We don’t need to be parents to share the responsibility of concern for another’s growth and holistic development. Most of us are helping someone grow and cope with life. Growth, however, is tremendously complex. With the cells of our bodies dying, life is a continual growth process. Of course most dramatic growth occurs in fetuses, infants, children and youth—emerging adults.
Physiologists, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, and other disciplines, are all interested in this process of growth. Advertisers are trying to allure, educators to teach, and politicians to control these lives and their generation.
Within each child or youth, organs and systems are developing. They are developing in relationship to other internal systems—and a host of external systems. Urie Bronfenbrenner, James Garbarino, Murray Bowen and others have outlined and analyzed these systems: micro-, meso- exo- and macro-systems—and their dynamic interaction. From mother and family to community and school, to friends and media, to nation and society at large, an individual is being socialized, and internalizing images and messages from the outer world.
Erik Erikson may head the list of developmentalists. James Marcia added to his eight stages of human life and development—particularly in regards to adolescent development.
Jean Piaget is known for his work on cognitive development, Albert Bandura for his social learning theory, Lawrence Kohlberg and for his moral development theory, and James Fowler for his stages of moral development. These theories have all been challenged in several ways. Carol Gilligan has seen male bias in earlier studies; Diane T. Slaughter and Jawanza Kunjufu criticize White or Euro-American bias and propose alternatives. Alison Gopnik questions earlier cognitive and moral theories with studies and reports like The Scientist in the Crib and The Philosophical Baby. The infant mind, it is found, understands more than we credited to it, and babies have moral preferences for good over the mean and unjust.
We will work rather [in contrast to other developmental theories] with development as an emergent resultant of the interaction between the person and her environment, with that interaction giving rise and shape to structural potentials within the personality. How do environments and persons interact to give rise to the personality?
Loder’s answer begins with further questions:
What is a lifetime… in a vast and empty universe… and why do I live it… when time and space so far outreach our grasp? The answer… can only be grasped humanly as a total, existential response to the way in which the Creator Spirit takes and transforms the negation, the nothingness, the frightening abyss that pervades and haunts human development as a whole.
In each person the search is a longing for eternal intimacy of a love that may be grasped only unclearly and proleptically, but nevertheless profoundly….
However we may respond to this, Loder’s description of adolescence is also striking:
When the fetus grows too large for the womb, it pushes itself out into the world and begins to forge its own definition of itself and of the world into which it has come… Having grown too large for the space at home, the young adolescent begins to move out to make room for herself, or at least to have a room of her own…. Adolescence is the first time anyone can ask… with some awareness of what is at stake, “What is a lifetime?” and “Why do I live it?” (Loder, Logic of the Spirit, 1998: 20, x, 14, 203, 124)
One of the paradoxes of human development is its individuality and its communality. We cannot be human on our own, and we must individuate to survive. We (each one of us with plural functions and aspiration within) live as an interaction between systems within and systems without. We are influenced by the outer world, interpret its images and messages, and then begin, each in our own way, to influence the systems around us.
Human development is thus a drama, an exciting unfolding of human individual and communal potential. Beyond theories, human development may be best described in stories—diverse and unique.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. Since we really haven’t done so in this overview, how would you define human development?
2. Do you find the above a helpful introduction to the complex issue of human development? What are your criticisms, questions or suggestions?
3. Was the listing of names of well-known theorists helpful to you? Will you go on to look up any of their works? Who sounded most interesting to you?
4. In particular, what did you think of the quotations from James Loder? Does his work seem worthy of discussion?
5. How will you take your important ideas on human development from here?
1. For the strength of families, for the health and education of our children, for the reduction of crime and suicide, for the present and future welfare of our society, an understanding of human development is crucial.
2. Some of our understanding will come through the knowledge of research and its conclusions, but much wisdom about human development will rise, as well, from our experience and be intuitively applied.
3. CYS is just developing this topic. Reviews of books and journals are needed. We would appreciate anything you might contribute.