Volume:7, Issue: 2

Aug. 1, 2015

A child-adult community: implementation of collective social education ideas in education today
Shustova, Inna Yu. [about]

KEY WORDS: social education, development, personality, social education collective, child-adult community, collaborative community, collaborative activity.

ABSTRACT: The paper focuses on vital ideas of collective social education in education today. The author provides a comparative description of such terms as “a children’s social education collective” and “a child-adult community”. A child-adult community is understood as a basic contact group of children and adults with shared needs, interests, values, and views in terms of the participants’ collaborative emotional experience, interactivity, and communication. The paper considers possible tendencies of collective social education in education today including the implementation of a child-adult community concept and the nature of collaborative activity as a characteristic feature of social education in a group. In addition, the paper studies ways students identify themselves as both individuals and members of a social community. Finally, it suggests methods of managing a children’s collective as a social system where the teacher acts as a facilitator.

Today while implementing educational programs of the 21st century Russian school, it is important not only to promote new ideas but also to wisely preserve the legacy, particularly, the ideas of collective social education, which have a long history in Russia. It is necessary to analyze theory and practice of collective social education in the modern context and pinpoint its aspects that are still relevant for contemporary schools and the present-day youth.

The foundations of collective social education

Collective social education is understood as conditions for students’ development in the process of peer interaction. Organizing a collaborative activity, a teacher provides conditions to build various connections and relationships which contribute to children’s development. Collective social education implies external conditions influencing internal processes of students’ self-assertion and self-development where students realize and reveal their subjective qualities, personal initiatives, and responsibility.

One of the areas of collective social education is a child-adult community as a form of interaction between adults and children. A child-adult community may be reveal itself in a form of a class, club, team, public association, subculture group, etc.  A student can be involved in various communities and manifest himself differently in each particular case. A child-adult community can be an organized child collective or a random group, forming around an interesting task or an enthusiastic adult. It may last long or just one or several days.

The 1990s in Russia witnessed significant changes in the process of social education of schoolchildren and youth: the national ideological determinant was gone; the government’s demand became rather vague; pedagogical theories of child-centered social education gained more weight.  However, it is hard to imagine the process of character building and personality development without interaction with other people.

Presently, there is a growing gap between adults and children (teachers and students, parents and children); children and adults seem to have less to share in talks, activities, and different types of concerns. Children do not want to accept adults’ values and standards; they are eager to explore life by taking their own actions and experience their own feelings. With this said, adults should understand and accept childhood as it is and create conditions for children to develop the best human qualities, learn and accept humanistic values and purposes in their own life experience. It is adults, who need to put some effort, find the common ground with children and look for shared interests. Adults must do their best not to destroy their connections with children. This is possible only if adults and children can share interests, activities, and experiences that allow a child-adult community to develop and reveal itself. The influence on a particular child’s personality takes place only if he or she interacts with others (peers, adults) through open and vibrant relationships when a child recognizes an adult as a personality, authority and thus be influenced by this adult in terms of self-determination and self-development.

According to Stanislav T. Shatsky, such “shared commonality” and unity of teachers and children are distinguishing features of a children’s community. Shatsky considered building open relationships in a children’s group to be an important factor in the development of a child’s personality. He regarded a “barrier of the meaning” between educators and children to be a special problem; so he was actively looking for ways to overcome this barrier and form a solid community of teachers and children (11, p. 156).

Social education always implies bridging the gap between an adult and a child, looking for common grounds and mutual moral enrichment. An adult should share a child’s interests, his/her curiosity, and create the common life space. Martin Buber’s ideas are relevant here:

The reality, which we have recently started to explore, opens a new road for the future generations. The solutions on this way are above individualism and collectivism. Here something new is born, and that is the knowledge that will help the mankind to restore its true personality and re-establish its genuine community (1, 154 – 155).

