Self Concepts Choices

by Eston on September 30, 2011

Self Concepts Choices

Illustrative Vignettes

I

Mary was fifteen and preparing for entry into her freshman year at the local high school.  She was nervous, imagining at night when she couldn’t sleep all manners of encounters awaiting her:  She would fit in easily, have lots of friends, and take on minor leadership roles in her freshman class; she would be ostracized and left standing alone and unnoticed, a country mouse pushed out of the way in the hall-ways full of jostling students; or she would be seen as mildly attractive but imminently unnoticeable.

She and her mother had spent hours in the shopping malls, not just looking at clothes, but observing closely what other teens were wearing.  And, though her mother was interested and encouraging, she was absolutely unhelpful.   Mary had a problem.  She didn’t know how she wanted to appear to her classmates, but she absolutely didn’t want her mother telling her who to be.

Did she want to wear jeans and a fringed shirt, looking comfortable and just a little bit hippie?  Did she want to appear suave and sophisticated, risking the label of preppy? Should she be Hollister, Gap, Abercrombie Fitch, or Old Navy?  And shoes were a problem—did she dare wear boots, long or short?—as were hair style and fragrances.  Even though they were all the rage, she still felt uncomfortable with the thought of jeans with engineered holes and frazzles.

And then there were boys!  Up to now, her parents had limited her dating—if it could be called that— to group outings to matinee movies or to holiday parades, always with the stipulation of absolutely no pairing off.  But now, the restrictions were off, and finally she would be allowed actual dates—with a real-life boy, going to  honest-to-god  movies, to pool parties, and, with luck, maybe even to the Junior-Senior Prom.

From the issue of boys and dating, her mind flowed logically to questions of sex, drugs, and birth control.  Both parents had seen to it that these issues had been discussed in detail, and she knew very well what their position was.  She was committed to their point of view, but she also knew she hadn’t been tempted yet.

“It’s easy for them to say,” she exclaimed to herself.  “They think it’s just a matter of laying down rules and my following them exactly!  They have no idea about the importance of  being liked, having honest-to-god, real-life  friends; and they’ve forgotten all they ever knew (if they ever did!) about how like hell it is to be thought of as  weird or out of touch with what’s really going down.”

“It’s  too much of a hassle,” she exclaimed.  “I think I’ll just settle for home school!”

*****

2

Marc’s Story

Marc was fifteen and had played junior varsity football in middle school.  He hadn’t exactly warmed the bench, but he was certainly no Friday night hero.  He doubted he’d be invited to go out for varsity, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to in any event.

Marc was in love—so much so that he’d come to question just about everything in his world.  He’d just gotten back last week from a Christian camp in Lake Toccoa where he’d met Annette.  Her skin was chestnut brown, she wore her hair long and black, and, in accordance with her tanned skin was possessed of  chestnut eyes as big as playhouse saucers.

At first she hadn’t seem to notice him—she seemed obsessed with Oliver Martin, the friend he’d come to camp with—but Oliver ignored her completely.  Finally, though, she had smiled at him in the lunch room, and soon they were taking walks after dinner—always chaperoned, of course—by the senior counselors lagging discreetly behind.

That night, when he finally got up the courage to hold her hand, blood rushed in torrents from his heart to his hands, he felt hummings in his ears, and the world seemed to take on a decided slant. They had never kissed, and when they hugged that one time as she was boarding the bus back to Monroe, it had been a stiff embrace, bodies bent awkwardly askance so as to avoid touching.  Upon arrival at home, he had written her immediately about his feelings, his determined loyalty, and the beauty of her moon-like eyes.

She had not written him back, but it had only been a week.  He’d just have to be patient.  In the meantime, his mother was all agog about his starting high school, about clothes, back packs, and notebooks, pens, and pencils.  He couldn’t care less.  His heart (and mind) belonged to Annette!

 *****

3

Suzanne’s Story

Suzanne was fifteen and entering her freshman year at Drucker Senior High School.  She was not nervous, for this would be her fourth new school in the past eight years.  Her father, a colonel in the Air Force, was subject to reassignment every time he got promoted, and his transfer to Drucker,  WVA, represented his first state-side posting in four years.  She was looking forward to some homegrown relationships.

A tall girl, approaching six-feet but not there yet, Suzanne had red hair, a sprinkling of freckles skipping across her nose and cheekbones, and she was decidedly beautiful—although to her great disappointment her breasts were embarrassingly undeveloped.  Her hips and backside, she opined, made up quite satisfactorily for that deficiency.  Feelings of inadequacy, while common, had not taken up permanent residency!

She had already made preparations for her first impression.  She would appear at Drucker dressed in tight-fitting slacks, a glamorous blouse with purple ruffles, tall boots, and a French beret slanted rakishly across her tightly curled coiffure.  She expected that guys would trail her down the hallway like gray hounds tracking a cougar, and she would address them condescendingly in one of the four  languages she spoke proficiently and without a trace of accent.

