Teaching the Foundations of Social Decision Making and Problem Solving in the Elementary School
Maurice J. Elias Leslie R. Branden-Muller Michael A. Sayette Rutgers University
Researchers and clinicians have shown that diverse problems experienced by some adolescents, such as substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, delinquency, suicide and depression, and school failure and drop out, are associated with deficits in social decision making and problem solving ( Asarnow, Carlson, & Guthrie, 1987; Benard, Fafoglia, & Perone, 1987; Flaherty, Marecek, Olsen, & Wilcove, 1983; Freedman, Donahoe, Rosenthal, Schlundt, & McFall , 1978; Kalafat & Underwood, 1989). With this realization has come an increased emphasis on improving clients' problem solving as a goal of clinical treatment (e.g., D'Zurilla, 1988; Haley, 1976; Kazdin, Esveldt-Dawson, French, & Unis, 1987; Rotter, 1978). There is also a broader trend toward developing individuals' so-called "critical thinking skills," reflected in the dramatic growth of curriculum-based and other approaches to "teaching thinking" in the schools and in the return of notions like "practical (or social) intelligence," that is, the importance of one's ability to solve problems and make decisions in everyday life contexts ( Marzano, Brandt, Hughes, Jones, Presseisen, Rankin, & Suhor, 1988; Sternberg & Wagner, 1986).
From our perspective, these relatively recent developments are both timely and long overdue. We view social decision making and problem solving as a distinctly human characteristic. Its cultivation in children is a developmental right, which means to us that it is necessary to incorporate the goal of improving social decision making into the mainstream of educational practice (and therefore into the training of teachers and educational administrators--cf. a fuller discussion in a special issue of the Journal ofSchool Health