School Influence on Attitudes and Perceptions
Although the thesis is questioned by some (Harris, 2002; Rowe, 1994), most developmentalists agree that parental attitudes have a major effect on children’s learning and acceptance of school (Borkowski, Ramey, & Stile, 2002). In turn, the attitudes of school personnel affect how children learn. Research by the Institute for Responsive Education on educators’ attitudes toward low-income parents shows that many didn’t expect low-income parents to be productive participants in their children’s education and, in turn, those parents felt that their participation wouldn’t have much effect, and therefore they often had negative attitudes toward the schools (Heleen, 1990). Children internalize these attitudes of mutual disrespect. Children’s self-worth is diminished or enhanced as the children sense how school personnel view the lifestyle and culture of their families, and these attitudes can breed tolerance or intolerance for others.
In the following vignette, Camille and Helen reacted differently to a bus driver’s careless words, but both were distressed.
Camille and Helen arrived at their homes upset over a comment their bus driver had made. There were empty cans on the bus, and the driver said, “Don’t touch them cans. I just drove a bunch of Black kids on a trip, and they aren’t clean.” Camille exclaimed to her mother, “But I ride the bus everyday. Does he think I’m not clean ’cause I’m Black?”
Helen’s distress was similar, but from a different perspective. “We had to ride the bus after a bunch of Black kids today, and they left it dirty. Ugh!” Both Camille and Helen could have misinterpreted the bus driver’s words, but their attitudes about self and others were affected by the driver’s careless speech.
Teachers can’t prevent what happened to Camille or Helen. They can only be alert to problems and provide an emotional climate that accepts all children regardless of their ethnic or social class standing. They must be cognizant of how their own words and actions can bring to pass the self-fulfilling prophecies noted long ago by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968).
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