Suzanne was primed and ready for action.

  *****

4

Mary’s Story Continued

Mary had seen to it that her mother deposited her at Drucker High thirty minutes before the opening bell.  She wanted time to check out the facilities, to mentally map out the location of the offices, the double-lined classrooms that branched off the central hall, the location of the lockers, and all the building exits.  She read, for the umpteenth time, the curriculum assignments, the rules and regulations, and the mapped-out location of each room assignment.

She was determined to be ready for anything.

The issue of dress had been decided for her by the picture of a model she’d studied in Cosmopolitan, so she felt good about the way she looked.  The dark brown slacks fitted her perfectly, and the light tan blouse with its high collar she’d selected all on her own cradled the round features of her face and gave off the impression of a lost young waif she was aiming for. Her hair, permed and cut short by the stylist she had waited two hours for,  nestled just inside her collar.  She had used hardly any make-up, and her lips were lightly tinted.  She was, she thought, as ready as she could ever be for the inevitable comparisons she knew she would have to face.

The first person to walk in the door at the south end of the hallway was—wouldn’t you know it!—Marc McClanahan, the next-door neighbor she’d known most of his life.  He was nice enough, but big-feet clumsy, and his teenage acne rambled like splotches of crab grass across the mask of his broad-grinned face.

She forced a smile and held out a limp  hand in response to his.

“Hello, Marc.  How nice to see you again.  Where’ve you been all summer?”

“Been away at summer camp, but thank God you’re here.  I was sure I’d see nobody I knew.  Do you feel as lost as me?”

“I’m nervous, yes, but I’m excited, too.  It’ll be great to meet new people.”

The two young people stood nervously against the wall and observed the students now filling up the hallway.  Both of them wanted to find a better place to stand, but neither of them knew how to separate.

And then, right before their eyes, she sauntered past—her red hair flashing diamonds from the florescent lights on the ceiling, her high-heeled boots tapping our a message of confidence and fearlessness, her wide green eyes focused on some certain spot midway down the hall.  Suzanne had made her entrance!

*****

5

Marc’s Story Continued

It had been three and a half weeks, and still he had not heard from Annette, and, though he had twice visited with Oliver—playing competitive billiards with him on his father’s table—and had brought up her name once or twice, hoping he would have some insights, Oliver had remained stubbornly non-committal.

He turned, now, away from Mary and looked around the hallway for Oliver but caught no sign of him.  Oliver, he knew, had attended the camp for years and was well acquainted with all the regular campers, and, Annette, Oliver had mentioned, was one of them.

He turned his attention back to Mary.

“Will you be taking college prep?” he asked.  “My parents insisted that I sign up for advanced Algebra, and I can’t tell you how much I dread it!”

“Yeah,” Mary responded.  “My parents are determined I’m going to college, too.  Maybe I’ll see you in Algebra,” she said, easing her way down the hallway in the direction of the wall lockers.

Marc, aimlessly picking at the straps of his backpack,  watched her walk away.  He found himself comparing her to Annette—her medium height, her somewhat pale complexion,and the straight-forward way she walked, no swaying hips, no consciousness of being looked at.

Annette, on the other hand, had the look of a gypsy about her, and her hips moved as though in cadence to an invisible tambourine.

Oh, yes!  She knew she was beautiful.

Maybe that was why she expressed no interest in books or attending college.  Her interests seemed to revolve around social things, who was dating who, who was rumored to be having sex, and whether so and so’s parents were illegal Mexicans.

Ordinarily, Marc might have been bored by such trivialities, but Annette’s lips were luscious, and she had the kind of eyes you could dive into and gladly drown in the depths thereof.  He was, of course, totally oblivious to the real source of his feelings.

He wished she would write him back.  Maybe she hadn’t received his letter; maybe he should write her a second letter.  He instinctively knew, however, that appearing too interested could be seen as a sign of weakness—though weak he was, he ruefully admitted.

He was startled from his reverie by the five-minute bell and strode off down the hall in the direction of home room.  As he entered the door, he bumped against Oliver who, lost in thought, had not thought to share the entrance.

“Well, hello, buddy!’ Oliver exclaimed to Marc.  “I hope your pool game has improved.  Either your mind wasn’t on the game, or you’ve lost the knack.”

“There ARE advantages to having a pool table in your basement,” Marc rejoined.  “I’ll skunk you next time!”

“And, by the way, “ Marc continued, “Do you by any chance know Annette’s mailing address.  She hasn’t responded to my letter.”

“I don’t know, Marc.  I might have it some place at home.  I’ll look for it, if you want.  My advice, though, is forget about her.  She’s not into long-term relationships.”

