SRV in the News: “Reading, Writing and Retirement”

Recently, an article in the Toronto daily, the Globe and Mail caught my attention. “Reading, writing and retirement” reports on a program in a nursing home in British Columbia where a Kindergarten class takes place twice a week in the common room. The article presents a glowing report of the program and claims that similar programs elsewhere have helped to increase student’s standardized test scores, while at the same time lowering medication rates among nursing home residents.

As a student of SRV, this program set off several alarm bells. While the intentions of the parties involved certainly seem admirable, especially their attempt bring together younger and older generations, both the heightened vulnerability of the elderly and the image cost incurred by the elderly in such a program, seem to point to unintended negative consequences for the residents of the nursing home.

Since the early 1970s, Normalization and later, SRV theory, has pointed out that the elderly are at risk of being seen as “eternal children” or in their second childhood (see Wolfensberger, 1972 and Wolfensberger, 1998). Placing a kindergarten class in a nursing home unfortunately reinforces these stereotypes. As I commented upon in an earlier posting, the elderly are severely devalued in our culture and therefore face a heightened risk of being susceptible to damaging stereotypes. As Wolfensberger has pointed out, those who are viewed as eternal children or as in their second childhood will be seen as having limited potential for growth and change. Grouping elderly people with children, in programs and activities that we would normally see as age-inappropriate, only increases the chances that people will believe the above stereotypes.

The development of a program such as this raises several questions. For example, if a Kindergarten class can have success in a nursing home, why not develop a program based around a university or college level class? Conducting a philosophy or history class in a senior’s residence would be much more age-appropriate. Secondly, why hold a class in a nursing home at all? This violates the principle of what we call in SRV “culture-appropriate separation of life functions”. In terms of image, a program that arranged for seniors to take classes in universities and colleges in the wider community would likely be the most enhancing option.

See this link for a brief video about the program.

Click here for an article on SRV and aging from the 2003 International Social Role Valorization Conference in Calgary.

Posted on January 3, 2012 at 7:52 pm by stevetiff · Permalink
In: Uncategorized · Tagged with: , , , , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Paula Davenport
    on January 6, 2012 at 9:45 am
    Reply · Permalink

    I think that linking groups of people for activities often has risks to both people with heightened vulnerability (in this case elderly people) and also the others involved. What future role of an elderly person is being role modeled for the kindergarten students? So many adults are already socialized to the model of congregate living (so they are not a burden) and the sick role. This program presents a strong (and negative) model to very young people about what their own future “should look like.” When I was young there were many parent and community volunteers in elementary schools. Would another alternative be to have elders volunteer in a kindergarten class? And, for those for whom it would be best to have children come to them where they live, isn’t the CVA a grandparent or neighbor helping a child with homework? This is just my perspective. It is always so risky to congregate and segregate vulnerable people.

  2. Written by Kirsten H.
    on April 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    I agree and find this idea very troubling. In my course with Dr. Neuville, we have spent a great deal of time discussing social devaluation, especially that of the elderly in our society. Many view the elderly as people in their “second childhood” as is stated in this post. The elderly are already devalued, and to have them spend time around young children in their living community is even more devaluing. Although the young children may bring joy to the residents in the home, I think the damaging effects to the elderly outweigh this joy. Also, this gives the children the idea that these elderly residents are on their level and are somewhat childlike. This is a false representation of the elderly, even though many people wrongly believe that. This program also gives the children a false image of the entire population of elderly human beings which could even affect how these children view and interact with their own grandparents. I recently completed my field experience at an elementary school which had volunteer foster “Grandmas” come in to help throughout the school day. I think this is a good way to bring the two separate age groups together. Also, for elderly residents at a home that are unable to do something like this, I think there are other ways for them to be around and experience the youthfulness of young, elementary-aged children and still get the same benefits as described for this program. I recently volunteered at a retirement community and they occasionally took some residents on a bus trip for a little time during the day. Retirement communities could take bus trips like this to an elementary school to see a play or show that the children put on. I think these ideas would be a much more appropriate and less damaging way to bring unite the two age groups without socially devaluing the elderly even more than they already are in society.

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