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Department of Psychology & Counseling
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA 31698
(229) 333-5930 (office)
(229) 259-5576 (fax)
This paper provides an overview of the Brilliant Star model of human growth and development. The background for the need to develop a comprehensive model is offered as well as a description of the model’s ten domains and two core elements. The Brilliant Star model is a systems-based, ecological model that proposes a need to identify the knowledge, attitudes, and skills required for successful adulthood as well as the important contextual factors that influence an individual’s development.
Dr. Huitt is a Professor at Valdosta State University. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and an M.Ed. in Business Education from the University of Florida, and a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of South Alabama. He has teaching experience at the middle school, high school, technical school, community college and university levels. He and his wife, Marsha, spent two years in the Peace Corps in Truk (Chuuk) District, Micronesia, and three years on the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona. His professional experience also includes three years as a research associate with Research for Better Schools, a federally-funded regional research and development laboratory specializing in educational improvement.
Dr. Huitt’s current research interests center around educational reform and restructuring. Topics he is currently researching or writing about include holistic human development; the teaching/learning process and educational reform; the implications for education of the movement from an agricultural/industrial economy to one based on service and information; moral character development; critical thinking; problem solving and decision making; and systems theory applied to human behavior. He is also interested in the implications of viewing human beings from a material/scientific as well as a spiritual/religious perspective.
Becoming a Brilliant Star: An Introduction
William G. Huitt, Ph.D.
You never know a line is crooked unless you have a straight one to put next to it.
The life which is not examined is not worth living.
If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.
Talk does not cook rice.
Becoming a Brilliant Star: An Introduction
What does it take to be a successful adult in the 21st century? Exactly what does success mean? Financial wealth? Career achievement? Inner peace? Developing one’s potential to the fullest? How should the family, the school, religious organizations, and community guide the development of the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary for such success? These important questions are the focus of discussions in the United States and around the world. With the rapid social and cultural changes that have become commonplace throughout the past century, these questions have become increasingly difficult to answer definitively.
Developing Individual Potential
It is becoming increasingly apparent that society must consider the education of our young people from a more holistic perspective. Over the past 100 years education has been equated with schooling, but it is much more. Education refers to the twin processes of developing an individual’s potential and the development of the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that provide for the continued development of a society or culture. This two-part definition of education raises questions about the purpose of an individual’s life and highlights the need to consider the massive changes in the latter half of the twentieth century that have pushed humanity into a new era of human civilization: a global, information age.
Beliefs regarding human purpose are fundamental to the development of people’s worldviews (McCarthy, 1992). Some believe that human beings are a product of nature, that nature is their creator, and that their purpose is to adapt to the requirements of nature (Liebes, Sahtouris & Swimme, 1998). Others believe that human beings are created by God with souls that will continue to exist after the human body no longer functions (Copan, 2001; Danesh, 2001). While many scientists agree with the former position (Larson & Witham, 1998), the vast majority of the general public supports the latter (Gallup, 1993; Gallup International, 1999). This difference in fundamental beliefs presents an obstacle to formulating a statement of purpose that can provide a foundation for cooperative functioning among the social institutions responsible for the education of children and youth.
There are those who advocate that science should be the sole source of information about human nature and potential. If one believes that human beings are simply a node on the web of life (Capra, 1996) and a biological accident (Gould, 2002; Wilson, 1978), then the answer is fairly simple. Human nature is equivalent to biology as expressed in a specific environmental context; the purpose of a human being is an expression of biological potential. From this perspective, science is the final arbiter of human potential. On the other hand, if one believes, as do some scientists (Templeton & Giniger, 1998), that human beings have a spiritual component to their nature that continues to exist after the biological body ceases to function, then the purpose of this life must include at least the preparation for that existence. In this case, religion becomes a critical source of information. Other sources of information about human potential exist in the writings of philosophers and historians and practitioners of the arts; these can also be used to guide the investigation of the purpose of human beings.