“I know you’ve known her a lot longer than I have, but I really thought we had something going on.”

“I hate to tell you, Buddy, but what you had going on was her trying to make me jealous.  We were together once—I don’t think I ever told you this—but she’s not a one-man kind of gal.  She tried this summer to tell me more than once—even sent me messages by other campers—that she’d changed her mind, that I was the only guy she’d ever love.  Well, you know what I say to that:  Burned once, avoid the fire!”

Marc stared at Oliver, slack-jawed and drained of color,

“You’ve g-got to be k-kidding me, man!” he stammered, grabbing Oliver by the shoulders and looking him hard in the eyes.  “I thought we were friends, that you’d tell me anything.”

“Marc, I wanted to tell you, many times.  I was just hoping it was a summer fling for you.  I never thought you would dive off the deep end the way you have.  I’m sorry, man; and you are my friend, the best I’ve ever had.   But, take it from me.  You won’t be hearing from Annette Rodriguize.”

Marc shoved his way past Oliver and stumbled to the back of the class room.

He just had to be wrong about Annette. They had felt too much together—their very shoulders had melted together!—for it to be his imagination.  Maybe it was Oliver that was jealous!  He’d not give up so easy.  If necessary, he’d hitch-hike to her house this coming weekend.  A love like theirs was for eternity!

*****

6

Suzanne’s Story Continued

Suzanne was nonplussed that, so far, no one appeared to have taken notice of her.  She was leaning against the white board, carefully centered, her beret rakishly slanted over her forehead, her right elbow cocked on her jutting right hip, with her eyes fixed in a somewhat jaundiced stare at the spaces between the clustered students waiting, like her, for the final bell and the assignment of seats.

It was home room, and she knew exactly nobody.

She was taken aback, therefore, when the mousy little girl—dressed, appropriately, in brown—sidled up to her and introduced herself as Mary.

“I saw you in the hall, first thing this morning,” Mary exclaimed.  “You most certainly are not a native Druckerian!”

“Whatever a Druckerian is, I certainly am not!” Suzanne huffed.  “I transferred here from the Ecole Francais in Paris.  I’ve never seen such pandemonium!  Where on earth is the teacher?!”

“He’ll be here shortly. I’m sure,” Mary responded.  “I’m enrolled in French, freshman year.  Maybe you could tutor me at the soda shop down town, my treat?”

“Not likely, I’m afraid.  I expect to be busy every day after school  in the equestrian class Pa Pa signed me up for.  From the looks of you, though I can’t imagine you’ll be needing any tutoring.  You strike me as the studious type.”

“I am in honors classes, and I do always come to class prepared; but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in new and different things, and you, most certainly are both of those. You could have just stepped out of a fashion magazine.  Since you’re new to Drucker, I’d be glad to show you around?”

“We’ll see,” Suzanne demurred.  “But here, at last, is the honored professeur!”

“Settle down, people!” Jackson Stewart yelled.  “Take any desk.  I’ll assign your seats as I take the roll.  Welcome, freshmen, to Drucker High!”

“Not too bad looking, for a southern hickster,” Suzanne murmured appreciatively, shoving an intervening body aside to take a seat in the front row.  “Maybe I won’t be bored out of my ever-loving gourd, after all!”

*****

7

Mary’s Story Continued

Two weeks had passed and Mary’s school life had settled into routine.  She liked all her classes and had found none of them too challenging.  Even beginning French had turned out to be easy for her—doubtlessly due to all that hard work she’d done studying English grammar.  Still, though, she had made few friends, and none of them was close.  She’d had high hopes for Suzanne, but the saucy chick from Paris had little time for her.  Seemed like she was always chasing after Mr. Stewart, asking him questions and doing her flashing lashes routine.

“She’s such a flirt!” Mary exclaimed to herself.  “You’d think with all that European sophistication she’d know better.  Just wait until she sets eyes on Mrs. Stewart, all grown up and beautiful.”

Mary, then, was very surprised when Suzanne called to her on her way to study hall.

“Wait up, Mary.  I’ll walk with you!”

Mary waited, dubious as to the redhead’s motives, but intrigued nonetheless.

“I didn’t know you had study hall today,” she said, smiling.

“Don’t usually,” Suzanne replied.  “But today my riding class was canceled—something about a horse show in Mayview.  I thought maybe we could visit that soda shop you mentioned, after school.  And I’d be glad to answer any questions you have about French.”

“Actually, French class is going pretty well, but I could certainly use some help with accent and pronunciation.”

“It’s a date, then.  I’ll see you there!  Do you need a ride?”

Mary responded affirmatively and watched as Suzanne flounced her way between the desks and to the back of the class room where she swooped into a desk, crossed her legs with practiced grace, and opened a book Mary thought likely to be a novel, not a textbook.

