Start Early for Happy Kids without Prejudice

The Chronicle (Toowoomba, Australia), December 8, 2010 | Go to article overview

Start Early for Happy Kids without Prejudice


COPINGWITHKIDS

with Dr John Irvine

DO you think you are a prejudiced person? Are your children?

Why are some personalities more prone than others? When do kids develop that prejudice? Can prejudice be reversed?

It's an interesting question because there can be no doubt that prejudice, particularly racial or religious, causes more conflict than any other area of international relationships.

Let me share an interesting experiment aired on SBS a little while ago. It was entitled "About Us - a class divided?a

It was about the work of Jane Elliot who, since the 1970s, has been working with primary-aged kids to help them to be aware, understand and experience discrimination and prejudice.

Jane divided the class of young children between those who had brown eyes and those who had blue eyes.

At first the blue eyes were superior, got first play on the equipment, best lunch-time seating and more privileges while the brown-eyed group were forced to wear collars indicating their inferior status.

Within minutes the two groups hated each other, many fights broke out and long standing friendships were torn apart. The collared group reported how badly they felt, how they hated the teacher and how they hated the other group who made them feel so bad.

The blue-eyed group on the other hand said how powerful and good they felt.

But the consequences weren't just social either.

When the teacher gave the class a written test to do, the blue-eyed superior group performed much better than the brown-eyed collared group.

One group was feeling confident and the other group had lost all its confidence and motivation.

When this discrimination exercise was completed the eye colour groups changed roles so that every child experienced the impact of prejudice and discrimination.

Once the exercise was entirely over, the whole class bonded beautifully, determined, not just for that year, but for the rest of their lives, to treat people on merit, not by the colour of their skin or eyes or any other surface separator.

The fact is that kids pick up prejudice very early in life. In some ways it's a survival disposition. In a threatening scary world, kids are desperate to find friends, to know they're socially safe.

That's a fundamental social instinct. But one universal way we find our ain-groupa is by finding the aout-groupsa, those who aren't allowed in through those social boundaries. …

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