Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Youth and Caring: An Introduction

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Youth and Caring: An Introduction

Article excerpt

It is becoming more widely acknowledged that a sense of caring is a crucial element of programs and institutions that are successful in working with young people. Mr. Chaskin and Ms. Rauner, guest editors of this special section, address the implications of this realization.

This special section of the Kappan explores "caring" as an identifiable factor in young people's environments and in their relationships with others. Looking at caring in these contexts highlights the importance of interactions and relationships in the development of the young. The effect of the teacher/student relationship is often overlooked in public debates about school reform and improvement. Likewise, the emotional needs of children are often left out of discussions about how to improve student performance. Yet, as many of the articles that follow demonstrate, caring interactions between teachers, students, and parents often make the difference between positive school experiences and frustration or alienation.

The concept of caring has strong currency in everyday life, but it has been less widely explored in educational and social science research. The first concentrated effort focusing on caring as a field of inquiry began five years ago, when the Lilly Endowment launched the Research Program on Youth and Caring, carried out through the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago. The Lilly Endowment provided small grants for research projects that would begin to investigate issues relating to the concept of caring. The program was meant to be interdisciplinary and exploratory, and it consciously maintained an experimental stance as it investigated the usefulness of the construct of caring for guiding research and informing practice.

In launching the program, the Lilly Endowment sought a kind of theoretical anchor for its grant-making and for the work of practitioners and policy makers who were confronting youth issues. From the beginning, this connection of theory to policy and practice was seen as critical. Indeed, it was the experience of practice that provided the impetus for the project.

The identification of "caring" as the conceptual foundation for a program of research grants grew out of the developing awareness that there was something - a sentiment, a world view - that served to inform and guide people, programs, and institutions that were successful in working with youth. In studying successful schools and after-school programs, it became clear that an ever-present variable, recognized in some way by both young people and providers (teachers, counselors, administrators, and so on), was a sense of caring. Social control in these environments - both in the sense of adherence to formal rules and in the sense of a general respect for others and for the institution or program - was facilitated by a mutual perception of support and interest. Thus, from both personal experience in the field and from what seemed inherent in the institutions involved, the concept of caring became an object of study, and research choices were made with the needs of practice always in mind.

As the notion of the importance of caring gained currency, the Research Program on Youth and Caring sought to map out the possibilities for a new field of inquiry that would guide research on the development of young people, both as individuals and within the social contexts of family, school, community, and society. The intention was to increase understanding, improve practice, and guide policy on developing responsive environments and useful interventions for young people, as well as to foster positive behaviors, attitudes, and practices.

The Search for a Positive Vocabulary

But what is caring? To the academic ear, the word itself seems soft, lacking in precision and without boundaries, and therefore not a very useful guide for investigation, let alone for policy making or for directing practice. However, caring as a concept has value that stems both from its generality - the scope of its meaning - and from its accessibility. …

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