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Posted November 20, 2003 


October 10-11, 2003 Conference
at Lake Oswego, Oregon
By Lon Woodbury

Linda Houghton and her Training Institute for Emotional Growth Education (TIEGE) hosted a two-day conference at Lake Oswego, Oregon on October 10-11, 2003. The history, scope and future of emotional growth education were discussed to determine: what it is, what it is not, and how it can be applied when working with teens who are struggling.

The highlight of the conference was a presentation by Houghton. She explained how the term emotional growth came from the CEDU schools as a description of part of the work they did with students in the 1980s. Based largely on the child growth and development model as explained by the author and psychiatrist Eric Erickson, she explained it as having some similarities with the extended families and one-room schoolhouse of yesteryear. Essentially, the emotional growth curriculum as developed by CEDU was designed to take the child back through all the normal developmental stages of childhood, to ensure that each child would have another chance to learn the lessons that might have been missed originally.

Houghton explained there are five basic components to emotional growth education as she sees it.

  1. Community - An emotional growth school must be treated as a community, with the faculty being the support system. The focus is on group processes, with a heavy emphasis on students helping each other to enhance their personal growth. The goal is a community with a positive peer culture.
  2. Self-Study - A central element to success in an emotional growth school is the process of self-study. Appropriate admissions is key to success, since even though all the students are having troubles and are struggling in their lives before coming there, they must be healthy enough to be capable of looking at themselves and how they are living their lives. Children with serious clinical problems who need intensive therapy will not respond well to this environment.
  3. Mentoring - There is a mentoring component. Not only do staff function largely as mentors, but also students who have been in the school longer are encouraged and trained to act as mentors to the newer students.
  4. Arts -It will have a strong arts program. The inability to express oneself is often one of the central problems among students who are suitable for an emotional growth school. Painting, sculpting, music and the other arts are excellent ways for students to learn how to begin to express what is locked up inside themselves.
    5) Student Leadership - The expectation to become a student leader is integral to an emotional growth school. Every student is given the opportunity to be a leader, and the school functions successfully as a community when experienced students take on important leadership roles.

Houghton explained it is very difficult to define or measure emotional growth. It is the opposite of the scientific approach that requires precise measurements and definitions, which exist in therapeutic institutions. This is because, according to Houghton, emotional growth education works with the whole child and there are aspects of human beings, such as the spiritual side, that cannot be defined or measured.

The conference started with a presentation and workshop by author John Lee, whose recent books include Growing Yourself Back Up, Facing the Fire: Experiencing and Expressing Anger Appropriately, and Courting a Woman’s Soul. He talked about regression, a frequently used psychological term, which he defines as feeling small and powerless, the way the person felt as a child. He sees regression occurring when a person gets in a situation that brings up some underlying rage. The rage is unexpressed anger that had been allowed to build because it wasn’t handled appropriately at the time it first occurred. As a result, it has turned to rage, causing a variety of behaviors that result in the person beginning to regress emotionally until feeling like a “little” person. In a sense, it is negative “emotional growth,” at least on a temporary basis.

The conference also featured a video of CEDU founder Mel Wasserman talking about the origins of CEDU and the development of their philosophy of education which became known as emotional growth.

The last part of the conference was devoted to more discussions and explanations of the participants’ perspectives about emotional growth. One observation was that the type of student most appropriate for an emotional growth school is the one who has had some early successes in life, but somehow got off track. These early successes give the staff something to work with when helping the student refocus on attaining maturity in the journey towards adulthood. Without those early successes, the prospective student would be considered marginal so far as whether the emotional growth curriculum would be effective.

Plans are already in the works for next year’s conference and will be announced once they are finalized.

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