What is Child Ecology?

In the past two articles, I have discussed behavioral problems observed in today's educational system -- such as bullying, school refusal and school absentee -- from a clinical pedagogical point of view. The situation involving these educational dilemmas is more serious than ever before. It's time we began to think of a strategy for battling these problems.

The mechanism behind why children are behaving in such a way needs to be brought to light, and we need to think of a way to deal with these problems. I believe that if we use the concepts of child ecology as a basis for our thinking, it will help us. I have decided to write about it here.

Child ecology may be a word that we are not used to hearing. In Japan, we have established research centers at the national level, specifically at the National Children's Hospital, and are examining various children's issues from a child ecology point of view. These topics of research have included those from children and media to child abuse. In the United States, there are several universities that have taken up child ecology in their Departments of Education.

The field of ecology itself is something that grew out of biology only in the former half of this century. It then became absorbed in the field of social science, and now is a field which stands alone, yet there still remains some ambiguity to which field it is most closely related to, whether it is biology, sociology. I have taken the viewpoint that it involves the study of a biological existence interacting with the natural or living environment. I believe that when humans are involved in this system we can call it "human ecology", and when there are children involved, it naturally becomes an issue of "child ecology."

Children have been seen since Rousseau's times as "being born as a biological existence into a social system and should be socialized to function well in such a system." Thus, the key concept of child ecology is the combination of exactly these two elements, social and biological.

You may remember that I have mentioned the "program of the body and newborn" in previous articles, but ecology is very much related to this concept. A flow of development can be seen in through ecology, based on genetic information, when we talk about cells developing into tissue and tissue forming organs and organs building the human system. Thus, children are born with a system of organs that can be programmed. Consequently, the ecological system or the micro- and macro-environments that surrounds the child, namely the home, school and community, all bring about a certain effect on the child and interacts with each other to socialize the child in his/her life system.

Needless to say, humans possess a program that is enhanced by psychological and emotional factors that distinguishes the humans from computers and robots. Thus, for children, the effect of education and socialization is highly significant.

There are various factors that influence the lifestyle and living environment of the child. Let me first discuss natural factors by introducing the children of Nepal as an example. These children living in the highlands have relatively low heights. It is thought that the low amount of oxygen is closely related to their low height. Natural factors were basically unchangeable until recently, but whether it is good or bad, technology has made it so that we are able to change even our natural environments. Large cities are representative of this phenomenon.

Second, I would like to discuss physical and chemical factors. Water and air pollution and soil contamination due to dioxin are endangering the health of children. A good example of this pollution having an effect on children is the increase in small children with asthma due to air pollution.

Third, there are biological factors. Bacterial microorganisms are representative of these biological factors, and e-coli food poisoning is a good example. Of course, on a bigger scale, the biological factors of human ecology or child ecology is the interaction of the natural environment, including plants, to humans.

Fourth, there is a socio-cultural factor including religion, philosophy, journalism, media, fashion, and also politics. It is important to place these factors in various appropriate positions respectively, in relation to human ecology and child ecology. This is because humans are an evolved form of monkeys (primates) that possess a very special factor called culture. I believe that we should begin to analyze and try to solve the problems of children today with this perspective in mind.

In this case, it is necessary to stress sociological or biological elements. In sociological biology, living things on this earth is divided into three categories based on their development of culture. Truth as part of culture, is only possessed by humans, and there are organisms like the monkey who have various levels of culture that are formed. However, most animals have absolutely no culture.

Culture for humans is developed by the ability to imitate, learn, teach, think, code, and realize. For animals with only primitive culture, they have the ability to imitate and learn, but their ability to realize something they are thinking about is not possible. The monkeys who live near the Inland Sea of Japan developed a small primitive culture by washing their potatoes in sea water before they ate them.

I believe you are now able to understand my viewpoint of child ecology. If we view children as a biological existence, they have not changed from even several hundred years ago. The changes we see in our children today, especially behavioral ones, may be due to the changes in family, school and social environments. These socio-cultural factors have initiated change in children and their behaviors. Thus, it is critical that we examine these changes from the perspective of child ecology.
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