This is an approach to restructuring the governance and practices of individual schools, initiated by psychologist James Comer in the mid-1970s. This approach hinges on Comer’s theory of how children develop and learn, and the reasons that disadvantaged, minority children do not learn in schools.
Comer believes that children follow a developmental continuum. They are born, totally dependent, into a family that is part of a social network with beliefs, attitudes, activities, and lifestyles. Parents become mediators who tell children what is important. Children gradually learn to manage their feelings and impulses, in essence, to control themselves. Development occurs in speech and language, cognition, intellectual and academic understanding, and moral, psychological, and social dimensions. To learn, children must imitate and identify with authority figures, in other words, internalize attitudes and values by relating emotionally to others.
When children come to school prepared to learn in that school’s style, due to how they have fared in the developmental continuum, they are perceived as “good.” When they do not, they are often perceived as “bad.” For this reason, Corner attests individual schools must support further developmental growth.
When the Comer process is introduced into a school, it usually involves the following elements:
- Changed School Governance–Parents, community members, teachers, administrators, and school staff collaborate in making key educational decisions.
- Creation of a Social Skills Curriculum–Schools need developmental programs for young children who do not learn certain types of skills at home. Typically, a social skills curriculum covers politics and government, business and economics, health and nutrition, and spiritual and leisure activities.
- Adoption of a Developmental Perspective Toward Children and Their Learning–This perspective incorporates three beliefs:
1. All children are capable of learning.
2. Learning is best achieved through the collaborative participation of all involved adults.
3. Students enter school at different points along a developmental continuum.