“I wonder what she could possibly want of me.  Certainly not dating advice!”

Suzanne was waiting in the student parking lot when Mary exited the building, and her tap-tap-tap on the horn of the red convertible attracted Mary’s attention immediately.

“My, what a great car!” she exclaimed.  “It’s French, isn’t it?”

“Nope,” Suzanne responded.  “A  Miata.   Pa Pa bought it for me on my sixteenth birthday.  It’s a doozie, isn’t it?!”

“I’m not sure I’d call it that.  It’s a golden chariot!”

“What it is is an invitation to a speeding ticket.  I’ve learned to drive it very, very carefully.”

Inside the soda shop—Drucker’s tribute to a by-gone time, to stools and booths and teenage servers dressed in flouncy, pepperminty skirts—the girls ordered milkshakes and examined the posters pasted on the walls.  There were posters of a young Elvis Presly, a dapper Dean Martin, of Doris Day dressed in gingham, and other long-gone and unremembered stars of a forgotten time.

“What I wanted to talk to you about,” Suzanne said in a muted voice, “was about you and me being friends.  I’m having problems getting to know anybody here, and you’re so intelligent and so accepted by everyone.  I thought maybe you could tell me what I’m doing wrong.”

“You flatter me!” Mary responded.  “I’ve just lived around here forever.  I know how to live up to expectations.”

“I thought these West Virginia boys would flock to me.  Why I haven’t even had a date!”

“Join the club,” Mary chuckled.  “I know lots of guys, but not one of them has asked me out, or even flirted.  I could set you up, though, with my next-door neighbor.  He’s nice enough, but nowhere near being in your league.”

“What’s his name?  And what’s he known for in school?”

“Marc.  And I believe he’s on the football team.  But as far as him being known for anything, I can’t say what it would be.  He fell in love in summer camp, and she shafted him.  He’s still pretty broken up about it.”

“So, I get him on the rebound.  That’s all right with me.  I’m desperate to escape the house, and, who knows, maybe he could introduce me to the quarterback!”

“I’ll talk to him,” Mary promised, accepting the tall milkshake from the minty server and placing a napkin under the steel tumbler holding the left-over, milky remains.  “If this doesn’t put meat on our bottoms, nothing will!”

*****

8

Marc’s Story Continued

Oliver had been right.  Marc never heard a word from Annette, and that was despite two letters—the last with a self-addressed stamped envelope!  He found it difficult to believe that even at so early an age persons of the feminine persuasion were capable of such guile.

“Who taught them to play games like that, and to do so totally without regard for another person’s feelings?!”

He’d poured out his heart to her, made himself totally vulnerable.  Well, never again!  Instead, he had decided to go out for the football team, to pour all his energy and misery into practice and the weight room.

And he had to admit, it had made a difference.  Not only had his acne disappeared, his neck size had  increased, and his biceps actually bulged from the sleeves of his t-shirt.  And he’d made the team—first string!—and had already been moved from left end to defensive safety.

When Mary stopped him in the hall yesterday, he’d remembered his comparison of her with Annette and thought how stoned he was back then.  It seemed months ago!  And then it occurred to him how seldom he thought about Annette any more, how much and how quickly she had become a forgotten chapter.  Back then he would’ve sworn his feelings were permanent.

Maybe Coach was right that you can only know what you know based on what you know!

Mary had commented on how much stronger he looked and gracefully forgot to mention his heartbreak.

“Have you met Suzanne Wittington,” she asked.  She’s new to Drucker—attended school last year in Paris, France?”

“I’ve been so busy with practice, I’ve not met anyone not on the team!” he said.  “Why’d  you ask?”

“She’s been having trouble meeting people here—people see her as a snob—which she sorta is. But she’s really kinda nice when you get to know her.  We’ve gotten to be friends, and I mentioned you to her the other day.  She said she’d like to meet you.”

“I’m not sure, Mary.  After Annette, I’m not much into getting back into the dating thing.  Maybe we could meet at lunch, in the lunch room.  Could you arrange it?”

“For sure!  You eat at 12:00, right?  We’ll see you then.”

Being on the football team gave students additional benefits where food was concerned, and Marc piled his tray high with extra beef dogs and corn bread.  He also took an extra slice of apple pie and a large ice tea.

“All that exercise puts on extra appetite, if not weight,” he commented to himself, picking a vacant table near the exit and looking around  for Mary and her fresh-from-Paris friend.  He noticed them immediately, wending their way through the scattered tables and crowds of standing students.

“Marc, this is Suzanne Wittington, the girl I was telling you about.  Suzanne, this walking food disposal—pointing at the heaping plate before them—is Marc Morgan.”

Marc stood, held out an embarrassed hand to Suzanne, and said, ‘I thought, Mary, we were friends!  And you introduce me that way.  I get a lot of exercise, Suzanne.  I need to eat a lot!”

