given abundant opportunities to make choices without coercion. Horace Mann once declared schooling in a democracy to “an apprenticeship in responsibility.” Early in the century Janusz Korczak of Poland founded a system of student self-governance in his orphanage for Warsaw street children. “Fifty years from now, every school in a democracy will have student self-governance,” he declared. But America continues to be uniquely out of step with many other nations that have implemented the principles of “democracy in education,” for which John Dewey is famous. We remain tethered to the obedience model, causing anthropologist Ruth Benedict to exclaim that our culture systematically deprives young people of the opportunity for responsibility and then complains about their irresponsibility.
A 6,000-year-old Egyptian stone bears the inscription “Our earth is degenerate. Children no longer obey their parents.” Similar calls are heard to day, and those who think we have been too permissive could be expected to object to the notion of giving power to youth. The choice, however, is not between demanding obedience or total permissiveness. As Mary Wood says, adults need to continue to be in control- but of the learning environment, rather than of the children. Put another way, we must make demands; however, we need to demand responsibility instead of obedience. Even when we intervene in behavior, the tone can be, “Why must adults handle this problem when you are mature enough to handle it yourselves?”
Youth deprived of power will get it somehow, often in a delinquent underground as they bully the weakest in their midst and sabotage our adult-dominated programs. Fortunately, all treatment models are recognizing the need to listen to the voices of youth, as seen in these strategies for teaching independence and self-control.
1. Psychodynamic approaches assume that many aggressive children lack sufficient self-management of emotions and behavior. The goal is to develop “control from within.” Redl and Wineman (1957) offered detailed behavior management strategies for providing external controls temporarily while at the same time using “clinical exploitation of life events” to teach the youth self-responsibility. Wood and Long (1991) outlined counseling methods to help children “master the existential crisis of gaining responsible independence from adults.
2. Behavioral approaches to aggression also teach youth self-management skills for dealing with anger. These include recognizing “triggers” and “cues” for anger arousal, using self-administered “reminders” and “reducers” to lessen anger, and self-evaluation and reinforcement (Goldstein & Glick, 1987). Boys Town uses procedures whereby youth help decide the rules by which they will live in teaching family homes. Cognitive behavior theorist Menchenbaum (1993) now emphasizes that individuals construct their own personal realities, and the therapist’s task is to help them take charge of reconstructing more positive personal outlooks to manage life stress.
3. Sociological models of group treatment reject the “patient” role and empower students to become agents of their own healing. Individuals are held accountable for behavior, and excuses are turned back to the individual in a verbal technique called the “reversal of responsibility.” For example, if a student rationalizes a fight, saying, “Well, he said things about my mother that
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