Learning Throughout Life: An Intergenerational Perspective
reviewed by Jackson Kytle - July 03, 2013
Title: Learning Throughout Life: An Intergenerational Perspective
Author(s): Robert D. Strom & Paris S. Strom
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623960460, Pages: 514, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com
If there is a book on lifespan human development of this reach and ambition, I have not seen it. The authors, Robert Strom and Paris Strom, a self-described father and son team, argue that human development is best addressed from an intergenerational perspective, thus building on Eriksons powerful concept of generativity, the obligation we have to help younger generations. Most of their chapters from infancy to old age use this lens to good effect where the focus is how to improve reciprocal learning within the family and among the generations. The authors imagine a longevity society where people of all ages learn, help each other learn, and live long lives. Theirs is an admirably ambitious project in two respects: first and most importantly, for its overarching theory of intergenerational development, and second, for the broad sweep of topics covered from parental internet obligations to teen risk behaviors to elder abuse.
Not easily content, the authors add a third context, the new challenges to families and to individual development in a digital society as captured, in part, by Sherry Turkle in Alone Together. They describe the new online playground where challenges come to parents in terms of ethics, attention span, cyber bullying, and the like. And the sensitive point is made that in this changed environs, adolescents can be the teachers of their parents (and school teachers), thus leveling authority somewhat in the family (and school).
This is, in effect, a handbook written to professionals working with students and families. Written to this audience rather than an academic one, some 494 pages cover about every topic of consequence in human development, too numerous to list. They organize the book into six age groups, each with developmental challenges: Infancy and early childhood (birth to 6); middle and later childhood (ages 6-10); adolescence (10-20); early adulthood (20-40); middle adulthood (40-60); and older adults (age 60 plus).
That so many topics are in play in one volume should be helpful for counselors and educators who can find a workable summary of every major topic in human development from childrens play to suicide among seniors. The authors reach, in this way, is more extensive than intensive where complex topics like meaning making and human consciousness, or biological topics like hormonal influences on adolescent development, could have received nuanced discussion and topics like vision and hearing, or international fertility rates, left out. At the same time, the authors help educators and counselors by covering current biological topics such as stress and cortisol levelin a new century, we educators are learning so much about internal biological dynamics underlying behavior as well as the study of mind.
So, Strom and Strom have written a practical book for educators. A jargon-free narrative with copious examples will be accessible to most readers and the authors have not ducked hot topics like sex education, or the cognitive challenges that present with age. The authors are passionate to provide the best thinking for topics, large and small. Abstruse theory qua theory that might appeal to scholars is less their purpose than offering advice and noting policy debates, both goals supported with current and classic sourcesmore than 500 by rough count. I was impressed with the range of citations from William James, Piaget and Erikson to contemporary scholars, some outside human development circles, such as Roy Baumeisters research on willpower and Antonio Damasios thinking on the neuropsychology of the emotions.
The authors anticipate their readers needs, organizing chapters to make them easy to use with students or clients. Each chapter has its summary as well as Applications for Teaching, which suggests that the book could be an undergraduate text for students in human development, or for adult students returning to college (many being parents themselves). Indeed, many chapters provide checklists and structured exercises such as the Parent Success Indicator instrument to stimulate conversation and engagement among seniors, parents and children, perhaps guided by a counselor.
Also, the advice on diverse topics like risk and substance abuse in adolescence, or managing stress in midlife, or coping with senior dementia, make sense to me or at least align with one readers experience and values. Still, the shoulds begin to add up. Perhaps because the focus is helping professionals working with students and families, not a few sentences have this moral tone. Many life choices or risks are messy intersections and some readers might prefer arguments that acknowledge dilemmas and tradeoffs. But that is not the book they have written. Most readers will use this book for its individual chapters rather than try to digest the entire corpus.
The Stroms discussion of the challenges of aging and old age, in particular, is sensitive to cognitive changes as well as to the challenges of relationships of seniors to their own children and their childrens children. One topic not covered is the nature of spirituality toward end of life and meaning making, in general, when people reflect on their lives, seeking reconciliation and closure.
Lastly, with a work of this size and complexity, readers might expect an index in the text or, that failing, on a website. Still, the prolific team of Strom and Stromthemselves intergenerational learnershave given educators and counselors a useful, readable compendium where the authors worthy purposes are, at every stage of life, to strengthen the human family as well as all individuals within.
Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York, NY: Basic Books.