An important aspect of the approach advocated in this paper is to show respect for differing sources of knowledge and opinions, especially in public discourse and institutions. While science is the primary resource for the views expressed in this paper, Kagan (2000) expressed skepticism that psychology and other sciences have discovered valid principles and theories of human behavior. After all, these sciences are only a little over 100 years old. Compilations from the major world religions (e.g., Huitt, 1998; Scholl, 2002; Wilson, 1991) are available that address many of the issues discussed in this paper. Resources are also available from the perspective of philosophy (Huitt, 1999a) and historical exemplars (Huitt, 2004).
Developing Social Capital
The rapid movement to the information age presents a reflective challenge regarding the knowledge, attitudes, and skills related to social and cultural development. It took thousands of years for the agricultural age to replace the hunter/gatherer lifestyle that dominated early humanity. It then took only several hundred years for the industrial age to become dominant (Huitt, 1995). However, it has taken mere decades for the information age to become paramount. In 1900, approximately 70% of Americans found work in the agricultural and industrial sectors of the economy; only 30% worked in the information and service sectors. By 1950 the workforce was evenly split between these two. However, at the beginning of the 21st century only 13% of the American workforce found employment in the agricultural and industrial sectors, with more than 50% working in the information sector. This rapid shift to the information age means that many of the social structures and institutions that paved the way for success at the beginning of the twentieth century are now seen as outdated. It also means that the prerequisites for adult success have changed dramatically.
In 1993, Bennett proposed that an analysis of cultural indicators showed the American culture to be in decline. For example, in spite of increased production in the U. S. economy, and expanded social spending during the previous 30 years, including a 550% increase in monies for social spending and a 225% increase on schooling, measures of indicators of cultural health declined while rates of violence, illegitimate births, suicide rates, and divorce increased. Though some would argue there is no common standard for evaluating moral issues (Nash, 1997), even a cursory glance at these types of data provide most people with enough evidence to support a need to engage in a thoughtful reflection on improving the current state of educating our children and youth (Gallup, 1975, 1980; Rose & Gallup, 2000).
From Reductionism to Systems
It is my belief that the starting point for such a reflection is an analysis of the worldview through which data are analyzed and theories constructed. Within science, the dominant vision or worldview throughout most of the twentieth century was based on a “reductionistic,” mechanistic philosophy of science developed during the prior three centuries (Capra, 1996). This replaced a more holistic, living-systems-oriented view at the center of the hunter-gatherer and agricultural-based ages that covered all of human existence until the 18th and 19th centuries. During these earlier ages, people’s lives were dominated by natural cycles. They moved with the migratory food source and gathered food as it was available; planted in spring, harvested in fall; awoke at daybreak and quit work at sunset. People also developed relationships in natural ways, through family, neighbors, and tribes. This holistic, multi-dimensional perspective was the American perspective from the time of the first indigenous peoples crossing the landbridge from Asia, through the landing of the first Europeans, to the beginning of the dominance of industry in the last part of the 19th century (Damon, 2002).
The movement to the industrial age was to some extent precipitated by the adoption of the “reductionistic” paradigm, not only by scientists and entrepreneurs, but also by ordinary people. For example, with oil and electricity, people could extend their daylight activities into the night. Specialization increased and peoples’ lives became more fragmented. In short, people’s lives were separated and divided. At the same time, the average lifespan increased, per capita income rose, and a myriad of other factors showed the power of the mechanistic, reductionistic worldview to change people’s lives.
The adoption of the reductionistic approach led researchers to focus on changes in specific aspects of human beings over a relatively short time period (Heath, 1980). Social roles or parts of people’s lives, such as being a parent, a worker, or a citizen, could be considered independently without considering the total pattern. Individuals could be analyzed apart from family; family could be isolated for study separately from community; school could be disconnected from work and livelihood. Effects could be studied in terms of minutes, days, or weeks rather than seasons or years.
