Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Educating Children for Cooperation & Contribution

Individual Psychology in the Schools & The Education of Children

Alfred Adler

Edited by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D. & Laurie J. Stein, M.A.

Reviewed by Erik Mansager - Adlerian Society (UK) Year Book 2009

EDUCATING CHILDREN FOR COOPERATION AND CONTRIBUTION: VOLUME I. Individual Psychology in the Schools; The Education of Children, Edited by Henry T. Stein and Laurie J. Stein (260 pp., $59).

(Excerpted and slightly edited version of a longer review covering Volumes 11 & 12 of The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler. Volume I of ECCC was previously published as Volume 11 of the CCWAA.)


This volume has not only charm, but also deep historical significance in documenting Adler's profound conviction that the aim of responsible psychology is prevention. To prevent misperceptions of life allows the flourishing of one's innate ability to be socially interested. Thus, prevention of the need for therapy is the proper focus of the therapist.

Editor Stein combines, in a single volume, two of Adler's works in the educational field. The first is Individual Psychology in the Schools. The editor explains, "Between 1924-1927, Adler attracted more than six hundred Viennese teachers to his course [at the Pedagogical Institute in Vienna]; these lectures became the basis of his book." As to the effectiveness of these efforts, Stein reminds the reader, "By 1927, the city of Vienna would hire only elementary, secondary, and special education teachers who had graduated from the Pedagogical Institute" (p. ii).

The result is a concise compendium of child guidance. In ten brief chapters (the entire "book" is less than 100 pages) Adler covers a wide range of salient issues. In the first two chapters, he starts with childhood development in the first five years, and provides an understanding and examples of just how such development can result in "problem children". He contrasts this with a number of theories prevalent in his day - from instinctual drive theories to religious insistence on children being "bad by nature". He advances instead, a social understanding and the need for socialising children to contribute within their surroundings. Adler provides a list familiar to Individual Psychologists of difficulties faced by children. These overburdening situations include congenital difficulties, abuse and pampering. Adler understands that such burdens begin with the child, but are soon those of society - thus the urgency in correcting the misperceptions early on.

In the next three chapters, Adler explains the development of Life Style, illustrating how the difficulties of childhood can distort a child's perception of the world. In Chapter III, he stresses the importance of our subjective worldview. "What had occurred does not even have to be true," he insists, "because what [one] feels is just as effective as if it were true." Again, "The facts are not important, only how we see them" (p. 25). In Chapter IV(,) he explores "children in difficult situations". It is particularly interesting here to see Adler addressing the issue of Life Style. He writes that distorting circumstances in one's life result in a neurotic product, which is manifest in the Life Style. That is, if "a lifestyle, with a habitual and restrictive attitude toward life" (p. 28) is to be avoided, negative influences need to be ameliorated. In his practice, in fact, Stein insists one can 'dissolve' the Life Style - which can be considered a as a negative concept - and be more freely value oriented for the effort. In this way, the child's whole outlook can be changed. In Chapter V, such perceptions are understood as the basis of early recollections (ERs) - and long-term memory. Adler elucidates his theory in drawing attention to his finding that the ER being factual or not is inconsequential. As an illustration, he shares his own experience in his childhood of the non-existence of a cemetery he believed himself to have crossed on the way to school each day. No matter the objective truth content of such memory fragments, Adler explains, they nonetheless show "the importance of training and the application of ... overcoming problems" (p. 41).

Adler extends his understanding of ERs as a problem-solving technique in the next three chapters. He explains the similar use of fantasies and dreams, providing a separate chapter on his dream theory and its application to children's lives. In Chapter VI, he explains in some depth, his conviction that dreams are so hard to understand precisely because they are intended by the person not to be understood. It is the emotional residue that is important, not the manifest content. The purpose of dreaming is, "in order to put us in a state of mind, or mood, in which we can accomplish something that we cannot do with logic alone" (p. 50). Chapter VII provides brief examples of dreams and fantasies, emphasizing the trickery that metaphors play - especially in supplementing weakly organized logic. To think in metaphors and draw on them in arguments, for example, allows us to hold tight to convictions, without having to appeal to common sense. This is one of the many insights that originated with Adler and were further developed and applied by later Adlerians (cf., Kopp, 1995). With these chapters as a theoretical prelude, he uses Chapter VIII to speak at length about the application of his dream theory and provides clinical examples of how to use them when working with children.

Perhaps to emphasize the importance of his primary measure of human wellness, Adler concludes his lectures in Chapter IX with a focus on Social Interest. Herein he encourages child therapists to prevent the pitfalls of pampering and neglecting children. Their duty is to take up, in a more effective manner, the maternal tasks that have failed to a greater or lesser degree. That is, educators are to win the child's interest and steer this interest towards others (p. 69). The book also contains a small compendium of five practical applications - much like those found in Volumes Nine and Ten (Mansager, 2008).

