NUMBER 357• 16 SEPTEMBER 2003 • PROGRAMMING
INDEX OF QUOTES
In the loosest meaning of the term, people use “program” to refer to almost anything children may be doing at a given time, or they use the word synonymously with “play.” At the moment in which this is being written, we are watching, through our window, group of neighborhood youngsters chasing up and down the remains of a house next door which is in the process of being mantled. There isn’t any adult with them and what they do doesn’t look as though somebody had given them a blueprint of their recreational schedule between 5-7 pm. However, they aren’t just running around, either. There seems to be some “cops and robbers” pattern to their activity, and a certain semblance to status hierarchy and leadership distribution seems to suggest itself even in the narrow slice of their activity which we can watch from our vantage point. As Group Workers, we would be tempted to exclaim with pleasure “Look! How wonderfully these youngsters are programming for themselves!”
More strictly speaking, the educator, and especially the recreation leader and group worker, would like to reserve the term “programming” for activities which require a certain amount of definite planning, on the part of the children themselves, of the adults, or of both. In programming, a large number of important decisions have to be made. Especially where the adult considers himself mainly responsible for the planning of a program, such decisions will encompass a much wider range of issues than the little word “program” might make us expect. Sometimes we may think of tool and prop selection primarily. The question, for instance, of just what toys the playroom for the five-year-olds in an orthopedic clinic should contain certainly would be an illustration of the point. At other times, we may be more worried about the problem of building recreational activities into the lives of children in such a way that they do not conflict with such other necessities of existence as, for instance, sleeping, mealtimes, school work, and so forth. On still other occasions the sequence and timing of activities have priority in our minds: should that story hour follow or precede their bedtime snack? Is it wise to schedule this gripe session right after an athletic game in which hot competition issues are at stake? How concerned with the content or the sublimation level of what they do. We might, for example, find that the activity called “Woodwork from 3-5” consists, in one camp, of a production line of quite perfectionalistically conceived baseball bats, put out under heavy competitive strain. The place where this activity is going on might easily remind us of a classroom more than of a leisure time setting. In another camp, the same shingle on their arts and crafts cabin door might signify a most informal, relaxed expressional orgy of whittling with wood, and the atmosphere in the room might be more along the line of “let’s all have fun and don’t bother as to what it looks like.” Sometimes the concern of the program planner goes toward the question of just which people should be woven together into one and the same activity pattern and in what numbers and with which role-distribution. Occasionally, even such a superficial-seeming issue as the question of sharing limited facilities among a larger number of people or groups may take precedence on our agenda. Not infrequently, the very question of participation in the process of program planning itself may be the main issue of concern. Then, problems like member-participation in policy making and the democratic process of group decision-making will be of relevance. Altogether, the job of the program planner would resemble more that of the dietician than that of the cook—he feels, on some level, responsible for not only all decisions that go into one special meal, but the total intake and style of nourishment that belong to the concept of a well-balanced diet over a given stretch of time.
The main issue, of course, is the question of just what is really a “good” program for children. The average adult, who does not approach this question as an expert but as a parent, board member, or taxpayer, usually has quite firm and clear convictions on this point. His opinions are derived from childhood experiences of his own, from personal taste and comfort speculations, from views as to what money should or shouldn’t be spent on, and especially from his own identifications with the customs and mores of the group he travels with. If pressed, he would probably admit that he considers “good” for the children what he himself enjoyed as a child, or learned to enjoy, and what the cultural system within which he lives would regard as being of “value.” In most of the larger communities in contemporary America, for instance, there seems little doubt that “competitive athletics,” football, baseball, and so forth, are considered “good for kids” in themselves.
If we turn to the people who are experts, not in program planning but in the cultivation of the specific skill which certain types of activities demand, we find an equally clear-cut value conviction, only sliced in a somewhat different direction. It seems without doubt that most “experts” in certain skill fields consider quantities of what they themselves happen to be interested in as the safest prescription for good programming. Everybody seems to recommend as being “good for children” the very commodity he happens to present on the market of recreational services. Thus, the athletic director of a playground program is convinced that youngsters should have plenty of that. The art instructor is sure that more cultivation of art and art appreciation would be a safeguard against the delinquency problem. The cherisher of good music recommends classical programs for all school children as the greatest blessing for the nation’s youth. And every summer, thousands of American children in hundreds of camps shiver in the cold morning air before their prebreakfast dip, even though so far no known research has discovered any connection between goose pimples and character formation.
It is clear, of course, that the very question of what program is good for children is a nonsensical one to begin with. For things are not just “good” or “bad” for people; they are liable to have a quite specific effect which again will be tied to very concrete conditions. Neither salami nor sulpha is good or bad for everybody; it all depends. But there is no excuse for not raising the question of just what it will depend on, for that can be answered quite precisely. And the most important problem is, of course, just what tricks is a specific program supposed to perform? If a program is supposed to be “good,” we had better ask right away: good for what purpose? As far as this question is concerned, we have, fortunately, a number of quite strongly defended theories to point to. For Educators, Recreation Leaders, Group Workers, Psychologists, and Psychiatrists have given this issue considerable thought. Unfortunately, there is still a paucity of really organized research in this field and many people who plan or supervise or encourage and discourage programs for children are not necessarily trained philosophers of program planning, child psychologists, or practical program experts. Consequently, in many places where children live, a consistent program policy may not be visible, nor may people be quite aware, philosophically, what they are trying to do.
FRITZ REDL and DAVID WINEMAN
Redl, F. & Wineman, D. (1952). Programming for Ego Support. Controls from Within: Techniques for the Treatment of the Aggressive Child. New York: The Free Press.