Sunday, April 3, 2011

Structure - a tool of control or freedom and autonomy

Structure can be used as a tool of control or support the autonomy of kids or people , thereby letting them experience true freedom.

Baumrind describes 3 parenting styles  - authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive , none of them consistent with SDT – Self determination theory or ' working with the child'  approaches .

She recommends an authoritative parenting style and holds that "structure" in the family requires the use of extrinsic motivators and "contingent reinforcement," which she strongly supports.

'There is an  important distinction between control and structure.  Again, the people who tend to conflate those two are often either authoritarian types who claim they are giving kids structure but are really controlling the hell out of them, or extreme freedom folks who also assume the two are the same and therefore if we don’t want to control kids we must provide no structure either.  The third alternative, more consistent with the progressive education tradition of Dewey and Piaget and Bruner, suggests that in many respects, kids, especially little kids and especially kids of a certain personality and disposition, do thrive best within certain forms of structure – though not with control '      Alfie Kohn

Most people can relate how 'structure'  can support the need for competence in kids. When structure is created together with kids and not by teachers alone, they are presented in a non-controlling , respectful way as guidelines with a rationale and purpose  behind them , they are developmentally appropriate  and attempt is made to make them as less restrictive as possible , structure helps support the autonomy .

The existence of structure , limits and boundaries can be a condition for a kid to experience autonomy assuming that the kid does not experience  them as being controlling. The same goes for adults who adopt certain limits or boundaries in their lives whether out of a religious calling or commitment to certain values. They may have limited choice , but their choice to adopt limits and boundaries lets them focus less on ' quantity '  but more on quality and enables them to experience true freedom and autonomy.
A parent who provides healthy food and snacks can allow her child the freedom to eat as they choose. In other homes , kids are forced to eat their meals in order to get desert and this external control is a potential cause of obesity as kids lose their intuitive feel to stop eating when they are full and satisfied and eat only when they are hungry.

Here is an excerpt from a  Naomi Aldort interview -  Natural Life magazine – Ask Naomi , Freedom is not license  AS Neill  where she explains how limiting choice supports the autonomy and true freedom of kids . It is like providing him a safe environment , a park where he can play. Join the child’s exploration and follow his lead but don’t follow him into the “jungle.” He counts on your leadership. Take him to the safe park and then you can follow his path in that safe place. You are the leader who can see the distant view, which is not available to the child.
 Naomi Aldort - Structure , freedom and autonomy
Structure  and autonomy support are important in the school setting helping kids become self regulated life long learners .

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