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New & Views - Apr, 1992 Issue 

By Robin C. Harris, Co-Director
(707) 895-2613

A common denominator among ... students is their need for structure, for guidelines and clearly-set limits, for a sense of order in their lives. It is an essential ingredient in a program.... So why ... [does] structure [often] appear to take a back seat to creativity, self-expression, adventure and the need to explore life? The answer has to do with [the] definition of structure, the way in which it is implemented, and whether or not it is visible to the casual observer. The lack of structure is as abhorrent to children as it is to us. When we remove the guidelines, they question our integrity. To take away structure is to invite disorganization and anarchy. Children want structure; most fall apart without it....

What is structure? Is it discipline? Is it rules, regulations and limits? Is it routine or regimentation? Although there is some relationship among these terms, none of them is synonymous with structure .... Structure is an abstract. It is because so many people confuse it with the regimentation found in a military setting that we find communication on the subject difficult. While regimentation is structure, not all structure is regimentation. Structure implies organization, planning and communication so that everyone within a group understands the rules, guidelines and limits necessary for that group, as well as the reasons behind them, and what happens when they are not followed. Structure is evident when young people know what is expected of them, and when adults have established an environment in which these expectations are reasonable and clear, and when help is provided for students to operate within the framework of the group. Structure implies routing in some areas; but it must not be confused with authoritarian regimentation and lock-step living. It is not structure which interferes with the learning process, creativity and the job of living, as some would have us believe. Those processes are thwarted by authoritarianism and fear. Creativity, self-expression and the freedom to explore and discover can all take place within a structured setting.

The secret lies in our ability to provide what we call "freedom within a framework' where children operate within an environment which is free of tension and fear, but with full knowledge and appreciation of the limits within which their freedom is allowed. True structure, properly implemented, should be virtually invisible.

Copyright 1992, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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