warner, S. L. & Rosenberg, E. B. (1976). Your child learns naturally. New York: Doubleday.

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