Buber defines the gap between where a real dialogue or genuine learning, where people do not pretend but truly embrace or challenge each other. This gap serves as an intersection where people are equal in their shared environment and collaboration, thus building relationships among teachers and children, which the latter may use for their own development. This idea is reflected in Leo S. Vygotsky’s concepts about the inter-psychological phase of each higher mental function, about the special environment for all people (which does not belong to anyone in particular) that creates conditions for development, and finally, an idea about the social situation of development. 

The present goal of social education is to create such situations of shared existence (collaborative activity) that encourage real emotional and psychological connections and relationships between teachers and students, trigger their active interaction concordant with their inner feelings, and reveal their common values. The researcher suggests to introduce the term “child-adult community” into the theory of education as a new trend in the development of collective social education.

A children’s social education collective

The terms “a children’s social education collective” and “a child-adult community” have a lot in common. We may find proof in the works of Soviet scholars and practitioners, who developed the theory of collective social education: Nadezhda K. Krupskaya, Аnton S. Makarenko, Pavel P. Blonsky, Vladimir M. Bekhterev, Stanislav T. Shatsky, Victor N. Soroka-Rosinsky, Vasily A. Sukhomlinsky.

Krupskaya suggested the following definition of a collective: “A collective is a group of people united by shared experience, interests, work, vision, and friendship” (3, 12). The key words here are “shared” and “friendship”. Makarenko paid special attention to the real life of a collective filled with strong emotions and worries, children’s initiatives, actions, and desires to defend their views. He was the one to implement a method of explosion – a situation that triggered especially strong impressions and emotions of each individual participant and the group as a whole. Such situations change the person, his/her attitude to the world and to him/herself. In Sukhomlinsky’s works it is stated that

there is a special area of spiritual life of the collective that can be called an emotional state (interrelation). The life of the collective involves thousands and thousands of most unexpected and most delicate touches among humans: from heart to heart, thought to thought, joy to sorrow, happiness to dismay and despair (9, 55).

Describing the foundations of collective social education in the Soviet state with its dominating totalitarian ideology putting the collective over the private, teachers still managed to explain the role of an informal child-adult unity in the collective social education by describing the role of informal relationships, shared concerns, and enthusiasm. This is how Natalia L. Selivanova comments on this:

Due to the wave of sweeping criticism of the collective social education in the 1980s – early 1990s, it was quickly forgotten that during the previous 20 years there had existed completely different concepts of the collective and how it could be used to develop the child’s personality. The latter relates to the concept of the children’s collective developed by Lyudmilla I. Novikova’s scientific school (7, 59).

Novikova’s scientific school included a number of talented scholars who studied the issues of social education and development of a personality in a collective (Margarita D. Vinogradova, Oleg S. Gazman, Natalia S. Dezhnikova, Vladimir A. Karakovsky, Alexander T. Kurakin, Valentina I. Maksakova, Anatoly V. Mudrik, Sergey D. Polyakov, Natalia L. Selivanova, and others). Their publications presented a wide range of significant ideas for collective social education that are still relevant today: a children’s collective as a social and educational system; possible psychological conditions of a children’s collective as a subject of social education;  structure and possible stages in the development of the collective; management and self-management in a social education collective; the role of an adult in organizing this process; specific functions of the collective in the development of a student’s personality; conditions required to form socially vital personality qualities through collaborative activities in the collective; teaching values, purposes, and self-consciousness in the collective; development of creativity and individuality in the collective.

Novikova and Kurakin were the first scholars to formulate the following idea, which is of a special importance today. They opined that a children’s collective has a dual nature: it serves as an organization, a system of formal connections and relationships, and appears to be a community, a system of emotional connections and relations.

The informal structure of a collective characterizes it as a socio-psychological community… it is formed in the context of an official structure. Collaborative activity and interrelationships among children awake empathy to one another and increase the need for communication… All these give birth to a wide range of interpersonal connections, emotional and psychological relationships among them (5, 51).

