Education in its broadest sense: what do the stories told by young men from one foster home, tell us about their upbringing (Erziehung), with a single male foster carer?
Since the publication of the Curtis and Clyde Reports in 1946, academic discourse on parenting and approaches to raising children has been heavily influenced by psychological disciplines, such as developmental and behavioural psychology. More recently, psychological understandings are claimed to be bolstered by neuroscience. Within this ‘psychologization’ of parenting, attachment theory looms large. Emerging as a part of a critique on the dominance of the psychological paradigm, are philosophical perspectives on the relational aspects present in the everyday experiences shared between generations, in the wider process of upbringing. Developed through the work of German Social Pedagogue, Klaus Mollenhauer, ‘upbringing’ is a central concern of Social Pedagogy and reflects education in its broadest sense, through the passing on of values and beliefs between one generation and another. This study aimed to explore the experiences of young men brought up in one foster home and raised by myself as their foster carer. In order to achieve this aim, a narrative approach was taken to interview six of my twenty foster sons; and to explore the stories told by the young men, and what these stories tell us about their upbringing within a foster family. Findings are analysed, drawing on social pedagogical ideas and, in particular, the concept of upbringing. For the purposes of reporting, findings are structured around three key areas. Firstly, an exploration on the importance of the everyday in upbringing, through aspects such as humour, food, values and traditions, as perceived by the young men. The important part that sports, family pets and rites of passage play also emerged as important themes. The role that these various activities play in the development of our relationships (the young men and I), are reported in this section through another facet of social pedagogy, ‘the common third’, as shared activities and interests that are co-invested in by both parties. Second, is a focus on relationships and the significance of fluid and flexible relationships. Birth and foster family networks, as well as the professional relationships in their lives, such as with social workers and teachers, are discussed through the young men’s’ reflections on the people in their lives and the part they have played in their upbringing. The third and final area is an account of how the young men construct family. In this section perceptions of deficit norms associated with life in foster care are challenged. They are discussed through culture, as understood within social pedagogy and are used in their broadest sense to encapsulate our everyday lives, language and values. Primarily, and perhaps most importantly, this study contributes empirical knowledge to an otherwise largely theoretical literature on the mechanisms, processes and consequences associated with raising children in foster care and highlights the importance of a social perspective on this. The thesis offers first person accounts of life in foster care and posits the important perspective of everyday activity, flexible relationships and a lexicon that allows for discussions of a life in care that is not located in a deficit model. These three perspectives help to challenge the dominance of a psychological paradigm on attachments for young people in foster care. The thesis also presents a unique methodological perspective, where two of the key agents in an intergenerational relationship are also participant and researcher, as both foster sons and foster father.