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Human development refers to the ways that people change systematically over timephysically, cognitively,

morally, socially, and emotionallyas a result of biological and environmental influences (Lerner, 1998; Santrock, 2002). Current theories of human development are focused more on processes than on content or products. They have several assumptions in common (Lerner, 1998): 1. Development means systematic change over the lifespan and plasticity in that process. 2. Change is systemic, that is, multiple levels of organization are integrated in the development process (from individual cellular biology to social groups [family, peers, etc.], culture, and history). 3. All levels of organization are situated in a historical context, and history continues to change (so development or how it is perceived can change, e.g., conceptions of adolescence). 4. All development occurs within particular individuals as well as social, cultural, and historical contexts. Generalizations about development are therefore very limited.

DEVELOPMENT IS NEITHER RANDOM NOR FIXED


Development is systematic in the sense that new skills and understanding are built on old ones and capabilities in all domains become more complex over time (Bruner, 1983, regarding language). However, development is plastic, meaning that all along the way it can be influenced by internal mental activity (the person herself) and external activity (environmental input, including that of teachers, peers, parents, and so forth).

A DYNAMIC, RELATIONAL VIEW OF DEVELOPMENT MAKES SENSE


According to many theorists, heredity and environment are in such dynamic relation to each other that arguments about how much nature versus nurture contributes to development are meaningless. These two elements are more than interactive: They are effectively fused (Lerner, 1986; Tobach & Greenberg, 1984). It is therefore a mistake to think one can evaluate them independently of each other.

ALL LEVELS (FROM CELL TO SOCIETY) FORM THE CONTEXT FOR DEVELOPMENT
[I]ndividual development involves the emergence of new structural and functional properties and competencies at all levels of analysis (e.g., molecular, subcellular, cellular, organismic) of a developmental system, including the organismenvironment relational level (Lerner, 1998, p. 5, synthesizing Gottlieb, 1992). Development is caused by the relationships among these elements in a larger context that includes many layers of social organization, from family through institutions in the wider society, such as schools and government (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). To understand an individuals development, one must consider the relations among all of these levels. Educators may not need to consider a students molecular life (though some developmental issues involve a persons chemistry), but they do need to understand the student as developing within his or her family, community, and other social contexts.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED


We are all products, in some way, of our personal and group histories. The history of an ethnic or cultural group (or gender or religion, for that matter) is the foundation for its current functioning within a particular larger society.

GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT HUMAN DEVELOPMENT ARE RISKY


Because of all of the variability in human development, attempts to create a universal description of its course are fraught with false steps. Even the most basic aspect of development, physical growth, takes place in relation to environmental factors such as access to nutrition and medicine. As mentioned, schemes of development that purport to be universal have been repeatedly thrown into question by research showing the relativity of all aspects of development to context (see, e.g., Bruner, Olver, & Greenfi eld, 1966; Cole, 2002; Rogoff, 2003). Accordingly, contemporary theories focus on diversityof people, of relations, of settings, and of times of measurement (Lerner, 1998, p. 13). Source: Trumbull, E. and Pacheco, M. (2005). Human development, culture, and cognition. Providence, RI: Brown University.