School Influence on Attitudes and Perceptions (page 3)
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).
Rosenthal and Jacobson advance the notion that teachers’ expectations of children result in self-fulfilling prophecies and that children whom teachers perceive to be capable and intelligent will do much better than will those children whom teachers do not perceive to be capable. In this classic study, first- and second-graders appeared to be most subjected to their teachers’ attitudes. Studies conducted in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s continue to show that children are affected by their teachers’ perceptions of them and react both behaviorally and academically according to their teachers’ expectations (Gallego & Cole, 2001; Proctor, 1984).
In elementary school, girls are likely to do better academically than boys, but by the time students graduate from high school, boys score higher on Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SAT) (Sadker & Sadker, 2005). Young men do, however, have a greater high-school dropout rate than do young women, and men are the minority of students enrolled in higher education. Some researchers suggest that this happens because teachers treat boys and girls differently. Researchers have noted that as early as preschool, girls are inclined to select activities with more rules, guidelines, and suggestions for accomplishing the task, whereas boys tend to select activities that allow for more open-ended behavior. Because they are rewarded for such behavior, girls tend to become more compliant and boys become more assertive (Eccles, Wigfield, Harold, & Blumenfeld, 1993). As children progress through school, these reinforced behaviors get boys more attention, more opportunities for classroom discussion, and more specific guidelines as to the correctness of their responses. Girls are called on less often than are boys, are given less feedback on their responses, and are encouraged to listen rather than to participate. Girls tend to be praised for their neatness, whereas boys receive praise for academic contributions.
Consequently, some girls get the message that their academic responses are not as important as are those of boys (Butler, 2004). Because achievement in elementary school is often measured on tasks that required mastery skills, girls, who are reinforced for obeying the rules, can be expected to do better than boys, but as children progress and school success depends more on problem solving and assertiveness, boys, who been reinforced for more aggressive behavior, can be expected to outperform girls (Harris, 2004; Sadker & Sadker, 2005). Teachers who recognize that boys and girls may have different strengths and learning styles will avoid gender stereotyping, which shortchanges both girls and boys.
Because of their ethnically based preconceived expectations of performance, teachers also may discriminate against children of different ethnic and ability groups by treating them differently (Bartoleme & Macedo, 1997; Ogbu, 1994). Teachers are likely to give high achievers and majority-culture children more opportunities to respond, more praise, and more time to formulate a response. Teachers who perceive minority children to be low achievers do not expect them to know answers and do not give them as many opportunities or as much encouragement to respond. Such differential treatment over time lowers children’s involvement in school and may prevent them from developing confidence in their abilities (Dilworth & Brown, 2001; Hrabowski, Maton, Greene, & Greif, 2002). A particularly troublesome outcome of this discrimination is the low numbers of men of color who attend postsecondary programs.
Schools can also become places of sanctuary for children both during the school day and in the extended hours, so many schools offer the community use of their buildings for recreational, athletic, and social activities (Maeroff, 1999). When the school building becomes a focal point of the community, and school personnel act as intermediaries between families and the community, the school can strengthen the ties between the two social settings.
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