This is a set of six videos on child development, each lasting from one to one and a half hours, anchored by Dr. Joseph Chilton Pearce, a well-known author and psychologist. The titles for the individual programmes are: ‘The Awakening of Intelligence’, ‘Pregnancy and Bonding’, ‘Imagination and Play’, ‘Learning and Education’, ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ and ‘Beyond Adolescence’.
The videos are presented in a lecture format with Dr. Pearce talking to an invited audience. He uses the blackboard frequently and creates a classroom atmosphere from the word Go. He draws extensively on the one hand from the researches of Gardener, Holt and others, based on direct observations of children and from clinical, scientific data on the other. He provides a valuable synthesis of both kinds of observation. His selection of themes and his insights on learning and development provide enriching perspectives for teachers in schools.
The first in the series, ‘ The Awakening of Intelligence’, offers a definition of intelligence and its pattern of unfolding in the human brain. An interesting statement he makes is that the sense of ‘I’ or the personal awareness of being ‘me’, represents only 5% of the energy of the human brain and that the other 95% is lived in the world of experience! This is hard to believe, considering how this 5 % seems to rule the remaining 95%! He goes on to describe the role of what he calls the ‘model imperative’ or the dominant role model, and how the mother (who most often plays this role) helps narrow the infinite range of the infant brain by what she does or does not endorse.
The next video talks extensively about how the process of delivering a baby has changed radically in various ways since World War II. ‘Birthing’ used to be an ‘in-house affair’ with experienced midwives from the community handling it. Nobody went to hospital to have a baby. He says that World War II was also a watershed in the mothering patterns after birth. Until then the mother was the hub of the household, being always present to participate actively in, and supervise, her child’s growth. With women being drawn actively into the workforce as a consequence of the war, there was a disruption of this process. Dr. Pearce makes revealing corelations, backed by research, between the change in birthing and mothering patterns and crime levels in society today, especially the increasing teenage violence. This is indeed food for thought, and he returns to this issue later in the series.
The third video ‘Imagination and Play’ is an excellent exposition for the Kindergarten teacher. It deals extensively with play, imagination and metaphoric learning in a young child. It provides a very clear and coherent understanding of the nature of play and its role in learning. This leads naturally to an exploration of what television, when it becomes a substitute for active play, does to a young mind.
The fourth video ‘Learning and Education’, speaks of the learning environment provided by adults and the learning process in general. There is a valuable discussion on ‘concrete operational thinking’, which is the hallmark of the learning process in the age group 7-11 years. At one point, he states that there is nothing a child of that age likes to do more than to sing and make things with her hands, a statement that comes through poignantly.
The fifth video on ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ is primarily on the shift from concrete thinking to the capacity for abstract thinking, which typically happens around age 11. For example, when presented with a problem of dividing any object between many people, a child of seven would work best with concrete objects, but a child of eleven would not need these and would be able to work this out as a numerical problem. He elaborates on three components in the life and learning of the preadolescent child, which are the mechanical, the emotional and the spiritual. He also highlights what he calls the‘eureka experience’ or the creative leap that happens sometimes when one is involved in intense endeavour.
The last video, ‘Beyond Adolescence’, is about the adolescent in his journey of self-discovery, of coming to make sense of his relationships. Dr. Pearce concludes by again speaking vehemently on the crucial role of the mother in the development of the child and how society pays a heavy price if there is a disruption or a dilution of this role, due to the pressures of modern life. Given the fact that women need avenues of expression other than their homes, he suggests major changes in the workplace, which could accommodate the dual needs of mothering and career.
These videos are indeed a valuable tool for teachers, whichever age group they may be responsible for. They convey a holistic developmental perspective on the growing child, in an idiom that is understandable. Teachers would come away with a working knowledge of the learning process, from the preschool to the adolescent stage. And this leaves one with the conviction that it would be really worthwhile to design curricula around what happens naturally at a particular age. Though this is often true of preschool education, it does not seem to be carried through to the curricula for older children, which tend to be shaped by various other compulsions, such as examinations.
The only drawback to this excellent series is that Dr. Pearce’s American accent is very pronounced and is sometimes unclear to the Indian ear. At certain points one has to replay the tape in order to understand the thread of the discussion. However, in summation, it must be said that this is well worth the effort.