“Com’ on, Marc.  You know I was kidding!  I’m proud of you, making the football team and all that,” Mary said.  “To say nothing of those new muscles you’ve put on.  Not only that, you’re making As in Algebra!”

“So far, at least,” Marc responded, holding two chairs, somewhat awkwardly,  for the two girls.  “It’s nice meeting you, Suzanne.  How’re you liking Drucker?”

“Well, it’s certainly not Paris!” Suzanne replied.  “But I like the soda shop.  And Mary’s been really nice to me.  School’s been something of a drag, though.”

“I identify!” Marc responded.  “I’d be bored out of my mind if it weren’t for football.  Are you into any sports, Suzanne?”

“Mary may’ve told you.  I’m into the equestrian thing, thanks to my father.  But I’d like to know more about football.  When do you play again?”

“The next home game is two weeks from Friday.  I could get you a front row bleacher seat, if you are really interested.  Mary wouldn’t be caught dead at a football game!”

From there the conversation drifted smoothly from friendly gossip to discussion of favorite songs and types of music, and current movies.  To Marc, the hour seemed to fly by.  The meal over, he collected the trays and walked with the girls to the exit.

“See you later, ladies,” he joked, emptying the trays into the garbage cans and stacking them neatly on the counter by the door.  “It was really nice meeting you, Suzanne.  Thanks, Mary, for introducing us.”

Marc had no inkling of how carefully Mary had tutored Suzanne in toning down her ego and in not dominating the conversation, and he was pleased, over all, with how well the meeting had gone.

“She is attractive,” he opined, thinking of Suzanne.  “And I wouldn’t mind getting to know her better. Different from Annette as night from day!   Wonder if she’s really serious about learning about football?”

Self Concept Choices

Analysis

The first observation to be made is how small is the role parents play in the presented vignettes.  This was a conscious decision made by this writer so as to emphasize the point of individual self-concept choices.  The parental influences may well be significant, but young adolescents are, by and large, oblivious to them.  Almost without exception, their emphases are on how they are perceived by their peers.

This emphasis is understandable in that high school freshmen are essentially on their own for the first time in their lives.  Parents may be important in subliminal ways, but it is apparent that “out of sight, out of mind” is the dominant modus operandi.  As stated: The dominant emphasis is on the issue of acceptance—with all its implications of peer pressure.

Mary is perhaps the best indicant of this premise—with her emphasis on clothing, hair style, etc.— but Suzanne has obviously put considerable thought into dressing to impress.  As presented, Marc seems oblivious to these kind of emphases, but this is largely a product of his being obsessed with his love for Annette.

The point is that an absorption with acceptance is a sign of inadequacy (if not ignorance) in the realm of self concept.  Parents have little or no influence in this area since one of the first issues of independence is making one’s own choices as to the self-image presented., and the degree of acceptance—as perceived by the adolescent—is perhaps the paramount factor in the individual’s level of self-esteem.   It is also evidence of the absence of a realized sense of self, and may explain their easy seduction into experimentation with drugs and sex..

One conclusion to be drawn from these observations is that the primary function of education should be the placing of emphasis on the importance of inculcating ego self-sufficiency.  Students can be taught that relying of the perceptions of others is the death knell to a sense of self-sufficiency.  They should also be informed as to the consequences of failure on ego formation.

They can be taught that academic success is an opportunity for them to make a conscious investment in feeling good about themselves, as in the practice of integrity in personal decisions and relationships.  They can be taught that they, and only they, are responsible for self concept construction—that no one, parent or dating partner, preacher or teacher—can do this for them—that they, and they alone, will suffer the consequences of failure to make the necessary investments in an earned sense of self.

They can be taught that the level of self-concept they create will be responsible for the level of success they achieve in life, financially and psychologically.

A second observation is that for whatever reason two of the characters are adjusting well to the challenges presented in their initial moment of independence. Mary is well on her way to constructing a stable concept of self.  She is a good student, an astute observer of her peers, and a person bent on making her own decisions.  Though she indicates its importance to her, she is obviously not obsessed with finding a guy.  She does not—nor has she been taught—to see her actions and ideas as conscious investments in building a self-sufficient sense of self.

Marc, as indicated in his summer camp experience, has not been educated in the nature of survival drive and in the ways it expresses itself in this its most common manifestation.  He would profit from instruction in the difference between lust and love.  (His insight into the issues Annette perceives as important probably speaks to the ease with which he escaped his infatuation.) Even so, he is to be commended for his decision to invest in football and physical conditioning instead of dwelling on Annette and his broken heart.  That he is feeling better about himself is evidenced in the disappearance of his acne, his developing physique, and his success on the football team.  He is even making an A in algebra!  Like Mary, however, he does not see these accomplishments in terms of a conscious investment in self concept, an error born of inadequate pedagogy.