Modern society is caught in a conflict of its own making. Analyzing success by breaking phenomena into their parts and considering each part separately has allowed humanity to make great strides in addressing significant problems. Science made it possible to be more specific in analyses of important human phenomena and more detailed in explaining cause-effect relationships. Unfortunately, when it comes to facilitating human development, it is sometimes easier to focus attention on what can be measured rather than what is important. For example, there is a major push for academic accountability, especially as measured by high-stakes standardized tests. While it is true that educational attainment is correlated with income (Bureau of the Census, 1990), research has demonstrated that other factors such as optimism, empathy, social skills, and moral character are also important for adult success (e.g., Damon, 2002; Goleman, 1995; Heath, 1994; Seligman, 2002). In fact, these other factors may be twice as important as traditional measures of intelligence and educational attainment (Gardner, 1995; Sternberg, Wagner, Williams & Horvath, 1995).
The preparation of children and youth for success in the adult world is now spread over multiple institutions, often with competing agendas. For example, it is recognized that the family has a significant responsibility for children’s social, moral, and emotional development while schools have a similar responsibility for academic achievement (Bridge, Judd & Moock, 1979). However, the lines of influence are often blurred. During the 1990’s exemplary school-based moral character development programs have been developed (Huitt & Vessels, 2003), while parents increasingly chose homeschooling as an option for their children (Bauman, 2002). As previously mentioned, a major source of conflict among institutions responsible for child and youth development is the relationship between religion and public schools. While children who regularly attend religious services have higher academic test scores (Etzioni, 1984), there is confusion as to how public educational institutions should address spirituality and religion (Segars & Jelen, 1998). Another conflict arises in terms of standards for student performance. While there is some advocacy for world class standards of excellence for students (Haynes & Chalker, 1997), most state departments of education promote minimum standards (American Federation of Teachers, 1999). For some parents, this minimum competency is not what they want for their children and they select other schooling options (Merrifield, 2000).
As important as is academic achievement, there is a need to be guided by a more holistic paradigm when considering the development of children and youth. Rather than a singular focus on a narrow representation of academic achievement as a predictor of future success, with the school accepting major responsibility for developing it, the individual should be considered from a multidimensional perspective, and multiple social institutions and experiences should be recognized as contributing to each person’s development. There is also a need to encourage children and youth to strive for the highest standards of excellence while recognizing that each individual is likely to present a profile of competence across the many domains of development.
Brilliant Star Model
The Brilliant Star model has been developed to address the major dimensions of a holistic approach to individual development. It is similar in purpose to models developed by Benson, Galbraith and Espeland (1994), Chickering and Reisser (1993), Ford (1987), and Heath (1980, 1991).
Pinker (2002) provided a relatively simple starting point by naming “mind” and “behavior” as the essence of the human being and identifying nature and nurture as the key influences. By nature, Pinker was referring to one’s genetic structure, and by nurture he was referring to environmental influences. However, even a superficial examination suggests this model is much too simple. For example, Sahtouris and Lovelock (2000) report that DNA, the building blocks of genetic material, can respond and react to influences from the environment. That is, genetic influence is not static, but acts dynamically in response to events outside of the organism. This simple fact calls into question the linear, reductionistic model that is the basis for much of the current discussion about human development.
The pioneering work of Heath (1991, 1994) suggested that an individual needs to demonstrate capacities in the areas of cognition (knowing and reasoning), values, self-concept, and interpersonal relations. Chickering & Reisser (1993) proposed an even more complex set of dimensions and suggested that healthy development progresses along seven vectors: (1) competence (including the cognitive and interpersonal relations suggested by Heath and adding physical and social); (2) managing emotions (one aspect of interpersonal relations according to Heath); (3) autonomy (including both emotional and instrumental independence); (4) establishing identity (similar to Heath’s self-concept domain); (5) interpersonal relationships (a combination of the social and interpersonal domains identified by Heath); (6) developing purpose (future direction, who am I? Where am I going?); and (7) developing integrity (a consistency of beliefs and action, requiring one to clarify values). Writers of popular self-help books such as Waitley (1986) and Ziglar (1991) also recognize the need to view human beings multi-dimensionally.
