Changing Childhood Prejudice: The Caring Work of the Schools

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

7
Making Choices in Middle School

The path to maturity, having taken a sharp and critical upward turn during grade school, does not continue straight up. Surges of aggressive energy, new powers of abstraction, and greater self-consciousness set middle schoolers apart from their younger selves. Typical adolescent behavioral changes include more open expression of casual prejudices, even though hatred of inequality and unfairness is also verbalized. Equally incongruous moral lapses in try-outs of misbehavior are also likely, allowing pro-teenagers a chance to learn from mistakes while they are still close to adults. Much talk and self-evaluation needs to happen before they assume the stronger convictions of adulthood in relation to a wider world.

Some psychologists believe the early adolescent mind's sorting processes cannot keep up with the avalanche of new impressions and ideas resulting from the stop-and-go start of formal operational thinking or thinking by way of abstractions. This thinking process can be further undermined by feelings of insecurity as they begin to doubt every aspect of reliance on adults. Fischer and Pipp, for example, found that some 12-year-olds could not coordinate an experience of a mother's kindness with their discovery of her lying, even white lying, for the sake of being kind. The young teenagers not only reacted emotionally but also could not accept or understand rational explanations for the lie. 1

A similar phenomenon is the baffling, moralistic choice of one parent and shutting out the other when family problems -- especially divorce and separation -- strike early adolescents. Middle schoolers are aware of feeling confused, but many cover their confusion with the largely false veneer of cool indifference that puts off adults. Too often they also cover the tender side of their interest in the opposite sex and a desperate desire for group acceptance by becoming rivals in out- spoken toughness. A masculine or brave state of mind is supposedly achieved by early acceptance of traumatic tests, including family breakup. Street talk, violence, drugs, sex, and access to older friends with

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