Secondary School as a Constraint for Adolescent Development
In this chapter, we describe and discuss the extent to which schools as external socializes influence development in early adolescence. Although we are aware of theories and research on how children and adolescents actively shape their environments, including their parents and schools, we concentrate here on schools as important socializers of adolescents. After describing major findings of research on school effectiveness in general, we focus on the concrete role of schools in shaping individual development. In this part of the chapter, we briefly refer to the concept of executive functioning, introduced in cognitive psychology to describe and understand how individuals plan, organize, evaluate, monitor, coordinate, and execute cognitive tasks. Schools are conceptualized as executive functionaries helping learners to manage the flow of information coming into the cognitive system and thus fostering the acquisition of new knowledge (cf. Zelazo & Frye, 1998). Whenever a mismatch occurs between the individual’s executive system and socially organized executive functioning, negative effects on individual development are to be expected. The developmental “stage and environment-fit” model proposed by Eccles and colleagues (e.g., Eccles & Midgley, 1989) and research in situated cognition (e.g., Resnick, 1994) are presented as two prominent theoretical approaches conceptualizing consequences of a mismatch between individual needs and their school environments. Finally, we present some ideas on how the selection, optimization, and compensation model, a framework for the understanding of human development (e.g., Baltes, 1997), can be applied to students’ development under the institutional constraints of school.
The successful development of human beings across the entire life span is dependent both on their individual (internal) characteristics and on external socializers such as significant others and social institutions. The relative importance of internal and external promoters varies across the life span and between the areas of individual functioning. Parents, for example, play a dominant role in their children’s development during infancy, childhood, and early adolescence. Family management theorists (e.g., Furstenberg, Cook, Eccles, Elder, & Sameroff, 1999) argue that parents play a critical role in orchestrating their children’s daily lives, providing them with opportunities and resources and protecting them from risks and dangers. These experiences have a major impact on both the domain-specific knowledge and skills and the self-regulatory skills that children acquire as they mature. The influence of parents, however, decreases during adolescence and often ceases entirely in adulthood.
Particularly in the domain of academic learning and, more generally, cognitive development, the social institution of school plays an important role during childhood and adolescence. There is no doubt that the opportunities to learn provided by the school environment are highly important sources for knowledge acquisition in the first 20 years of life (e.g., Opdenakker & Van Damme, 2000; Rutter, Maughan, Mortimore, & Ouston, 1979; Scheerens & Bosker, 1997). Furthermore, it is often suggested (e.g., Brookover & Lezotte, 1979; Eccles et al., 1993) that schools not only influence the development of academic skills during adolescence but that they impact on the formation or development of motivation, emotions, attitudes, and other characteristics. This reflects the assumption prevailing in almost all modern industrialized societies that noncognitive variables are explicit goals of education (e.g., Brookover, Beady, Flood, Schweizer, & Wisenbaker, 1979; Opdenakker & Van Damme, 2000; Rutter etal., 1979).1
In this chapter we describe and discuss the extent to which schools as external socializers influence development in early adolescence. Although we are aware of theories and research on how children and adolescents actively shape their environments, including their parents and schools (e.g. Lerner, 1987), we concentrate here on schools as important socializers of adolescents. From the perspective of institutionalized education, in particular, our approach seems to be justified, in that schools provide many developmental opportunities but at the same time impose many constraints on students (take, for example, the lesson timetables regulating the school subjects taught and the number of lessons per week).
After describing major findings of research on school effectiveness in general, we focus on the concrete role of schools in shaping individual development. In this part of the chapter, we briefly refer to the concept of executive functioning, introduced in cognitive psychology to describe and understand how individuals plan, organize, evaluate, monitor, coordinate, and execute cognitive tasks. Schools are conceptualized as executive functionaries helping learners to manage the flow of information coming into the cognitive system and thus fostering the acquisition of new knowledge (cf. Davis-Kean & Eccles, 1998; Zelazo & Frye, 1998). Schools thus represent learning environments in which students can acquire skills such as reading, mathematics, and science literacy that are of great importance for a successful academic or occupational career. Whenever a mismatch occurs between the individual’s executive system and socially organized executive functioning, negative effects on individual development are to be expected (see also Lerner, Dowling, & Roth, this volume). A prominent and elaborated approach conceptualizing the negative motivational consequences of the mismatch between individual and school is the developmental “stage and environment fit” model proposed by Eccles and colleagues (e.g., Eccles & Midgley, 1989; Eccles et al., 1993), which posits that negative effects on students’ affect and motivation are to be expected when the environment does not fit their needs. Another prominent approach focusing on the cognitive consequences of a mismatch between the individual and social executive system is research into situated cognition (e.g., Resnick, 1987, 1994), which argues that the artificial learning situations in schools do not help students to master everyday problems. Both approaches are described in this chapter, since they currently exert the most far-reaching influence in both theoretical and practical discussions on how to optimize students’ cognitive and noncognitive development in school environments. Greater emphasis is placed, however, on the “stage and environment-fit” model.
Finally, we present some ideas on how the selection, optimization, and compensation model, a framework for the understanding of human development (e.g., Baltes, 1997; Baltes & Baltes, 1990), can be applied to students’ development under the institutional constraints of school.
1Beyond enhancing students’ knowledge and their cognitive and social development, schools in modern industrialized countries have the function of selection, in that final examinations and certificates at the end of secondary school regulate students’ access to universities and to the labor market.
KeywordsExecutive Functioning Early Adolescence School Environment Adolescent Development Situate Cognition
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