Psychoanalytic understanding of the educational process forms the background of this study of 'the child's spontaneous endeavor to come nearer to adult status and standards'.
A distinction is drawn between the philosophy of progressive education ('all pressure should be removed from the young child') and the orientation of the psychoanalytic educator, who 'is lenient in order to win as his ally the full force of the child's own wish to grow up'. Too much of the child's energy is ordinarily expended in fighting the adult but overindulgence is not the only alternative to a severe suppressive educational attitude. Understanding of what the child is trying to do enables the adult to reduce progressively the external pressures on that child, and enables the educator to release the child's energies for more constructive growth and behavior.
For example, one sees the practical value of such understanding in the case of the tattler. Some children tattle out of resentment, when another child is 'getting away with' activities which have been forbidden the tattler. Another tattler may be strongly tempted to engage in some forbidden activity and his tattling means: 'I don't want to be bad like Johnny; help me to be good like you' (teacher or parent). A third motive may be found in the projection of one's own guilt on to the other fellow, with vicarious relief when the offender is punished or stopped. Still another motivation may be the child's desire to find out if the behavior in question is really bad and the tattling then represents a special way of asking a question. The child who fears temptation tattles because he fears the strength of his id; the child who tattles to gain relief from his guilt feeling is moved by his superego. If the tattling is motivated by identification with the teacher, the ego is the propelling force.
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Under these conditions, benevolently ignoring the tattler fails to meet his needs, fails to provide him with the relief or help he seeks in his tattling. The tattler is much more concerned about his own relationship to right and wrong than he is about the behavior or misbehavior of his playmates. One finds relief if one can impose on others the restraints one has to undergo one's self. This is typified by some members of 'Alcoholics Anonymous' who must play an active part in preventing others from drinking.
Tattling often signifies that the standards at home or at school are too high and the child, caught between what is allowed and what he feels he must do, is thrown into a state of tension from which he may find relief in tattling.
Similar analytic understanding is applied to the question of school room segregation according to age. The weight of evidence indicates the desirability of a wider age range in a given class than is currently the practice in most schools. Aggressive hostile competition seems to be increased when the age of the group members is close. When there is a wider age spread in a given group, competition and aggression can be replaced by protectiveness towards the younger members, while the younger members can identify better, and consequently learn more, from the older children.
The behavior of siblings in the same school revealed a surprisingly protective attitude of the older towards the younger. This was at times in sharp contrast to the acute rivalry the same children displayed towards each other when at home. The explanation may lie in the greater ease with which the older siblings are able to identify themselves with the absent parent than with one who is in the next room. It may be that the absence of the parent (when the children are at school) provides a stronger incentive to do what would please the parent. At home the child is afraid of the parent, who imposes restrictions and may inflict punishment, but at school longing for the absent parent may strengthen the commands of the superego. Peller points out that in general, in societies in which the relationship of mother and child is less close, there seems to be far less sibling rivalry.