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The Career Development Process as Part of Human Growth and Development

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Most elementary school teachers have been exposed to a great amount of literature in the field of human growth and development. To the extent that these teachers have effectively mastered the substance of this field, they already know much about career development-e.g., that career development is a normal and expected part of human development for most individuals. As with other aspects of human growth and development, career development is not dependent upon any external force or program for its occurrence. Rather, it represents a personal growth pattern that can normally be expected to occur, in some way and to some degree, for most individuals in our society.

Whether career development is a proper concern of the elementary school will not be debated here ... for career development is an ongoing process in some manner and degree for most elementary school students. The degree to which elementary schools have been responsible for influencing this development-together with many other aspects of human growth-is the foremost topic of concern.

Certain basic truths regarding human development apply, whether they be in physical, emotional, intellectual, social, or career growth. Each of these truths holds action implications for those dedicated to the operation of programs designed to assist individuals toward optimal development in any of these areas. These truths must be kept clearly in mind by elementary school educators who seek to devise and implement programs of career development. The six following developmental features apply: maturation of the individual, heredity and environment, intellectual development, intervention strategies, remedial assistance, and deprivations that can retard or impede development.

  • Development occurs over the lifetime of an individual and can be described in maturational terms ranging from immaturity in the early years to full maturity in the adult years. The maturational process cannot be substantially shortened by any known intervention strategy, despite the socially desirable implications of such a concept. We do not expect to witness full vocational maturity by any elementary school student, nor do we expect the student to attain such maturity by the end of elementary school.  It would be as fruitless to set a goal of vocational maturity for the elementary school student as it would be to set a goal of physical maturity.
That we are always dealing with some degree of vocational immaturity in working with elementary school students makes vocational development procedures at this level no less important than at any other stage in life. Indeed, it makes them more important at this point than later in life, when basic parameters have already been established and are influencing the individual. If the school does not participate in the career development process, the process will nevertheless continue, but it will be less efficient and more subject to pure chance and to undesirable environmental influences.

As in other aspects of human development, traumatic changes at a certain stage in life may call for rather drastic reappraisal by the individual of those particular dynamics of his career development. Just as traumatic emotional experiences may cause adults to alter their total pattern of emotional development, so may the disappearance of opportunities to engage in a chosen occupation cause them to alter the pattern of their career development. In both instances, however, the early childhood experiences which characterize such development can make it either harder or easier for the person to make developmental adjustments needed in later life.

The total pattern of career development, as in the total pattern of human development, is expected to occur throughout one's lifetime. In the case of career development, this is clearly seen in the increasing numbers of retired workers who, after they retire, embark on what is a new career for them. Career development is truly a part of living itself, not something that ends at a particular point in time in the life of the individual.

In a maturational sense, vocational development differs from other forms of human development in that the process can be repeated more than once in the life of an individual. This is particularly true for the adult worker who, having seen a former occupation disappear because of technological change, must again go through the entire process of occupational choice, preparation, and implementation.
  • Individual development is influenced by heredity and by environmental factors. Major environmental factors affecting development in elude those of a physiological, psychological, sociological, educational, and economic nature. These kinds of factors, as they affect human growth and development, are subject to strategies of program intervention which, if carried out effectively by the home or school, can facilitate individual development. These fundamental truths of human development have many applications for career development.
Too many people for too many years have regarded career development from the perspective of an "accident" theory; they seemed content to operate as though "whatever will be." Systematic, planned programs, designed to facilitate physical, social, and intellectual development, have long been the prime inputs to the elementary school curricula . . . and there is no valid reason why the elementary school should not assume equal responsibility for positive intervention strategies designed to assist in career development.

Over the years, many elementary school teachers have influenced career development without consciously being aware that they did. An examination of the content in the elementary school reading books adds credence to this theory. Professional occupations are extolled, while skilled crafts and clerical occupations are barely touched upon (in comparison to the large numbers of people actually working in such occupations).