Core Elements and Domains
I propose there are two interrelated categories of human competence (intrapersonal / internal and interpersonal / social) and two core elements (moral character and personal style). The two core elements are considered central to inter- and intrapersonal competencies because they support and are influenced by the domains comprising these two categories:
The intrapersonal category consists of five domains that derive from the ancient Greek trilogy of mind, body, and spirit (see Figure 1). Mind can also be considered as a trilogy in terms of knowing or thinking, affect or emotion, and conation or volition (Hilgard, 1980; Mayer, 1995).
There are thus five intrapersonal domains identified as (see Figure 2):
Figure 1. Intrapersonal Dimensions of the Brilliant Star Model
Figure 2. Interpersonal Domains and Core Elements of the Brilliant Star Model
The interpersonal domains include areas in which the individual is expected to demonstrate social competencies (see Figure 3):
Figure 3. The Interpersonal Domains of Becoming A Brilliant Star
An important principle regarding the functioning of these domains and core elements is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. While it is important to identify the parts, it is vital to pay attention to the functioning of the whole. Bandura (1986, 1997) describes this type of relationship as “reciprocal determination.” That is, one can neither fully consider character without considering all of the domains nor fully consider cognition, affect, or conation without considering each of the others as well as the core elements.
Another principle of a systems approach is that systems are embedded within systems and are, in turn, composed of systems. Vandervert (1993) asserts that brain, mind, behavior, and environment consist of a holistic unity; one component cannot be understood outside of the relationship with the others. Koestler (1967) termed each system a “holon” and the structure of “holons” a “holarchy.” This principle is demonstrated when considering the individual as comprised of mind, body, and spirit with the mind considered in terms of cognition, affect, and conation (as shown in Figure 1 above.) Alternatively, the cognitive component might be considered in terms of analytical, creative, or practical intelligence (Sternburg, 1988). It could just as easily be considered in terms of perception, processing, storage, and retrieval of information. The individual can be considered as a part of a family, the family as part of a neighborhood or community, the community as part of a society, and the society as part of a global civilization (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. A holarchy of personal development
Using Bronfenbrenner’s (1979, 1989) concept of the ecology of development, the environment can be considered in layers, from the microsystem that has the most immediate influence to the macrosystem where the influence is more ambiguous and less precise. In the Brilliant Star model, family, friends, school, and religious organizations are more in the nature of microsystems while society, culture, international region, and the entire planet are considered macrosystems (see Figure 5).
Figure 5. The Brilliant Star
The full model then consists of the ten domains and two core elements as well as the developmental ecology within which the individual lives and develops. This perspective is similar to the model of developmental assets proposed by the Search Institute (Scales & Leffert, 1999). In the Search Institute model, adolescents need to have an environment that is conducive to development (labeled external assets), and acquire a set of knowledge, attitudes, and skills required for successful passage through adolescence into adulthood (labeled internal assets). The twenty external assets are provided by the family, school, neighborhood, and community (including religious organizations and adult role models) and must be taken advantage of by the adolescent.
These are arranged in four categories:
The twenty internal assets are also grouped in four categories:
The Brilliant Star model includes each of these with the addition of assets identified in additional domains. For example, the model includes the domains of physical wellness and spiritual development that might be inferred in the Search Institute model, but are not explicit. Additionally, the Brilliant Star model includes an additional ecological level relating to the macro level of society, culture, region, and global influences. This is not in conflict with the Search Institute (or for that matter, other models by Chickering and Reisser (1993), Ford (1987), or Heath (1980, 1991)). The Search Institute model emphasizes the mediation role that connects these macro-level influences to the individual without making them explicit. In today’s rapidly changing environment it is critical that the micro- and meso-level institutions assist young people to understand these changes and make adequate preparations. Unfortunately, it is difficult for anyone to accurately predict what will happen in the next several decades; nevertheless it is important to at least make some attempt to do so. For example, the vast majority of career opportunities in the 1990s did not exist in the 1960s (Bridges, 1997). Some people were prepared to take advantage of these opportunities, but many were not. The speed of these changes is likely to accelerate and must be considered when defining important developmental assets.