This thesis received its further development in the works of Novikova’s followers. Selivanova believes that

today this concept needs some adjustment, but what remains highly relevant is the idea of the dual nature of the collective as an organization and a psychological community, seen as an instrument of social education to build self-assertion, self-consciousness, creative identity, sociability and individual interests at an individual student’s level (7, 59-60).

Novikova defined a collective as a social community of people united on the basis of socially significant goals, shared value orientations, cooperation, and communication (6). She considered an educational collective a social system, where the collective is the object and the result of purposeful actions of the teacher (teachers) that determine its key characteristics and an organizational structure. At the same time a collective is a relatively independent and freely evolving phenomenon that is governed by social and psychological patterns. In this regard a collective is presented as an informally and independently developing community.

A child-adult educational community

A community as a small group or a social unity is an essential part of human existence, of interrelations and interactions with other people within the society. Social communities create all necessary conditions and means that satisfy individual needs and interests and stimulate a person’s development. The first community that an individual joins and where his/her social education and development takes place is his/her family, followed by other social communities (a preschool, kindergarten and school groups, peer groups, clubs, etc.). Each community has its own unique meaning and goals that regulate its functioning; here the individual understands that his/her interests match the interests of communities. It is a foundation that transforms a random group of people with common objective characteristics into a genuine social community.

It was Ferdinand Tönnies (10) who worked out a concept of a social community and emphasized the fact that it is a natural social formation – people often join communities subconsciously, without intention or choice. Most scholars believe that a community is born as a result of people’s direct interaction, communication, and joint activity. There are different points, which start and maintain communities. Kurt Levin considers empathy to be the grounding block in forming a community, when community is established by means of direct interaction and interrelationship of people; and it manifests itself as somewhat collective integrity based on empathy. Anatoly N. Lutoshkin believes that a community is born when people live through a particular emotional situation and experience the same psychological state. Boris D. Parygin explains the origin of a community by communication and the feeling of connection with the other participants within the shared activity. In Vladimir A. Yadov’s opinion, an integrating sign of a social community is a shared interest of different people that unites them into a whole.

A child-adult community is currently studied and researched by the Theory of Education research laboratory, Institute of Education Strategy and Theory of Education, Russian Academy of Education, (Moscow, Russia): N.L. Selivanova, I.D. Demakova, L.V. Alieva, D.V. Grigoryev, I.V. Stepanova, P.V. Stepanov, G.Yu. Belyaev, I.S. Parfenova, and I.Yu. Shustova.  This group of researchers states that a community is characterized by several core attributes: the feeling of affinity among its members, realization of their similarity with the others, mutual complementarity, their subconscious attraction and sympathy to one another, and an informal nature of interactions and relationships (2, 12).

The researcher suggests the following tentative definition of the child-adult community (12): it is a primary contact group of children and adults which is constructed around similar needs and interests and which shares similar values and purposes together with shared emotional experience, joint activity, and communication.

A community is a real-life state of coexistence; it originates, develops, collapses, and then restarts. A child-adult community consists of an adult (adults) and a child (children), equal in their human sense and individual existence, where they may realize their interaction and mutual enrichment of knowledge, feelings, purposes, and actions, thus giving birth to a new and unique collective subject.

Victor Slobodchikov, while developing a concept of a collaborative community, states the presence of two vital factors that characterizes each community: its value orientations and common aspirations of the collaborating members:

A genuine collaborative community maintains the goals of collective activities as well as value orientations of its wholeness as a collective subject. Clearly, it does not spontaneously occur on its own; its formation depends on determination and deliberate efforts of each and every one of its members (8, 156).

A community (the feeling of unity) can be regarded as a special state of a collective. It reveals itself in certain life situations: shared emotional experience, through common interests of its members, in joint solutions of vital problems (via discussions, collective debates, collective reflection), by means of important and interesting activities as well as personally valuable communication. A community as a special state of a collective has an episodic or “flickering” nature. When such a community disappears in the real world, it is still present in the subjective experience of the collective and its individual members; it maintains informal connections and relationships while serving as a role model for future collectives.

