The development of a child is influenced by his/her immediate community as well the social context at-large. Vice versa, the development of a community is affected by the experiences of its members in socio-historical context. The interconnected dimensions of these planes of development make it necessary to intertwine interventions at one level with the interventions at other levels in order to maximize impact and sustainability. In other words, programs and interventions at any level of development for a child are maximally effective if they account for most of a child's experiences across the various settings and communities in which s/he is involved.
Consideration of cultural-historical factors is critical to the development of effective programs because children develop in social context through their participation and engagement in activities, and equally important, the quality of these activities plays a key role in a childs socio-emotional development. Practices that undermine a childs culture, language, and/or identity may lead to academic problems as well as social problems in the community. Therefore, programmatic efforts that focus on the whole child in social context are critical not only for the development of a child but also for the development of a healthy community. From the Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) perspective, communities do not develop apart from the development of their members, nor do the children of a community develop irrespective of the community developing around them. Therefore, effective programs and interventions must be culturally compatible with the childrens cultural values, beliefs, and practices; it is through cultural activities that one comes to internalize values, beliefs, and roles for social and emotional development (Cole & Scribner, 1975; Kochanska, 1991; Rogoff, 1981; Rogoff, Mistry, Göncü, & Mosier, 1993; Rogoff, Sellers, Pirrotta, Fox, & White, 1975; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988; Trimble, 1987).
Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT)
The Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) approach emphasizes the foundational proposition of its founders, Vygotsky (1978) and Luria (1961), that the shared problem-solving activity of child and adult (across diverse social settings) is the primary framework for cognitive, social and cultural development (Barocas, Seifer, Sameroff, Andrews, Croft, & Ostrow, 1991; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988). When social tools are integrated with the tools of physical action (including school reform activities or community programs), the potential for full development of higher mental processes be reached. This is especially true for communities that have experienced oppression, discrimination, and/or colonization. The process of liberation begins with tangible activities such as reform efforts or community programs that have specific goals of physical liberation as well as mental liberation to choose a desired course of development for themselves as a community as well as for their children. Besides the family environment, schooling in general is one of the primary socializing forces in any given community. Therefore, schooling becomes an important point of leverage for action to bring about socializing activities that can empower a community and each of its members. For example, native communities have faced the challenge of a cultural mismatch between native communities goals and values and school curricula that impart the values of the colonizer. This has been problematic in many native communities as they struggle with issues of identity, self-worth and self-efficacy. Historically, native communities cognitive, social and emotional development have been measured in reference to what they dont have or in reference to what they seem to lack in comparison to western values. This is a deficit model of education and socialization that has had devastating effects on native people. This deficit model has served to undermine communities confidence, self-efficacy, and self-worth. This implicit message has a damaging effect on children as they mature and experience the mismatch between what they learn in school and their communities' values and beliefs. Therefore, children experience a great deal of confusion during the period of identity development. In many communities, this has led young people into self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism, drugs, and suicide.
Involving Multiple Interrelated Systems
The Center for Child and Community Development seeks to assist, develop, and implement programmatic efforts across these multiple systems and, at the same time, connect the systems in a way that will make them more meaningful to the communities and their children. A culturally meaningful approach can serve as a tool for empowering people as well as a tool for the development of an individual's positive social identity, self-worth, and self-efficacy. Cultural-historical research achieves these goals through the acknowledgement of the importance of cultural values, beliefs, and practices of diverse communities. Therefore, connecting and contextualizing program efforts are key components in the healthy development of each child, community and society. The work by psychologist Bronfenbrenner (1986) exemplifies a model of child development that is embedded in the context of the community at different but inter-connecting levels of cognitive, social, and emotional development. This approach allows for the inclusion of family, community, and other socializing entities for the development of effective programs. This approach also points out that child development does not occur in a vacuum; therefore, the analysis and study of effective program efforts needs to consider the multiple levels in which the child is a participant directly or indirectly.
The Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) approach provides a comprehensive perspective for the study of processes and outcomes for culturally meaningful programs. Vygotsky (1978) and Rogoff (1995) provide a model for socio-cultural studies. Recent CHAT work has treated the ways in which social interactions are embedded in larger units of communities and cultures. Adult interactions with children, in the processes of socialization and fostering development, exist within a context of repertoires and values that are shared and strengthened by the communities in which the activities occur. For example, Rogoff (1995) suggested that human phenomena can be understood as occurring on three planes: (a) individual-psychological, (b) social-interactional, and (c) community-institutional. Or rather, the planes are perspectives that one may take in analyzing the unity of psychological-social-community of which all human events are constituted. This holistic and comprehensive explanation of the development of the dimensions of community values, beliefs, and opinions provides the philosophical underpinnings of the Center's research and programmatic efforts.
The figure above represents a Cultural-Historical Activity Theory conceptual framework. Children's cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical development is unquestionably influenced by social, economic, cultural-historical, and community-level factors and the ecological context in which children grow up. There has been much progress in the field of education in applying developmental psychology and community psychology to issues concerning the components of program effectiveness. However, there is still significant work to be done. In general, there is a need to understand multiple outcomes of child development (cognitive, physical, social, academic, and emotional) within the context of multiple factors (social, economic, and cultural, and community situated) and to understand how these factors interact across levels of family, community, and schooling across socio-cultural settings.