Creating An Effective Developmental Ecology
It has become obvious to many that important social institutions such as families, communities, religious organizations, and schools are in need of attention (e.g., Friedman, 1999; Siegel, 2000; Thomas, 1996). While the family continues to play an influential role, it has become a critical factor in the lack of important external assets for children and youth (Evans, 2004; Gottman, 1994). The divorce rate is increasing throughout the industrialized world, with the United States having the highest divorce rate in the world (Gottman, Murray, Swanson, Tyson & Swanson, 2002). It is estimated that 50% to 67% of first marriages will end in divorce within a forty year span (Martin & Bumpass, 1989); the rate for dissolution of second marriages is approximately 10% higher (Cherlin, 1981). Holmes and Rahe (1967) found that the disruption of a marriage is one of the most significant stresses on an individual’s mental and physical health. Gottman et al. concurred, stating that, “Marital distress, conflict, and disruption are associated with a wide range of deleterious effects on children, including depression, withdrawal, poor social competence, health problems, poor academic performance, and a variety of conduct related difficulties” (p. 6).
Communities and religious organizations have undergone similar disruptions (Duany, Plater-Zyberk & Speck, 2000; Wright, 2002). While the neighborhood and community have always been important influences on the development of children and youth (Dean & Huitt, 1999), a recent assessment found that only 40% of the over 200,000 6th-to-12th grade students surveyed reported they believed they lived in a caring neighborhood (Search Institute, 2002).
In the modern era, classrooms and schools have been central to the education of children and youth for successful adulthood. As the needs of the society changed in the early part of the twentieth century, this important social institution was able to adjust in terms of the development of its citizens. At the turn of the century, America faced issues of a need to train larger numbers of workers for the rapidly expanding industrial sector and the socialization of an influx of immigrants. Two world wars applied pressure to become increasingly effective and efficient with a concomitant requirement that people needed schooling beyond that provided by high school. Prior to the launch of the first artificial earth satellite by Russia in 1957, the K-12 schooling system, higher education, and industry were able to meet the challenge. However, with that launch, the United States was suddenly challenged as a world leader in science and technology. Schooling from kindergarten through college became the focus of increased scrutiny and extensive effort has been put into an analysis of how to improve it.
In 1963, John Carroll wrote a seminal article that focused attention on direct observation of classroom behavior of teachers and students. The systematic study of classroom processes thought to influence student achievement as measured on these tests led to an explosion of information about what exactly was going on within America’s classrooms. Prior to that point, most research focused on factors outside of the influence of educators such as funding, family, and student characteristics.
The publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) made it abundantly clear that despite the increased funding for research and subsequent enlargement of the knowledge base of effective classrooms and schools, there were still major concerns with the functioning of the nation’s public school system. This was in spite of the fact that the American school system had made significant improvements during the twentieth century. For example, more than 75% of its youth graduated from high school in the 1980s, up from less than 10% at the turn of the century (Greene, 2002). However, graduation rates as well as measures of student achievement have remained essentially stable for over 25 years. During this same time period, students in other nations have begun to surpass U.S. students in a number of areas (National Center Education Statistics, 2001; Schmidt et al., 2001).
In the 1980s several researchers developed models of the teaching/learning process that integrated much of what was known about factors related to school achievement (e.g., Cruickshank 1985; Proctor 1984; Squires, Huitt, & Segars, 1983). At the same time other researchers developed models of effective classroom practice (e.g., Hunter, 1994; Rosenshine, 1995; Slavin, 2003). A major problem that envelops all these models is that they focus heavily on improving test scores. As important as this outcome is, the public is concerned also about students’ character, self-esteem, and social development (Gallup, 1975, 1980). In this regard, the public seems more on target than researchers since student achievement, level of education, and academic intelligence account for no more than one-third of the variance related to adult success (Gardner, 1995; Goleman, 1995).
Recent attempts to hold schools, and especially teachers, totally responsible for student achievement presents a problem in that there are multiple factors beyond the control of building-level educators that contribute to educational achievement (Huitt, 1999b). While it is true that teachers (Rosenshine, 1995) and principals (Reavis, Vinson & Fox, 1999) play an important part in facilitating school learning, other factors such as the structure and functioning of the family (Evans, 2004; Zill, 1992), the interaction with religious organizations (Greeley, 1997), and school size (Howley, 1997) have also been shown to be important, sometimes more so.