The researcher cannot emphasize the term “a child-adult community” enough and opines that it is essential for social education. A community reveals itself to the person as his/her subjective experience. Being a member of the community, an individual begins to share thoughts, feelings, knowledge and values of others; therefore, they naturally become part of the individual. If an adult and a child fail to establish this unity or it collapses due to some reason, the process of social education as a means to transfer cultural standards and values to a particular child becomes impossible.

The critique of collective social education is often due to the domination of the collective over an individual and the suppression of the personality by the collective. But it is not completely justified. Many educators state that a children’s community combines the processes of attachment (an individual identifies him/herself as part of the community) and self-identification (apart from the community). On the one hand, a child-adult community builds dynamic relationships, shared axiological space, common mutual interests and mutual acceptance – all these contribute to the feeling of attachment. On the other hand, it is important to recognize an independent individual position of each member, their psychological isolation from the group via maintaining their individual views and attitudes to others and to what is happening. If all that remains within the community is just the relationships, if there is no development, then dependence on each other prevails, and members will lose their individuality. If there is nothing but relationships, then alienation, isolation and indifference come next. That is why a community must provide a flexible balance of connections and relationships as well as a real-life interaction that supports this balance and unites an individual and others into one concept of we and us.  

Conclusions: conditions for a child-adult community to reveal itself

It is important to remember that collective social education implies the work of a teacher with a real-life social system that is developing according to the laws of self-progression and self-organization and is unpredictable in many ways. Management of such a system must be based upon the “resonant” impact, pushing the system towards one of its own variable ways. It is crucial for the teacher to see the points of this “resonant” impact, to be focused on a real-life situation that happens right here and right now, instead of a ready-made scenario, to see how the current state of things in the community may evolve and become an educational tool for every single student as well as the community on the whole.

It is hard for a teacher to build a child-adult community while teaching a class or within a whole school; but s/he can arrange an activity or event that may become really interesting for students. Such events can and should be planned and put into practice in class and at school; they should be developed and carried out by a teacher in collaboration with his/her students. Various events could be initiated by students or provoked by a real school situation. School situations, which are seen as important by both students and teachers, reflect the collaborative activity as a system of relationships in the context of open interaction, therefore, they manifest a collaborative child-adult community (13). A collaborative child-adult community is a crucial condition for the development of its members (teachers and students).

A position of an educator within a child-adult community should be based on cooperation and should support natural processes of self-progression and self-organization, as well as independent students’ actions, their desire for self-expression and self-identification. The position of the adult domination or, on the contrary, his/her value uncertainty may slow down the manifestation of the community and students’ development. Through interaction with students, a teacher can and should encourage them to practice their humanistic values, accept the community’s standards and rules, assume the shared values and turn them into their own purposes. Childhood is the time when values turn into lifetime principles while social standards become individual meanings. One of the most important adult’s tasks is to encourage students’ collaborative real-time interaction so that the children may acquire these values. The memory of such shared experience does not fade away completely, without a trace; it affects future relations between students and teachers, reinforcing standards of relationships that are significant for everyone.

It is vital for the school environment to stimulate and support child-adult communities, small informal groups of enthusiasts (children and adults) interested in one another and in joint activities. They may be short-term (situational); they may occur somewhere between formal events (classes, clubs, open classrooms, etc.). Such communities, arising as a result of any, sometimes most trivial occasions, can be called a small circle of fellows, where everyone can express him/herself freely, ‘pitching his own song’. In these very groups people begin to feel that they are true and unique individuals. Children crave for recognition and self-assertion ‘right here and right now’, without waiting for future perspectives and possibilities of adult life. It is in the teacher’s power to create such “personal planets” for his/her students within an instruction process, club activities, on the playground, in children’s self-governance bodies or a situational community.


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This publication was supported by the grant from the Russian Humanitarian Science Foundation, Project # 14-06-00089.

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