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Into the Wild world of Hitler and Attachment Theory.

Christopher McCandless devant son Image via Wikipedia

Adolf Hitler’s father whipped him as a boy. His parents died (separately) when he was in his teens. He spent some years drifting, fought in WWI, and eventually became the monster we have all learned about.

Chris McCandless’ parents argued and fought when he was a child. Their lies about how they met, about the circumstances of Chris’ and his sister’s birth drove him, after university, to leave his savings to charity and eventually end up in Alaska. Trying to live apart from society in the wilderness, he died and his story was made into the film Into the Wild (which I watched this evening).

Both Adolf Hitler and Chris McCandless could be said to suffering from a lack of emotional attachment to parental figures. This led to tragic consequences in both cases. As an educator, I see pupils who show tendencies, perhaps not on the same scale, but certainly on the spectrum certainly as McCandless. This is why I was fascinated to come across Don Ledingham’s recent blog post on Attachment Theory.

It was a real eye-opener. I know I’m only four years into my teaching career, but there tends to be ‘nothing new under the sun’ after a while. The same-old, same-old keeps getting churned out and repackaged. What I read about Attachment Theory, however, really made me think. Schools can be discriminatory places, sometimes indirectly. Take, for example, the wildly different parenting experiences two pupils in the same class could have. Believing that we, as teachers, can modify a pupil’s behaviour simply through rewards and sanctions seems somewhat misguided in this light. Here’s Don’s gloss on it:

However, Attachment Theory suggests that such a model cannot influence a child who has not experienced secure parenting, nor formed a secure relationship in their early years. If we reflect upon what adults are doing with children under 3 we can characterise good parenting as being caring and empathetic. Recent brain research shows that the brain does not develop the same in an environment where the child has not experienced a secure parenting environment. So such things as neglect and abuse; overt family conflict; hostile and rejecting relationships; or death and loss can all disrupt the normal secure attachment that a child requires to properly develop.

By the time such children come to school they are not in a position to understand or control their behavour so the dominant behavioural models which most schools and classrooms depend upon are doomed to failure, as they assume that all children are the same and that they have had the same parenting and don’t make allowances for those that haven’t.

We need to educate the whole child. We need to teach young people with reference to their norms and the context in which they have been brought up and operate. I’m going to be looking for more on Attachment Theory. I think it’s got a lot to say to educators.

What do you think?

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