Suzanne’s destiny is uncertain, and this is despite her worldly experiences, her knowledge of languages, her considerable potential, and an apparently secure home environment.  Her carefully studied self-image is actually based on the same insecurities that consume Mary and Marc.  There is room for thinking, too, that she has been overly indulged and may be spoiled and that her interest in her homeroom teacher, unfounded though it be, demonstrates a self concept based primarily on primitive survival drive.  The success she envisioned has been denied her because of  her self-image having been obviously created for effect.  Her insincerity came across as snobbery.  Doubtlessly, other students than Mary had noted her flirtatious ways with Mr. Stewart.

The one positive about her is that she is intelligent enough to see that her approach is not working and that she is willing to consult Mary in hopes of changing.  Just how sincere her efforts at reformation are remains uncertain, however—as evidenced, perhaps, by her off-handed comment about quarterbacks.

Finally, it is apparent that in all instances, none of the teens has been instructed in the role played by survival drive in their thoughts and actions.  Part of the blame may be placed on the parents (who are likely themselves to be ignorant in this realm) for not explaining at an early age the fact that self-image is a metaphor engineered by survival drive to provide  the illusion of self-control.

As emphasized throughout my blog posts, survival drive may be seen as first metaphor, the comparison force that drives matter—both real and virtual—to seek out affinities.  It is the force responsible for the formation of matter, life, and self concept.  Since the appearance of homo sapiens on the planet, its influence is most apparent in its effects on the concept of self.

It is to the metaphor that is self concept—an evolutionary development responsible for the emphasis on the importance of separateness, particularly in the human individual—that we trace the origin of language, of counting, the art of writing, of all forms of science, and—ultimately—the creation of art in all of its amazing variations.

It is to the invention of self concept that we trace the human’s awareness of mortality, the subsequent creation of gods, heavens, religions, and their concepts of survival beyond the reach of death.  All metaphors, it can be seen, are traceable to the drive to survive, and personality (ones concept of self) is no exception.

While it is important to re-emphasize that a responsible development of self concept provides humankind with its only means to freedom, it is also important to recognize that, as a creation of survival drive, the individual’s concept of self can be constructed reflexively—derived as a consequence of instinctive response to circumstance and experience—without thought being given to why or wherefore.

Untested and un-threatened, blessed with a secure physical environment, with loving and supportive parents, and a genetically assured high I.Q,  such possessors of self concepts engineered by happenstance could conceivably glide through life without those concerns that motivated Mary, Marc, and Suzanne—to say nothing of those problems endemic in those teens born into soul-scorching poverty, subject to abuse and abandonment, and to a multitude of other shocks and arrows human flesh is heir to.

That these blessed individuals are unlikely to care anything for the state of their peers or the conditions of the poor and mistreated on the planet, and that it is to these individuals that most instances of bullying may be traced, goes without saying. Since their senses of self are created reflexively, by unexamined survival drive; their only concerns are likely to be built around issues of physical survival. More importantly, however, is the reality that they will be forever trapped in the machinery of an unquestioned survival drive, that they will never know the ecstasy of being truly free.

The self concept is the one entity on the planet that can be consciously constructed with an eye to the good of self and of humanity.  It’s downright shameful that the world—and especially our institutions of learning—are blind to this possibility and responsibility.

It is to this end, and with a great deal of trepidation, that I propose a re-design of secondary education designed around self concept development.  As suggested in the vignettes, it is during these four years that students are first confronted with the real-world business of deciding who they will be; and it is at this time that their personal responsibility for self concept creation must be driven home.

As envisioned, the first step in re-design would be a movement to year-round schooling.  The school year would be divided into four semesters with students (and teachers) being allowed a semester’s vacation of their choice.  Students could elect to attend all four sessions as means of accelerating graduation, but students not living up to expectations (academic and personal-growth measurements) would not be allowed to take a semester off.

My second proposed design-change would be elimination of all numerically based grades.  Grades are an artificial device for measuring intellectual aptitude, based most often on an autocratic assessment of what kind of learning is best.  In my experience, they are more important to the teachers than they are to the students—though academically talented students often utilize them as a means of demarcation and a testament to their superiority. A gradeless system would attenuate these possibilities.

My next proposal involves one-on-one instruction made possible by the personal computer.  Students would be assigned individual study carrels (rather than classrooms) and would conduct research-based projects under the careful supervision of their assigned teacher.  Students would be encouraged—within the constraints of decency—to decorate their carrels according to their personal taste.

While the lecture method could be utilized, it would be used sparingly, and primarily as a discussion-based exercise.  Grades (Pass or  Incomplete) would be assigned based on the completion of class projects, and students would be allowed as many opportunities to succeed as needed to feel successful.