A study completed a few years ago found wide discrepancies between the frequency with which various occupations were mentioned in school readers and the frequency with which those occupations actually exist in the world of work. More recent research has pointed up the limited world shown to young girls through textbooks replete with stereotyped, feminine roles-nurse, schoolteacher, secretary, typist, housewife. If the elementary school has in truth been an unconscious contributor to the false notion that a college degree is the best and perhaps only route to occupational success, or that women are limited to a few service jobs, it can surely be a positive contributor to a more accurate and realistic picture of the actual world of work. Several studies have demonstrated a relative lack of frequency with which students make reasoned occupational choices before they enter school, possibly due in part to the relative lack of attention some pay to positive career development intervention strategies while the child is in the elementary school.
  • Career education assumes that if positive assistance can be given, students in career development, intellectual development will be enhanced. With the increasingly close relationships existing between education and work in the emerging postindustrial society, the above assumption appears to be gaining in credibility, though its validity has always existed. Because excessive deprivation in any single facet of human development can retard optimal development in all other facets (as will be discussed in more detail later), optimal human development programs should be comprehensive and complementary in nature and not limited to any single facet. We find that the basic principle of human growth and development forms a significant part of the rationale for career development activities in the elementary school, particularly in the relationship between career development and intellectual development.
No one who does not understand an economy which provides material support and labor markets which are the arbiters of productivity and achievement can understand the world in which he lives and the society of which he is a part. Emotional stability depends upon feelings of self-worth, and self-worth in turn upon productivity and achievement; even physical development is dependent upon emotional well-being. Elementary school teachers who place high priority on the intellectual development of their students can better attain these goals if they pay some attention to the principles of career development in their classroom activities.
  • Individual development can best be facilitated by intervention strategies that are begun in the very early years and are continued at greater and greater levels of sophistication throughout the lifecycle. Programs designed to operate only at certain points or at certain stages in the life of an individual are sure to have limited effectiveness. This principle has not been wholly recognized in American education through systematically planned career development programs that span human growth and development from childhood through adulthood. Too many parents and educators still assume that occupational choices will be made at some future magical point in time and that until that time appears, neither we nor our students should worry about such matters. (This assumption is diametrically opposed to the well-tested principle of human growth and development stated earlier. It is an assumption that should be universally discarded.)
Children who enter elementary school without having given thought to possible occupational choices are a rarity. These students' parents may have already considered, however fleetingly, occupations for their children and may have, at various times and in various ways, communicated such thoughts and aspirations to their offspring. The topic of future occupational choice is many times raised by relatives who unwittingly give support to preconceived occupational objectives by asking such questions as "Are you going to be a teacher [doctor, nurse, engineer] when you grow up?" or "Would you like to be an architect [dentist] like your uncle when you get big?" thus reinforcing the concept that a college education is the only path to an ideal career.
  • Since most elementary school students are in some way giving thought to occupational choices, the elementary school should seek to further the students' career development with a series of planned intervention strategies that would occur throughout the elementary school years. Without pressing children into permanent, premature choices, teachers and guidance counselors can familiarize themselves with situations wherein parents try to bind the child to an early tentative choice ("But you said you wanted to be a doctor, and we have let all our friends know about it. How can you let us down now by choosing to be a -?"). The child will probably change his mind innumerable times, but tentative choice has two advantages: (1) the goal provides motivation, and (2) decision-making skills are learned.
  • Intervention strategies designed to assist in normal maturational stages of human development are more likely to succeed than those designed to provide remedial assistance to individuals whose development has been damaged or retarded. Again, we find in this basic principle of human growth and development an essential part of the rationale for career education in general and career development in particular beginning in the elementary school.
A wide variety of federal manpower programs in the last decade have been designed to aid those youth and adults who are out of school, out of skills, out of jobs, and out of home. Seemingly massive efforts have been mounted to help such persons acquire personally meaningful sets of work values, marketable job skills, and actual employment. Many individuals have been helped to better employment and higher income, but the impact on the total problem has been minimal.  Only a small portion of this pool of unemployed persons with no readily marketable job skills can be accommodated in such programs. The remedial effort is necessary but can offer no long-run solution. Just as crime prevention cannot be accomplished simply by placing criminals in prison, successful career development cannot be accomplished simply by mounting remedial manpower programs for those out-of-school youths and adults who are experiencing difficulties in finding and holding jobs. In the long run, career development must be attacked on a longitudinal, developmental basis beginning in the home and in the elementary school.
  • Economic, social, physical, educational, or psychological deprivations can serve to retard or impede optimal individual career development. Because those who suffer from such deprivation will require special and intensive assistance, there can be no model career development program universally appropriate for all children. The problems of career development for the socioeconomically disadvantaged are huge and not yet well understood. However, we know enough to realize that special programs of career development must be devised and implemented for this portion of our total school population. Unless this is done, the gap between poverty and affluence-as expressed in earnings of employed adults-is likely to widen. Thus in career development, as in all other phases of human growth and development, the goal is not equality of opportunity for all children. Rather, what should be sought is equity for each child. Problems of equity vs. equality are bound to be very great in elementary school career development programs.
For example, a frequent career development practice for the elementary school centers around the study of common occupations in the immediate neighborhood. If that suggestion were followed in some inner city ghetto schools, the "common" occupations might well include that of drug pusher, prostitute, "hustler," and "numbers man," with few of the promising occupations presented to students in more affluent areas.

Another common suggestion for the elementary school is to encourage students to begin their study of the world of work by learning about their parents' occupations. In some situations, the most common occupation might well be that of welfare recipient. In schools serving such students, special efforts may be required, including the "living witness" approach (former students who have done well), the busing of students to places of employment outside the immediate neighborhood, and the "adoption" of the school by a prosperous business or industrial organization under arrangements where workers, on a one-to-one "buddy" basis, seek to help elementary school students acquire a positive view of work and a broader perspective of the real world of work. For these pupils, the added financial cost may well produce big dividends.
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