Carol A. Hand
I would like to begin by thanking Rosaliene Bacchus for nominating me to participate in a challenge: “Three Quotes for Three Days.” Rosaliene, who can be found at Three Worlds One Vision, has a fascinating background. She was born in Guyana, later migrated to Brazil where she worked as an international trade professional, and then moved to Los Angeles where she completed her first novel and began work on her second.
The rules of the challenge are:
1. Three quotes for three days. (Done for Day One. See below.)
2. Three nominees each day (no repetition). (Well – this is a problem of paradigms. I much prefer volunteers.)
3. Thank the person who nominated you. (Done. I am truly grateful to Rosaliene for the honor.)
4. Inform the nominees. (See # 2 above.)
5. And it doesn’t have to be three successive days. (Thankfully!)
Out of all of the books I have read over more than six decades, where should I start? I ask myself a simple question, “What fits with messages we need to consider during times like these?” This is what came to mind.
Things will only change when we question the stories we’ve learned and taken for granted as normal, as true. We need to subject those stories to critical analysis from as many different vantage points as we can to see if they still hold true.
It’s not a quote from someone famous as far as I know. But it is based on a synthesis of what I learned from all of those books and a long lifetime of experiences and reflection. I’ve also learned that “minority views,” “views from the fringes,” are important in any era. But I remember the caution of my Chickasaw faculty advisor when I was completing my final degree in a university. “Cite credible sources to say what you want to convey, otherwise you won’t be taken seriously.”
Of course, I didn’t always listen to his wise counsel, insisting instead on learning the hard way too often. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for finding sources that could provide crucial foundations for expressing credible critiques of the status quo. Three stand out in my memory today: Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005), Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996), and Michel Foucault (1926-1984).
Urie Bronfenbrenner “was a Russian-born American developmental psychologist,” perhaps best known for his “ecological systems theory of child development.” He played a key role in the development of Head Start in 1965, a Federal program that provides early educational enrichment for low-income children under 5. Bronfenbrenner’s research called “attention to the large number of environmental and societal influences on child development.” (Wikipedia)
Thomas Kuhn “was an American physicist, historian and philosopher of science whose controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term paradigm shift, which has since become an English-language idiom.” (Wikipedia)
Michel Foucault “was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, social theorist, philologist and literary critic. His theories addressed the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions…. His thought has been highly influential both for academic and for activist groups…” (Wikipedia)
Today, Day One of three quotes, I’ll focus on Urie Bronfenbrenner, the first I encountered on my journey of discovery. I remember reflecting on Bronfenbrenner’s framework as I traveled to lead a workshop at a national conference about families. I no longer remember the sponsoring organization, but I do still recall the thoughts going through my mind as I drove the last miles. Bronfenbrenner’s description of individuals embedded within ever larger systems of relationships made sense to me, but I wondered how many people in the tribal communities I worked with at the time had heard of him or his theories. My life had opened up possibilities that many others were denied.
“The ecological environment is conceived as a set of nested structures, each inside the next, like a set of Russian dolls…. The next step, however, leads us off the beaten track for it requires looking beyond individual settings to the relations between them. I shall argue that such interconnections can be as decisive for development as events taking place within a given setting…. The third level of the ecological environment takes us further afield and evokes a hypothesis that the person’s development is profoundly affected by events occurring in settings in which the person is not even present…. Finally, there is a striking phenomenon pertaining to settings at all three levels of the ecological environment outlined above: within any culture or subculture, settings of a given kind – such as homes, streets, offices – tend to be very much alike, whereas between cultures they are distinctly different. It is as if within each society or subculture there existed a blueprint for the organization of every type of setting. Furthermore, the blueprint can be changed, with the result that the structure of the setting in a society can become markedly altered and produce corresponding changes in behavior and development.” (1979, pp. 3-4)
Early in his educational career, Bronfenbrenner had an opportunity to conduct field research in different communities, some familiar and some radically different. His book, The Ecology of Human Development, incorporates some of his crucial discoveries.
“First, it radically expanded my awareness of the resilience, versatility, and promise of the species Homo sapiens as evidenced by the capacity to adapt to, tolerate, and especially create the ecologies in which it lives and grows. Seen in different contexts, human nature, which I had previously thought of as a singular noun, became plural and pluralistic; for the different environments were producing discernible differences, not only across but also within societies, in talent, temperament, human relations, and particularly in the ways in which the culture, or subculture, brought up its next generation. The process and product of making human beings human clearly varied by place and time. Viewed in historical as well as cross-cultural perspective, this diversity suggested the possibility of ecologies as yet untried that held a potential for human natures yet unseen, perhaps possessed of a wiser blend of power and compassion than has thus far been manifested.” (1979, p. xiii)
“The second lesson I learned from work in other societies is that public policy has the power to affect the well-being and development of human beings by determining the conditions of their lives. This realization led to my heavy involvement during the past fifteen years in efforts to change, develop, and implement policies in my own country that could influence the lives of children and families.” (1979, p. xiii)
My awareness of his model demonstrates how those contexts profoundly affect people from different positions within a given society or subculture. As a light-complexioned Native American woman who attended progressive public and private schools, and some that were behind the times, I had the privilege of learning about Bronfenbrenner. As someone on the margins between cultures, I also had the opportunity to view his work from a different vantage point.
I was asked to present at the national conference because of my university degrees and job title, Deputy Director of Health and Human Services for an inter-tribal organization. But those socially-constructed statuses were often barriers in the tribal reservation communities where I lived and worked at the time. There, the most important criteria were based on family and how I behaved toward others. I was Norma’s daughter, Agnes’ and Ray’s granddaughter, responsible for relating to my all relations with honesty, humility and respect.
Unlike the majority of Euro-Americans who attended the workshop, my socialization into the dominant macrosystem paradigm was incomplete. Unconsciously, I had learned another macrosystem perspective from my Ojibwe mother and relatives. Facing the professional Euro-American audience, I described the efforts of the inter-tribal council to address alarmingly high rates of infant mortality by reweaving community connections and informal support systems.
I was well aware of colonial efforts to destroy those connections and the challenges that posed for many families in the past and present. Individuals and families struggled with the legacy of land theft; removal and reservation confinement; child removal and placement in often brutal Indian boarding schools, a trend continued by state and county child welfare that disproportionately removed tribal children and placed them in Euro-American foster care or adoptive homes; and federal relocation programs that displaced tribal people from reservations where they were surrounded by kin to urban areas where they were surrounded by strangers. The list could go on for every system – education, health care, spirituality, self-governance, and dispute resolution.
Not surprisingly, the first audience questions focused on the role of alcoholism as the primary causal factor for infant mortality. I wasn’t surprised. They were only voicing an unquestioned part of the blueprint and structure they were socialized to accept as normal, as true. The logical solution for addressing infant mortality when causality is interpreted in this way is …? Yes, child removal. Continuing to impose oppressive colonial community-shattering policies because that’s all those in power can imagine.
Communicating across different cultural paradigms is not easy. It’s not easy to see the world from other perspectives when we have been socialized to accept the blueprints of our societies or subcultures as normal and superior. The battles we see emerging in post-election USA reflect the ultimate developmental consequences of separate and unequal policies and the profound challenges involved in forging common ground.
Understanding different worldviews requires the ability to shift paradigms. Next, I will turn to Thomas Kuhn to explore the process of “scientific revolutions,” the next step I took in my journey of discovery years ago.
To be continued…
Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Please volunteer to participate in the challenge in your comments to this post!
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