I would also make changes in curriculum.  One of my first changes would be making mandatory a class on self-concept construction.  This class could be called “Health,” but its primary emphasis would be on discussion of self concept and on how it is each person’s responsibility to develop—through responsible choices—a positive sense of self.

Successes in the core curriculum—English, Social Sciences, Mathematics, and Science—would provide students with the opportunity for positive contributions to self-concept construction.  In fact, no student would be allowed the escape clause of failure.  In addition to the core curriculum, students would select courses in the arts, in auto/body and auto repair and maintenance, drafting, construction, animal husbandry, and agriculture—all subject to strict standards of success and dedicated to affirming the student’s elected concept of self..

While failure would be avoided at all costs—to the extent possible even the assignment of “Incomplete” would be kept confidential—students would be held to the highest possible standards of accomplishment.  No student would ever be subjected to instructor criticism, and all discipline problems would be handled by the teachers responsible for “Health” classes, in coordination with the parents of the offending students.

Under terms of this proposal, the function of administration would be truncated.  The offices of principal and vice-principal would be eliminated and replaced by a dean of instruction; guidance counselors would be eliminated in favor of the teachers assigned responsibility for “Health” classes.  A business manager, charged with responsibility for finances and the maintenance of buildings and grounds, including the school cafeteria, would be employed.

Coaches would perform no other functions than coaching and would be responsible for no more than two major sports.  It is anticipated that—as is the case with academic courses—all sports activities will be directed to self concept enhancement.  Students not capable of performing at appropriate levels will be exempted from participation and provided  individual instruction designed to raise their physical capabilities.  It should be apparent, by now, that achievements of physical goals would go a long way in affirming a student’s accepting responsibility for his/her concept of self.

The office of records would be up-dated, with emphasis placed on the protection of documents and the inviolate privacy of student records.  Only assigned teachers would be permitted access to student records/documents, and this access would be limited to specific classes taught.  Students would have unquestioned access to their records and encouraged to appeal perceived discrepancies to the dean of instruction.  Referral to colleges and universities would be handled by the dean of instruction, in liaison with the student’s instructors over the entire years of attendance.

School publications would be uncensored and produced solely by students, with the positions of editors limited to seniors.  An adult adviser to publications would be assigned, but this person’s role would be limited to issues of format and the mechanics of spelling and grammar.  Questions about content would be referred to the dean of instruction and a selected student panel.

Parental concerns (and it is expected that they will be multitudinous) would be brought before a panel made up equally of students and teachers and headed by the dean of instruction.  Irresolvable conflicts would be adjudicated by the county superintendent of education and the county commissioners.  Appeals of local decisions could be taken to the state department of education and the standing governor.  Under terms of this proposal, rulings based on paternalistic interpretations—that parents and parents alone are responsible for the upbringing of their children—would be strongly discouraged.

Historically, the educational system has been viewed as the cultural melting pot where students could be conditioned (brainwashed)so as to further the end of good citizenship.  The standards of good citizenship (such as they are) were arrived at by a generalized consensus metaphor that bore more indebtedness to physical survival drive than anything else.

This has got to change, and the proposed re-structuring outlined here (subject of course to study and experimentation) would go a long way toward eliminating the ambiguity of the present system, would put the educational emphasis on the individual student—making for the development of good human beings rather than citizens—and hold society responsible for a responsible education of its citizenry.

It is often said that the future of our country rests in the hands of our youth.  This proposal would go a long way toward assuring that the future of our country rests in good hands indeed!

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Responsibility for Self Begins at “Home”

by Eston on August 29, 2011

In my previous post, “I’m Not Just Whistling Dixie,” I posited the theory that not assuming responsibility for ones metaphors has serious implications for the state of  psychological well-being.  In this post I propose to present a prescription for taking on this responsibility.  “Home,” as the quotation marks are meant to indicate, lies in the mind of the individual.

LeninThe statement that follows has been variously attributed to Vladimir Lenin and to the Catholic Church:  “Give me your children until they are twelve years of age, and they will never depart from our teachings.”

I don’t know if Lenin or the Church ever made such a statement, and whether one of them (or both) did  is not for me a matter of pertinence.  What does matter, however, is the seemingly arbitrary selection of the age of twelve.

It is no coincidence, I believe, that this age is —or at least used to be before hormones became the panacea of choice to pig farmers—the typical  year for the  onset of puberty, the time when young people are mandated by the maturity of their reproductive organs to come to grips with their sexuality.

This quotation appears to me to be based on the conviction that if children  have been properly conditioned (by church or state)—brainwashing is a lot easier when brains are malleable!—then the odds of controlling behavior are a lot better. It is not, in my view, a state to be aimed for.