The second work found in Volume One is The Education of Children, first translated and published in English in 1930. This is more than a re-presentation of the previous material. The fifteen chapters - and an Appendix of five case examples and an Individual Psychology (IP) questionnaire - lend themselves to a semester-long course in child guidance, in their very practical focus. The fifteen-point questionnaire is annotated and referenced in various chapters in the book. Drawn up by the International Society of Individual Psychology, it is of more than historical interest; and still contains salient and challenging insights.

The first six chapters include a generous introduction to IP (Chapter I) along with thorough explications of three essential concepts: the unified personality (Chapter II), striving for superiority (Chapter III) and the inferiority complex (Chapter V). Each of the notions is explored in its educational significance. For example Chapter IV emphasizes how teachers can usefully help to direct the striving for superiority, while Chapter VI aims to prevent the development of an inferiority complex. Both chapters provide rich case material demonstrating precisely how Adler guided children on the road to contribution. Throughout, there are references to the questionnaire provided in the appendix, which makes the applied use of the material quite teachable.

At the midpoint of the book, Chapter VII presents the importance of Social Interest and the obstacles to its development. I would like to mention that this is an especially fertile discussion of Gemeinschaftsgefuhl. It ranges, from evolutionary considerations, through the purposes and necessity of common sense, to gender considerations - all with an eye towards benefiting children's development.

The following three chapters focus on specifics of the school situation - the impact of birth order in the classroom (Chapter VIII), the "test" represented by the child first arriving at a school (Chapter IX), and finally the situation of the child once embedded in the school system (Chapter X). This chapter shows Adler battling against the once prevalent notion that IQ could be established early on and used to categorize children thereafter. It is to his credit that he emphasizes what we learn about children in the school setting is much about their psychological preparation for life - and in this way we do, indeed learn much about the child. And such knowledge is not as useful in categorizing and labelling as it is for understanding and re-directing the child into usefully contributing to the school community.

Similarly, the next three chapters cluster, at this point, around problems encountered in school: outside influences, adolescent sexuality and common teacher mistakes. Chapter XI is an especially rich presentation of some of Adler's views that are not frequently encountered in our literature. He identifies the outside influences as "dangerous corners" (p. 184) that need to be avoided if possible. Such corners in life include hard economic circumstances, extended illnesses, and meeting strangers who superficially influence children with no positive intentions in mind. These and other situations can subject children to perceptual distortions that last a lifetime. Less overtly threatening, but as influential, is the issue of children's reading material. A great deal of practical wisdom follows, with Adler encouraging adults to read with children and being prepared and willing to help them interpret potentially confusing matters such as those found in fairy tales and religious literature.

Chapter XII is an encouraging and respectful presentation of adolescence and the need to prepare teens for taking their place in the world. Adler offers ample insights and advice for working effectively with teens and avoiding power struggles that can result in pushing teens in precisely the wrong direction - towards exhibitions of self-perceived adult like power. Many problems can be avoided, he insists, by accepting teens as young adults and relieving them of the need to prove they are adults.

Adler follows these chapters with an extended presentation of a case of a 12-year old boy with whom he worked. Chapter XIII serves to illustrate a plethora of pedagogical errors which that afflicted this young man but did not thwart him entirely. Here, again and again, Adler emphasizes the cardinal virtue of faith in the child's resilient capacities and how important it is not to give up!

The last chapter of the book, on parent education, does not provide specific methods or a process to follow. Instead, it is an exhortation for Individual Psychologists to work kindly with parents. It is a touching account of the importance of helping parents see their children differently, not by contradicting them directly, but by patiently suggesting alternative ways of approaching their children. Adler's extensive quotation of Benjamin Franklin's biography here leaves the impression that he took Franklin's words deeply to heart.

This book is charming in its presentation and though somewhat dated, stands up well in its comprehension of children and the effective help that is available from attentive adults. It is especially refreshing to hear Adler provide such insights and rich alternate interactions for children who would undoubtedly be diagnosed today as having attention deficits and hyperactive disorders. In a world that is medication-oriented, insights and activities of Adler and his kindred spirits, including Montessori (Lillard, 1997) and Froebel (Brosterman, 1997), are especially salient.

Before closing, I note my profound thanks to Henry T. Stein for making this rich resource available to the English speaking world and urge all to purchase, read and share this invaluable volume!


References

Bottome, P. (1957). Alfred Adler. A Portrait from Life. New York: Vanguard.

Brosterman, N. (1997). Inventing Kindergarten. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Hoffman, E. (1994). The Drive for Self. Alfred Adler and the Founding of Individual Psychology. Reading, PA: Addison-Wesley.

Kopp, R. R. (1997). Metaphor Therapy: Using Client-Generated Metaphors In Psychotherapy. New York: Routledge.

Lillard, P. P. (1977). Montessori. A Modern Approach. New York: Schocken Books.

Mansager, E. (2008). Book Review - Review of The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler, Volumes 9-10 by H. T. Stein. In: P. Prina, A. Millar, C. Shelley & Karen John (Eds.). UK Adlerian Year Book, 2008 (pp. 152-164). London: ASIIP.


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