There are, therefore, major difficulties with the approach America is taking in preparing its children and youth for adult success in the 21st century. First, a single focus on academic achievement is inadequate. Rather, there is a need to consider a model of adult success that includes not only financial and career success, but also happiness, living a meaningful life, having a successful marriage, successfully raising children, maintaining a support group of friends, and contributing to solving major social and cultural issues of our time.
Second, classroom practice accounts for only a small portion of the variance of scores on standardized tests of basic skills when other factors such as student ability, home environment, and school size are considered. Researchers have demonstrated that student achievement increases when the influences of multiple social institutions are coordinated (Epstein, Coates, Salinas, Sanders, M. & Simon, 1997; Sanders, 1998). There are not only multiple factors related to adult success, but also multiple influences on each of these factors. This multidimensional perspective needs to be central to the construction of a model of the development of children and youth.
There is a need to strengthen each one of the social institutions and to work to integrate their influence. Families need to be supported by and support the other social institutions. Schools, religious organizations, and community institutions need to do the same. Each needs to hold itself accountable individually, and they all need to hold themselves accountable collectively, for the development of our nation’s children and youth.
A fresh vision and a more valid paradigm are necessary to guide thinking about how to prepare children and youth for success as adults. Science has made steady progress in developing ecological, organismic, and systems approaches to understanding human beings and their social behavior over the last half of the twentieth century (Ford, 1987; Miller, 1978). These are rapidly replacing the more reductionistic approaches that attempt to isolate selected factors. Syntheses of research have pointed to a variety of outcomes in addition to academic competence and have shown that more extensive communication and involvement among schools, families, and community organizations leads to higher student achievement (Niemiec, Sikorski & Walberg, 1999).
There is now a need to develop a new vocabulary and approach to guiding the development of children and youth that can overcome a resistance of individuals and organizations to make necessary changes (Kegan & Lahey, 2002). Continuing to use the same paradigm and vocabulary that was successful in the twentieth century while in the midst of the present exponential rate of change is like driving down an Interstate highway at 50 miles per hour, looking in the rearview mirror. It is necessary to look forward to the demands our young people will face as adults, to imagine a world we have never experienced, to recognize the influence of possible futures on current behavior.
While this paper has presented an overview of a holistic approach to the development of children and youth, there is still a need to consider each domain in more detail. Each domain should review literature as to current understandings related to the its definition and a consideration of why it is important, major developmental issues that should be considered, a brief sampling of the kinds of activities that teachers (and to some extent parents) can use to assist individual development within that domain. Fundamental issues of assessment, measurement, and evaluation, especially process evaluation, need to be addressed and specific measures for each domain need to be identified or developed. Hummel and Huitt (1994) discuss the importance of this issue with the term WYMIWYG (What You Measure Is What You Get). Using this concept, the authors suggest there is a tendency to focus energy and effort only on what is attended to through data collection and evaluation.
An equally important principle is how to identify and report change at it occurs simultaneously in multiple domains. Change occurs in a spiral fashion; at any given time an individual is making changes in all the domains, with change occurring at different rates for different individuals and different time frames. For example, in early childhood dramatic changes in cognitive development accompany dramatic changes in language development. In later adolescence, another rapid change in cognitive development is accompanied by a search for meaning or spiritual development. This is not to say there is no spiritual development occurring in early childhood or no language development in adolescence. It merely points to the need to continually revisit each of the domains in a coordinated fashion throughout the lifespan of the individual and to report both the dynamics of development as well as current status. This is similar to the difference between a movie and a still picture. Both offer different perspectives on a given phenomena, each with its own richness and detail. There is a tendency in today’s society to focus on a snapshot of development in one small part of one domain. Is it any surprise that this is an inadequate picture of a young person’s preparation for the 21st century? We can do better; we must do better. Our children’s lives depend on it.
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