Changing Childhood Prejudice: The Caring Work of the Schools

By Miriam M. Davidson; Florence H. Davidson | Go to book overview

Introduction

A scene from 20 years ago brings back the smell of chalk dust in a fifth- grade classroom on a hot afternoon in early June. The children, shifting restlessly in their seats, glanced at the playground and green fields beckoning from the window. Summer vacation was close, and the students could think of nothing else. The teacher looked at the clock and sighed, closing her book. It was useless to think of the class doing any more work that day.

The teacher decided it would be a good day to let Florence Davidson lead the children in a role-playing experiment she had been wanting to try. The students were well acquainted with Davidson. As a child development researcher at nearby Harvard University, she had been playing games, asking questions, testing, and interviewing the children and their families all year. They rather enjoyed being called out of class to meet with her -- it was more fun than studying. This time, the whole class would join in a game designed to provoke thought.

"Let's pretend," the psychologist began, "that this whole classroom is a swimming pool at a fancy country club."

"Yea!" The children liked that idea. They described the possibilities of such a place ("Ice cream in a glass dish afterward, with chocolate sauce!"), then began moving slowly around the room, making swimming motions with their arms.

"Then let's say that this country club is very snobby, private, and exclusive. The rules of the club are that no outsiders, including Turks, Asians, and people with dark skin, are allowed."

This late in the year, the children knew Mrs. Davidson well enough to know that she was interested in finding out what they thought about different kinds of people. They were not surprised to learn that this game had a deeper purpose. But there was a reason they did not know for adding then unknown Turks and Asians to people with dark skin. Ethnicity, not just racism, had to be emphasized because parental permission for research had been given without a meeting to discuss its

-xvii-

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