Friday, July 10, 2015

The most important educational framework & youth development document of the decade

I realize this is a big statement, but I've been unknowingly waiting for this document's publication for a while - like a new Apple product you didn't know you wanted or needed until it was invented. Then, you did.

Drum roll please....

Article: Foundations for Young Adult Success

There is a great executive summary that's worth reading, and not too long, so I'll skip the play-by-play here, but here's the gist:

Theories on education, child development, and related fields are like opinions - everyone has more than one. There are a number of bad points about that, but one of the good points is that there are a lot of good ideas out there. The problem is that most good ideas, and theories, are presented in isolation, sometimes with the advocation that they are the educational theory.

Case-in-point: Behavioral psychology. While this is more of a field than a theory, the idea is the same: Behavioral psychologists are huge fans of trying to explain all human behavior by observable antecedents, behaviors, and consequences, with a few setting events sprinkled in. While a lot of behavior can be explained with a behavioral framework, many cannot. A while ago, folks started referring to cognitive behavioral psychology as a merge between behavioral psychology and other approaches to psychology that are, well, more cognitive. It was attempt to not discount thoughts that occurred, while still using the often helpful framework of behavioral psychology in assessment, intervention, & research.

Still, cognitive behavioral psychology is limited in scope because, while it allows for development processes or support systems like STEM or after-school programs to exist, it doesn't really actively integrate those concepts.

Enter the University of Chicago document linked above - far from comprehensive, and far from doing things like integrating cognitive behavioral psychology with STEM, it provides a broad-level framework for frontline youth workers, educators, and policymakers to approach youth development. It doesn't replace things like cognitive psychology, then - it helps connect things like cognitive psychology with mentoring, after-school programs, and state level policy. Nothing else has really done this.

To be clear, behavioral psychology never claimed to provided an operationalized framework for holistic youth development. It never attempted to advise broad-level youth or education policy. It was a field of research, then later applied field of assessment and intervention related to specific things like Positive Behavior Support. So, my comments here aren't in any way meant to demean or criticize the work that's been done before related to helping kids succeed. In fact, this document makes explicit use of such work. What I am saying is that this document helps put all of those fields and theories in perspective in a really useful, practice, operationalized way.

Specific Contributions to Youth Development

Beyond the authors' contributions to the integration of theory, research, and practice, this document, I believe, puts forward some good synthesis on research surrounding general youth development that is very useful for practitioners, from educators to youth workers to psychologists.

Specifically, the document creates very useful frameworks and language that integrates ideas such as agency, competencies, and & integrated identity that are quite useful for developing a broad-level understanding of how kids grow up. A lot of times, we get stuck in very narrow mindsets focused on specific activities, instruction, or interventions. We attempt to remediate social skills. We attempt to build rapport. We attempt to extinguish behavior. This document calls for us (broadly defined) to zoom out and see how these activities fit into the broader framework of youth development.

This is hugely important because some activities, instruction, and interventions simply can't happen without others in place. For example, teaching social skills has limited utility if kids don't want to use them (i.e., if they don't see those skills as relevant and connected to their integrated identities), particularly as they grow older. Teaching STEM skills doesn't so much matter if kids can't learn to apply specific STEM skills within the context of broader competencies, then activate those competencies in generalized contexts beyond the initial STEM environment. Again, this document helps us locate our specific services we provide, as youth workers, with the larger context of what kids actually need to make use of those services.

So, if you're a youth workers (again, broadly defined - from camp counselor to child psychologist) - this report is a must read.