Whether or not this was the underlying motive of the quote, it is my contention that the onset of puberty marks the time when blossoming adults are mandated by nature to confront the issues of sexual identity and sexual choices.  It is also the ideal time to introduce them to the concept that self concept development is a personal responsibility.

While it would not be inappropriate  to introduce these concepts earlier, according to the philosophy of  Comparison Psychology—my proposed approach to balance in the world of mind—it is at this point of maturity that parents and teachers should begin teaching young people how to accept responsibility for their positive construction of self concept.

teen boyFurthermore, it is believed, parents should structure opportunities for their off-spring to make conscious choices as investments in feeling good about themselves, and they should accept the fact that conditioning a child’s behavior to suit their personal views of how people should live their lives is the ultimate act of selfishness and personal pride.

In this proposed approach to the psychology of self, parents would recognize and children would be told that building a positive self concept is their responsibility, and that their choices and performance levels are building blocks to self-sufficiency—a state of being that will determine character and the levels of success they will know as adults responsible for making their own way.

Allowing children to suffer the consequences of failure is the first law of parenting and an act, on their part,  of genuine love.  While it is permissible to ask, “What did you learn from this?  How did it contribute to your building a responsible sense of self?” it is not acceptable to be judgmental or to threaten consequences.  Sufficient unto the day is the self- punishment thereof.

Along with parents, teachers bear an awesome responsibility for self concept development.  Not only must they teach their subject matter—preferably without such punitive coercions as grades—but theirs is the responsibility for teaching real-world consequences. They are not the biological parents of the student—”love has nothing to do with it”—and their job is to educate, not cuddle.

Not only is the student’s mastery of subject matter conducive to a positive sense of self, failure to do so is a failed opportunity for self-enhancement.  A properly designed system of education would allow  students as many opportunities for subject mastery as their levels of ability require.  Artificial markers such as grades and grade levels would be abolished.  The goal, after all, is self-enhancement, not the application of standards meant to stamp the student as inferior in the eyes of self or peer.

I am one who favors year-round school—it is the height of foolishness to allow expensive facilities to languish empty and unused for three months out of a year!–but I would like to see one semester out of every year in high school dedicated to a self-esteem camp/ laboratory where students would be provided opportunities to make positive investments in their sense of self.  The opportunities could be adjusted to skill level, and students would learn at their own speed —with no tolerance for judgment or criticism—but failure to succeed would not be an option.

In addition to the opportunity for conscious self-enhancement provided by parents and school, the world is replete with opportunities for individual investment in the positive construction of self, and students should know that the choices they make are crucial.  Among their available choices are how they will choose to respond to the challenges of peer relationships, to choices about dress and illegal drugs, to decisions about sexual conduct,  birth control, choices (or non-choice) of religious beliefs, of personal values, and how one wishes to contribute to society, to ecology, to science and the arts.

They should know that the choices are theirs and the consequences real.  The opportunities are there; however, the will and know-how may not be.  That is role of responsible parenting and teaching.  Advice may be sought, but the right to choose is  inviolate, the consequences inevitably their own.

live consciouslySomeday the world will come to recognize that everything we perceive is metaphor—that we can fashion our self concepts reflexively—subject to the whims and vagaries of primitive survival urges and happenstance—or we can build them consciously, examining and controlling our motives, being—to steal a slogan— “all that we can be.”

We need not be slaves to impulse, and we owe it to our children—if not to ourselves—to grant them the freedom of responsible choices that empowers their personal freedom.  We are, whether we like it or not, the people we choose to be.

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Not Just Whistling Dixie

August 19, 2011

In my previous post I opined as how self concept has important ramification for survival in the realm of self.  I propose, now, to discuss some of these so-called ramifications. First, however, it might be useful to review some terms.  Survival, for instance, is the force that drives all creation.  The means by which it […]

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Self Concept as Metaphor

August 1, 2011

Self Concept as Metaphor The first metaphor was a flash in the pan of the initial cosmic universe that turned out to be of enormous importance.  Two randomly generated particles collided in that cooled-down stew, that afterbirth residuum of undirected chaos we call big bang, and, upon commingling, shouted out “A ha!” This marriage (this […]

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Metaphor: Hidden Motivators, Part II

July 28, 2011

Aristotle made a mistake when, in Poetics, he limited metaphor to rhetoric.  That he did so is understandable, given that Quantum Mechanics was yet over two thousand years away, but the fact is that limiting metaphor to language—as important and essential as human communication is—has blinded us to the fact that everything in nature is […]

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Metaphor : Hidden Motivators, Part I

July 26, 2011

Metaphor: Hidden Motivators Sigmund Freud generated terms like unconscious, id, and super ego to describe the hidden motives that drive humankind to wage war, to rape and kill, to burn and pillage, to love, to breed, to worship. Much of his terminology has been abandoned, but Freud’s contribution to the way we think about psychology […]

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