Ecological Systems Theory and The Glass Castle
The Glass Castle is a very intense and real book that dances though many emotions caused by extreme situations. One way this book can be applied to our class work, is in the ecological systems approach. There are so many layers to the lives of the main characters and how the world they live in affects each of them. Their life is one that is very different than many of our own, yet some how they make it work. All six systems of the ecological systems theory come into play in this book and we can see how they work in situations of turmoil and celebration.
First we have dear sweet, Jeanette whom the story centers around. Her childhood was full of extremes and her stories seem almost unbelievable. She wrote this book to tell those stories. She is only a child, but she is already so strong, resilient and wise beyond her years. She takes on the role of basically taking care of herself while her parents are doing their own thing. Her strength comes from independence and she feels important because of it. In the book she mentions that she is proud of the fact that she can do things for herself because she thinks she is helping her parents out. She is a perfect example of a child that has been forced to grow up very fast. Her positive attitude and constant ability to see the good in people is one of the most important things that hold her together throughout her childhood.
Jeanette’s microsystem, the people that she is closest with and who she has the most interaction with, consists of her parents and her siblings. This alone sets her apart from the typical idea we might have of childhood. Her microsystem is almost exclusively her immediate family. Since they are always on the run or moving from place to place, she never has the chance to really let anyone else into her microsystem. At her age most kids have friends and teachers that they see on a daily basis and develop relationships with. She just doesn’t have that. Although she meets a lot of people, is around many different kids and goes though a lot of teachers, none of them are around long enough to be close and personal. This is strictly from an outside perspective looking at her life. I am very sure however that she would consider many people she meets to be in her microsystem because that is what she is used to. In her world of reality, the only consistent thing in her life is her family. Everything else comes and goes, and that is just the way it is.
Since Jeanette’s microsystem is so small, it makes it difficult to analyze her mesosystem. This is the system in which different elements of her microsystem interact with each other. She doesn’t have consistent friends or teachers that her parents interact with on a regular basis, and her parents are part of the same entity. So, for this system, I am going to refer to her time in the hospital. Even though her time there ended and they ran off to the next place, for that small period of time, the nurses became part of her microsystem. She saw them every day, interacted with them and learned from them. She enjoyed their company and all that came with being in the hospital. One day, a nurse showed Jeanette what gum was and she thought it was incredible. She thought it was the coolest thing she had ever seen, she was so happy. Then, her mother came in to visit and saw that she was chewing gum. She lost it. She couldn’t believe that the nurse would teach her child such a “disgusting and low class habit”. This interaction made Jeanette sad and she didn’t understand what the problem was. Here we see how two unrelated individuals in Jeanette’s microsystem interact, and unfortunately it was not a positive interaction.
There is a lot of things in this book that Jeanette has no control over, but drastically impact her. One of the big ones is that her dad doesn’t pay any bills. Though this is his choice and he is in her microsystem, he is causing debt collectors to be after them. They are constantly on the run and hiding from people to which he owes money. This is terribly disruptive to her childhood. She doesn’t have an actual sense of “home” because they don’t stay in one place for very long. She doesn’t have friends like she should because they are always on the run. Her only sense of security comes from her parents, and even that isn’t always there. All of this stems back to the fact that her family is always running from the debt collectors. She has no control over that what so ever, but it has drastically affected her childhood. Another brief example of this could be when her father loses his jobs. Jeanette has no control of her fathers’ place of work, but when they fire her dad, that affects her. Him getting fired means the family has no money coming in and that they will likely get up and move again.
For the macrosystem, there is a lot that could fall into this category. The fact that the family is poor means that the government and other programs could be of assistance to them. The society in which they live also contributes to the way that the Walls family functions. The jobs that are available to someone like Rex is also a part of the macrosystem. The economy and the fact that it is against the law to not pay bills affects the family and Jeanette’s childhood. Because there are laws about paying bills, Rex is trying to avoid the consequences by constantly running away from things without actually paying for them. The way that Jeanette’s family operates is extremely different from how most kids her age experience family and growing up. This makes her idea of family very different and the lack of friends her age helps her to believe that everything she is going though is normal because she doesn’t see or know anything else.
Lastly, I will examine the affects of the chronosystem on Jeanette throughout her life. Though her situation is one of a kind and very strange at times, it lends to a great analysis of the ecological systems approach. Each and every system is apparent in her life, but I would argue that the chronosystem has the most affect on her. As children we are so vulnerable and easily manipulated. Our minds are sponges and we are innocent. This is the time when we are the most easily shaped. All of the things that her family goes through in this book are crazy enough in general, but then to put a young child though them, is insane. Her entire childhood was messed with in so many ways. The timing of everything that happened to her just makes it worse. Everything that we have learned about child development is upset. She is not even allowed to be a child. She is forced to be an adult stuck in a small body. Timing of events can have an incredible impact on people. For Jeanette, each time her family moved she was affected. When she was burned cooking hot dogs she was affected. But, somehow she sees it all as normal and that everything is fine. She sees her family as an adventurous loving family. Though all of this sounds terrible development wise, maybe it was of some advantage that so much happened when she was just a child. She was able to have the rose colored glasses of innocence to look though. If all of this would have stared happening once she was older, she might actually understand what was going on and could have become very angry and resentful of her situation. The time at which anything happens plays a huge role in how it affects us.
All in all, this is one incredible story and there are often times that I can’t believe that it is all true. What a life the Walls lived. I think Jeanette’s husband was correct with encouraging her to write her story down. Not only because it is great to analyze, but because it is truly incredible. The way that ecological systems theory influences child development is extreme in this case. I have my own opinions on their family just as anyone might, but over all it is a fascinating story to look into. Ecological systems theory gives us a way to look deeper into the crazy dynamics of Jeanette’s world and the Walls family.