Hard and Soft Individualism: Is One Better Than The Other?

By Alisha Parikh, SED ‘17

Compare the two statements, “Sit down, get your books out, and start working.” and “I love seeing how wonderful all of your work has been, why don’t we put some of your work up on the walls?” These two phrases are a glimpse into a long held debate about the style of teaching that is best for students, particularly those in primary education. Is there one particular type of teacher that is better for the developing and enhancing students’ learning at early ages? Can one style of teaching be diminishing to a child’s natural love of learning? The answers to these questions have varied and have led to different interpretations and beliefs from educators and researchers. In my AN290: Children and Culture class, we discussed specifically two different types of teachers: those who promote Hard Individualism, and those who promote Soft Individualism.

Teachers who lean toward the hard individualism style of teaching are often seen as more strict, commanding, and disciplining with their students than other teachers. No doubt, these teachers instill a sense of discipline in their students, a critical aspect of learning. The students in this type of classroom environment gradually learn to not be overly – sensitive and learn to take criticism in a constructive way. Lessons such as these are important in the classroom, and can greatly influence a student’s efficiency and productivity in learning. However, some fear that this particular style of teaching may diminish the natural curiosity and love for learning that young children have. With constant commands and little room for sensitivity, children may over time come to keep their questions and expressiveness within themselves. In turn, this could negatively affect a child’s learning and capabilities in the classroom.

In contrast to teachers who favor the hard individualism style, other teachers lean toward a soft individualism style of teaching. These teachers lean toward encouraging children to express themselves, and to foster their natural curiosity. A common representation of this style of teaching is displaying children’s work on the walls, as a way of appreciating the students’ work and boosting their self-esteems. In turn, these students come to learn that questions can foster their learning process, and that experimentation and discovery are essential aspects of learning in the classroom. On the other side, some individuals criticize such teachers for being “too soft.” They say that students who are taught by such teachers may become overly – sensitive to criticism, and not be able to appropriately manage failures or challenges.

Considering both sides then, as emerging teachers it is critical for us to acknowledge the advantages and disadvantages of each of these teaching styles. Many say that for younger children, because learning is still much about the whole child and personal development rather than an academic focus, the concept of soft individualism is better to bring to the classroom. As children grow older and the academic work becomes more challenging and a greater focus, the concept of hard individualism is more appropriate so that students can learn how to grow from criticism and discipline. But in all, every teacher is unique and brings a different personality to the classroom. There is not one right or wrong method, the answer lies in what is most appropriate based on the teacher’s beliefs about what is best for his or her students and what style will bring out the best achievement and potential based on each child’s individual style of learning.

*Alisha Parikh is a first year student at Boston University School of Education studying early childhood education.

One Comment

Alexandre Ber posted on December 7, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Hello.This post was extremely motivating, particularly since I was looking for thoughts on this subject last week.

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