Research Document 15

The following document was filed by J.S. Cambry (ABD), bioethics student on February 7, 2423

From Observations on the Social Structures of Captive Subgroup B Communities

Behavior and Society, Aug. 2404; 44(3): 76-90

Trena Helmi
Department of Sociology, Hartridge University

Oliver Avihu
Department of Psychology, Eastdell College

Erik Byron
Senior Research Fellow, James-WorldEducate Research Institute

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This study was conducted to explore the formation of a captive Subgroup B community in order to create a more functional environment for the children within the WorldEducate system. We observed a group of 13 children from ages 8 to 12 over a three month period. Our observations focused only on the children’s interactions with each other since the presence of the trainer authority figure altered the children’s adopted roles within their community. We hypothesized that certain roles, specifically the comforter and disciplinarian, would arise naturally due to the children’s desire for stability. Our results bore out our hypothesis: these two roles were inhabited within a week of the community’s establishment. However, while we believed that these two roles would complement each other, in practice, we found that these roles precipitated the split of the group into two factions. These findings reveal that some intervention may be necessary in order to ensure that the community does not descend into complete dysfunction which could lead to the endangerment of the children or of their trainers.

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The present study examined the formation and composition of a captive Subgroup B community by observing a group of 12 children from ages 8 to 12 over a three month period. All of the children arrived at the WorldEducate facility in Charlotte within the same nine day period, and all of the children were subject to the same initial tests and procedures upon arrival at the facility. No special treatment was conferred upon any child by trainers or staff. No trainer, staff member, or researcher interfered with the formation of this group, though staff member and trainer observations were crucial in understanding the group’s dynamics. Observations of the children focused primarily on their actions in the living quarters. Cameras allowed us to observe and record behavior without being perceived by the subjects.

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After observing the children one week, clear roles began to emerge. One contributing factor to the speed of this community’s formation was the similarity in the dialects of the children. All of these children were obtained from the same geographical area which facilitated communication and allowed for the rapid development of community roles. While the comforter and disciplinarian figures do not always adhere to particular genders, in this group Male B assumed the role of disciplinarian, and Female C assumed the role of comforter.

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As the largest and oldest of the children, establishing authority proved easy for Male B. Once he gained full control over the group, any child who disputed his authority—deliberately or not—was quickly punished. These punishments were never meted out without reason. This proved to be instrumental in the maintenance of Male B’s authority and revealed his intrinsic understanding of the other children in his community.

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The punishment/reward system instituted by Male B was uncomplicated given the limitations of the environment. The children were rewarded by obtaining closer proximity to Male B within the sleeping quarters and in the dining room. The punishments were connected to food and, occasionally, to physical aggression. When a child misbehaved, Male B would eat and ruin his food (i.e. knocking it on the floor, stomping on it, chewing it up and spitting it out, smashing it into the child’s face or hair) or physically intimidate the child (i.e. grabbing and twisting arms, slapping in the face or head).

This punishment/reward system wasn’t the only means of control. The children also unintentionally policed themselves through physical violence. At the end of every day, the children gathered in the activity room for sanctioned fights where they worked out their resentments against each other. These daily fights kept the children focused on their own small grudges and prevented them from becoming too focused on the one individual who could be viewed as their common enemy: Male B.

RD 15.16Male B’s actions and decisions almost exactly mirrored those of the prototypical disciplinarian, and, in many ways, Female C’s behaviors also aligned with those of the prototypical comforter. She ensured that new arrivals understood the rules and regulations of the community and she protected them when they made unintentional mistakes. But unlike the typical comforter, Female C never yielded full authority to Male B, often pushing back against his treatment of the other children—though her actions proved ineffectual in preventing punishment.

Still, her opposition proved significant in one respect: she allowed the other children the RD 15.17opportunity for limited rebellion. Male B stopped attempting to control the behavior of Female C early in the community’s life, tolerating behaviors from her that would have earned punishment for the other children. The other children recognized the relative freedom she enjoyed, so while in her presence, some of the children hazarded small challenges to Male B’s authority. The few children who went a step further and challenged Male B outside Female C’s immediate presence experienced swift and immediate punishment, thereby preventing the spread of these minor rebellions.

RD 15.18While Male B was successful in preventing an uprising among the children, he was not able to prevent the establishment of divisions within the community. One cluster of children, mostly boys, associated with Male B. The other cluster, mostly girls, associated with Female C. These divisions did not affect the behavior of the children—although, as previously mentioned, the children associated with Female C were more likely to engage in some rebellious behavior. Instead, the divisions were most apparent in the physical spaces occupied by the children. The sleeping quarters and dining table were divided almost down the middle with the girls occupying one side and the boys the other.

RD 15.19While these physical divisions has not yet lead to a questioning of Male B’s authority, it remains highly likely that serious, and perhaps violent, opposition, relating to these factions, will be attempted at some point in the future. Therefore, it is our recommendation that WorldEducate trainers and staff make the following changes to the living environment of the Subgroup B children housed at their facility:

First, the children should be separated into gendered groups. Having a large community of children of all ages and genders housed together creates an unpredictable, uncontrollable, and often hostile environment. This type of environment is not only damaging for the children, but it could also lead to endangerment of the trainers as the behaviors learned and reinforced in the living environment will appear in other settings. For this group, we recommend separating the boys from the girls because this division appears to be natural and clear reflection of the children’s desires which should reduce or eliminate the more egregious actions we witnessed in our three month observation.

RD 15.20Second, these gendered groups should be further divided so that each child is only living with three to four other children of his own age. Creating this type of group will prevent any one child from having a size or strength advantage over the others and, thus, will help build a more egalitarian community. This grouping will also reduce the amount of stress the children have been experiencing.

Finally, the children need to be provided further stimulation. When left on their own, the children resorted to undesirable behaviors because their living quarters lacked any games, toys, or other stimuli to keep them entertained and occupied. Games could be used to help reinforce the behaviors trainers are attempting to teach the children while in training sessions. However, since WorldEducate is also invested in the mental development of their charges, we highly recommend the use of other games that will allow the children to learn and develop as they would have in their home sites. Tactile or kinesthetic learning should be utilized whenever possible.

By applying these recommendations, we feel that WorldEducate can create a safer and more positive living environment for the children in their care. Developing these environments will not only produce happier children but will also ensure the safety of those who interact with the children on a daily basis.

Previous Chapter:  The Routine

Next Chapter:  Research Document 16


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