Changing Childhood Prejudice: The Caring Work of the Schools

By Miriam M. Davidson; Florence H. Davidson | Go to book overview
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The Cognitive Roots of Prejudice

In Boston, an eight-year-old white boy called out, "You little African boogers!" to a group of black girls on the playground. "Whitey brat, I hate you!" "You're a fat pig" "Pink pig" the girls yelled back. The one who started the teasing said later, "We were only playing; it doesn't mean much." A few months later, in the same city, a group of white teenagers on trial for shooting and paralyzing a black football player offered the same excuse. "We were playing, shooting at pigeons," one said. In that case it seems certain that more than play was involved.

When people speak of prejudice in children, they ought not to mean the same as when they say of a teenager or of an adult, "He is a real racist." Teenagers and adults, in order to be prejudiced, must deny their understanding of the rights and respect all people are due. Little children have no such problem. Although children are thinking and reasoning, their predispositions are less organized and less stable than those of older adolescents or adults.

An unfortunate view of prejudice is that it is a personality characteristic that becomes crystallized at an early age. Prior to the 19706, researchers too often assumed this was true. Overly-narrow hypotheses were generated by theories of learning socially from others or being affected by unconscious personality dynamics. Since then, as cognitive- developmentalism revolutionized psychological research, it began to seem more likely that children are different from adults in their kinds of prejudices even when surface manifestations are similar.


RESEARCH ON PREJUDICE

The early research of the 1920s tended to conclude what was assumed -- that if children's negative ethnic attitudes are not the result of adopting the parents' attitudes, they must be just the slow copying of observed sociological patterns. 1 In the 1940s, clinicians tended to focus on how these attitudes become malignant. The

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