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Awareness of Paradigms - Watching the TV show: "Super Nanny"

Naturally we all have many systems or models of belief we operate under, both major and minor ones. Paradigms are often a kind of unconscious assumptions that guide the way we act and what we do, but as parents and teachers, it's important for us to have some awareness of the basic belief systems that guide us when we are interacting with our children and our students.

I've been watching a TV program in Australia called "Super Nanny." This show, which originates in the UK, is now very popular in more than 37 countries with millions of viewers and a magazine soon to be published. (For more information, see the official homepage at http://www.supernanny.net/ or http://abc.go.com/primetime/supernanny/index.html.) "Super Nanny" is shown totally from the adult's point of view. It's the parents who call Super Nanny in to help them "manage" or "control" their children, not the children who call for help for parents who don't have time to play or who bully them or treat them unfairly in some way. So we see children who hit and curse their parents and their, but we never see parents cursing or hitting their children. Of course, the kids have learned this behavior from their parents, but the show seldom confronts that reality.

What are the underlying assumptions in "Super Nanny" about how parents should be with their children and how children should be with their parents? The key words in this show are "manage" and "in control". Super Nanny often says: "Who's in control? You've got to let the kids know it's you!" and "You're not managing the situation." My on-line dictionary says that "manage" means "to be in charge of" and "to maintain control over". So there is no equality here.

It's not unusual for homes and schools and relationships to be set up with parents and teachers setting the rules for and being ABOVE or OVER children. Just as Super Nanny comes into a different home each week with her own list of rules for the family to follow, the rules of homes and schools are usually set by the adults and the children are expected to follow without question or disagreement or challenge. There's little ownership of these rules because Super Nanny brings them in and posts them on the wall - there's no discussion with the family about them; there's no co-designing of the rules. I wonder how long the behavior changes will last. But Super Nanny goes away after 2 weeks and we don't hear any more about it. It would be interesting to visit the homes after 6 months or 1 or 2 years and see what's going on.

In any case, the lack of equality between children and adults is an underlying assumption of learning relationships. It isn't a matter whether this paradigm is right or wrong, but it's important to recognize that it IS the paradigm. (It's also the paradigm for relationships between countries which are powerful militarily and economically and less powerful countries, but that's a slightly different story.)

So when older and stronger kids start to bully each other we might have a better understanding about where they are seeing their models. And we might ourselves begin to look at different models of relationships between parents and children and teachers and students. I remember back in the 1960's being totally blown away by a book called "Summerhill" about a school in England that was designed for children to make their own rules and learn to control themselves and to learn together with adults. (for further information, see http://www.summerhillschool.co.uk/). It was the first time I had seen anything in print that talked about learning with a view of a child as equally important as an adult. Again, I'm not saying that the philosophy of A.S.Neill, the founder of Summerhill is "right" or "wrong", but it's based on a different set of assumptions about learning relationships and environments.

Those of us who are parents and teachers or simply interested in learning design need to have an awareness of a variety of paradigms so that we can explore what is best for each child.
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