One of the most important aspects of being a human being is interacting. That is, to communicate and act toward the people we are close to. It is one of the characteristics of being human. it is also true that people interact in various ways and in this essay, I will endeavor to speak about symbolic interaction, which is one of the ways in which people interact. In connection to symbolic interaction, I will do the following: to define symbolic interaction, to give a little bit of background of where this theory originated from, to explain the three aspects of Symbolic Interaction, apply it in the school context and explain how it can line to constructivism and learning.
According to Blumer (1966), Symbolic interaction is a sociological theory for analyzing society based on the subjective meaning that people attach to objects, events, and behaviors”. This occurs through socialization, which according to Maccoby (2008) is a process by which people adopt the values and standards of society needful for successful interaction.
In elucidating on symbolic interaction, it is important to first understand a bit about its origin. This is how the symbolic interaction came about: The societies were living in environments where all things were looked in an objective way. This included decisions-making, choices, administering, bringing up a kid, and so on. Individuals were to consent to the standards of the overwhelming gathering (Shibutani, 1962). These dominant groups were within government and religion. They were the ones to determine the meaning of things. On these objective cultures, family relationships moulded oneself and surrounded representative relationship and were vital in showing a child socialization at a macro level (Costells, 1996). For example, when a child grows, he/she must adhere to all the precepts and rules of the parents, the parents were the ones who decided what is right and wrong. The meaning of symbols was to be given and taught by the parents and the child had to adhere to the meanings of those symbols given by the parents. Parents determined who you were and how you were to interact with others. This gave no opportunity for independence, subjective meaning of things and face-to-face interactions. The Symbolic interaction theory was then a response to the standpoints on societies that dominated from macro-level structures (Carter, 2015). The proponents of this theory such as Herbert Blumer and George Mead looked at things on a different perspective. Their emphasis on the theory focused on the micro-level through which people construct meanings, identities and joint acts (Blumer,1966). This means that human behavior is determined based on personal opinions, interpretations, points of view, emotions or judgment. (Wikipedia). This theory was freedom to self-analysis, self-identification and gave an opportunity for individuals to interact freely with other individuals to get meaning of things. The theory of symbolic interaction is based on philosophical theories such as existentialism by Jean-Paul Sartre, postmodernism and many others.
According to (Blumer,1969), symbolic interaction is based on three things. Humans acts toward things on the basis of the meanings they ascribe to those things. Secondly , the meaning of such things emerges out of social interaction that individuals have with others and society. At last, the meaning of symbols is liable to change.
One of the areas in which I will now endeavor to apply these three aspects of symbolic interaction is on the school premises. This is because a school is an area where people are outside the objective oppression of the meaning of things, an area where people can learn things, explore, evaluate and make various judgments. This is where most interactions occur and where learners spend most of their time. It is an area where people from different backgrounds, different races, different languages, different religions and have different forms of interactions and interpretation of things meet.
Humans act toward things based on the meanings they ascribe to those things (Blumer, 1969).
This means that people can make interpretation of things by themselves. Dong (2008) stated that a human being is a subject to himself. Blumer (1966) added by saying that human beings can see themselves, have an origination of themselves, speak with themselves and act toward themselves. This is where all meaning starts, from self. This is true for every individual at school. For instance, during my first day in the school year, I noticed that there were many people there (including parents and other learners who came to register). It was hard for me to Identify a teacher. At that time, I had to come up with the meaning of what a teacher is. Independently, I observed certain behavior and objects and then came with a conclusion concerning what the teacher is. Among the objects I used to identify a teacher was the dress code, a teacher is one who wears formal clothing (especially with a tie). On another instance, learners and teachers at my school made different interpretations of learners with afro hairs. Others observed it as a sign of religious observance, like shembe religion. A properly combed afro hair was also seen as a way of showing neatness. Others (mostly teachers) would see it as inappropriate. That is why other learners would be asked to cut off their hair. Each individual made his/her own interpretation and meaning of the afro hair. Also, in other schools, teachers want learners to look them in the eyes when responding to them. This to them served as a symbol to show focus. In the South Africa multiracial schools where racism takes place, black learners are mostly seen as inferior, useless and seen as those who must be deprived of knowledge. All that took place because of how people draw meanings from a person’s skin color. I remember the other day when I was watching the news on television where there was a teacher who separated learners according to their races. White learners were put in the front and black learners were put on the corner. This indeed was racist behavior.
The meaning of such things arises out of social interaction that people have with others and society(Blumer, 1969)
Based on the examples given, it should be observed that socialization and construction of meanings do not end there. No man can leave in isolation. This is also true of symbolic interaction. Woods (1996) stated that an appropriate comprehension of oneself requires learning of one owns development , its effect on other and its distinguishing proof on different groups. In other words, people need each other to have the proper meaning of thing and events. That is why Blumer (1966) also suggested that “people interact through shared symbols and languages to get meaning of things”. This is where constructivism occurs. This is where people learn and accumulate knowledge through their experiences.
For example, you will remember that at school I drew out my meaning of what a teacher is by formal clothing. It happened that after a few days I have made my interpretation, my teacher told me to call on another teacher who, according to my teacher, was next to a sports ground. When I got there, I saw only a man wearing shorts, a vest, and running shoes. I then asked that man if he had seen a teacher around. He replied, “I am a teacher”. This was a shock to me because I thought teachers wear formal clothing at school. He saw my reaction and then explained that He is a Life Orientation teacher and he was about to do PET (Physical Education and Training).at that moment constructivism occurred (that is, to learn or acquire knowledge through my experience). I had learned that a teacher is more than a person who wears formal clothing, a teacher can wear casual clothing and that he who is a teacher has a degree in Bachelor of Education. Also, I showed that teachers and learners make different interpretation concerning hose with afro hair. Through interacting with the learners who have afros, the teacher would learn that other learners who have afros have them because of it part of their religion and others for the purpose of neatness and therefore in the future, the teacher will be careful not to degrade or offend the symbols of other religions. That is why it is a duty of both the learners and the teacher to interact and explain the meaning of having hair or cutting it so that both may have these meanings and avoid offending each other. As the teachers and learners interact with each other, the teacher will understand that some learners dont look at teachers eyes because at home they have been taught that it is disrespectful to talk to an elder while looking at them in the eyes. This is also true of a teacher who would separate learners according to their races due to his/her meaning that blacks are inferior. The teacher will understand that such an act is degrading and intolerable to others. He/ she will learn that we as human beings must treat each other equally regardless of our skin color.
The meaning of symbols is liable to change. (Blumer, 1969)
For instance, a teacher in the future would have a different interpretation of a person with afro hair. It means that I myself will not only define a teacher by what they wear but also about the subject they teach (for example LO)
Throughout all these experiences, constructivism takes place. That is, the ability for learners to construct knowledge by themselves, individually to create meaning (Hein, 1991). This means that learners are not bound by external objective teaching or meaning of things but that through their experiences (whether from themselves or others), they can learn a lot of things. Through this, learners will achieve an important goal of learning through their subjective experiences and achieve a successful social interaction toward one another. Just as Vygotsky (1978) once said: “Through others, we become ourselves..
It is then of great importance that such theory should be implemented in societies in order that there may be ongoing and successful interaction where people understand themselves and others and make proper judgments on what they observe.