Ellen Herman

Department of History, University of Oregon


Science: Conceptualizing Development
Reading and Discussion Questions

As you read, think about the practical implications of these different perspectives on development. What do they mean for parents, for schools, for policymakers, etc.?

Charles Darwin, “A Biographical Sketch of an Infant”

1. Darwin reached conclusions about development on the basis of observations of his own child. What do you think of this method? Does it have advantages? Disadvantages?

2. It was in the area of learning (“associated ideas”) that Darwin saw the greatest difference between “the mind of an infant and that of the cleverest full-grown dog”? What do you think of this comparison? How many of your ideas about development are based on contrasts between humans and non-human animals?

Sigmund Freud, “The Sexual Life of Human Beings”

1. Why do you think Freud begins this essay with a comment about the difficulty of knowing what exactly the term “sexual” covers?

2. What differentiates sexual “objects” from sexual “aims”?

3. What do you think is the point of the attention Freud gives to the horror his audience (and readers) must feel in encountering descriptions of human sexuality and sexual deviation?

4. “Unless we can understand these pathological forms of sexuality and can co-ordinate them with normal sexual life, we cannot understand normal sexuality either.” (307) Explain.

5. What role does the child play in Freud’s analysis of human sexuality? What kind of sexual life does Freud think children have? What does he mean when he writes, “perverse sexuality is nothing else than a magnified infantile sexuality split up in to its separate impulses” (311)?

6. Why does Freud suggest that it is “improbable, and indeed senseless” to consider puberty as the dawn of human sexual life?

7. On what basis does Freud make claims about children’s sexual experience and development? Compare the foundation of his views to Darwin’s.

8. What are “erotogenic zones”? What role do they play in children’s sexuality? What do they suggest about the difference between the bodily pleasures experienced by children and adults?

9. Does Freud think that girls and boys have different kinds of sexual curiosity? Why or why not?

10. Freud concludes that childhood sexuality is “perverse”? What does he mean by this? Do you agree?

John B. Watson, “How the Behaviorist Studies Infants and Children”

1. What is a “behaviorist”?

2. Watson rues the fact that parents do not recognize their job as a “profession.” What does he mean by that? Do you agree?

3. What approach does Watson take to studying infants and children? Why does he note that there has been enormous resistance to laboratory studies of infants and children? What methods does he use? What is he looking at and for?

4. What is “conditioning”?

5. Where does Watson stand on the nature/nurture question?

6. “There are no instincts.” (38) What does Watson mean by this? Contrast this to Freud’s view.

7. Why does Watson think a behaviorist approach to development is compatible with controlling the environment instead of being controlled by it? Why, in contrast, has the “doctrine of mystery” about childhood been harmful?

Arnold Gesell, “Growth Potency and Infant Personality”

1. Where does Gesell stand on the nature/nurture question? Compare to Watson and Freud.

2. Why does he prefer the terms “growth” or “maturation” to “development”? How does he characterize and describe it?

3. “Growth is constantly creating its own conditions.” (357) What does this mean? How would you describe a developmental process characterized in this way?

4. What does Gesell mean by “original growth potency”? What does he mean by “personality”? How are they different?

5. What is the relationship between individual growth and evolution?

6. Gesell describes the parent-child relationship as “a kind of psychobiological partnership.” (376) What does he mean?

7. Why does he conclude that a certain type of determinism in development is a good thing?

Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie P. Clark, “Emotional Factors in Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children”

1. What is the point of this study? What sort of experiment did the Clarks design and administer? What was the “coloring test”?

2. What is the significance of the distinction between racial identity and racial preference?

3. At what ages do the Carks conclude that children develop racial identities and preferences?

4. The Clarks were social psychologists. Based on what you have learned about their study, what do you think social psychology’s unique contribution to developmental theory might be? How does a “social” orientation differ from other perspectives on children and development?

Erik Erikson, “Eight Ages of Man”

1. How does Erikson’s developmental chronology differ from the others you have read?

2. What does it have in common with the other perspectives?

3. What are the eight stages? Why does each one feature a binary opposition, such as trust and mistrust?

Jerome Kagan, The Nature of the Child, chap. 7

1. What basic point does Kagan make about development in historical and cultural context?

2. What factors make recent American views of children, development, and family life distinctive?

3. Kagan points out a number of variations in contemporary child-rearing philosophy, styles, and goals. Give an example.

4. How does Kagan think that class influences parents’ childbearing goals as well as their interpretation of how children turn out?

5. What role does Kagan give to children in the process of development? Why does it matter? Do you think his call for more attention to how children themselves interpret development changes our understanding a lot, or just a little?