Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

1954

Gordon W. Allport publishes The Nature of Prejudice

I am a Black parent and teacher concerned with the nature of prejudice as it pertains to pedagogy. It is my belief that if teaching is to promote democracy and equity of life opportunity in a capitalist society, it must be through a critical pedagogy that addresses the nature of social prejudice. A work that is valuable toward a critical pedagogical reflection on prejudice is Gordon W. Allport's pioneering work The Nature of Prejudice, first published in 1954.

Gordon W. Allport's nature of prejudice was written during and for a turbulent period in U.S. history to address particular aspects and dimensions of prejudices brought about by economic, legal, political and social inequality. The book's extensive bibliography still renders it to be resourceful and applicable in re-defining the meaning of prejudice in today's society, particularly in schools and classrooms. The Nature of Prejudice is quite expansive in its coverage of the aspects and dimensions of prejudice tendencies; therefore, I will focus on its coverage of prejudice against the Negro in the 20th century and show linkages to prejudices directed towards Black people (new group identity) in the 21st century.

Allport conveys to the reader that prejudice can carry both negative and positive connotations. His focus, however, is primarily on the negative aspects or the psycho-dynamics of social prejudice. In determining what constitutes prejudice, Allport cautions the audience not to be too hasty in applying the prejudice label to an individual's or group's prejudgments of other people. Allport argues that the misinformed person or group should not be labeled prejudiced if they can reverse their prejudgment when new social information is presented. Truly negative prejudice, on the contrary, is when prejudgments are not reversed after exposure to new knowledge. Consciousness then becomes the determining factor in labeling an individual or group as prejudice. Consciousness is however hidden by popular ideology: "I'm not prejudiced, but everybody knows Blacks are not smart but they make good athletes".

Allport's The Nature of Prejudice highlights overwhelming evidence that prejudices against the Negro is rooted in negative. Among these stereotyped of the Negro's traits are: inferior mentality, primitive morality, emotional instability, over-assertiveness, lazy and boisterous. In contemporary times, prejudice is leveled at Blacks, overtly and covertly, using many of these same stereotypes. What is the relationship between then and now?

Stereotypical images of Blacks in the dawn of the 21st century (as like the Negro of the 20th century) serve as the cause and effect of prejudgments; known then as racial categorizing, is now racial profiling. The Nature of Prejudice faced by both the 20th century Negro and the 21st century Black person was/is still premised on the construction of their identities to serve a particular purpose in society - to give legitimacy and reason for their subjugation. Black people today are still subjected to racial stereotypes and different forms of prejudices. Most significant among these stereotypes for Black students, supported of course by Murray and Hernstein's "Bell Curve”, is the notion that Black students drop out because of their "lower" intelligence and sense of expectation.  Allport's work suggests that we must reconsider any "science" that legitimates prejudice against any community of people. Particularly with frequency of racial profiling, closer attention must be paid to pedagogy and the role of teachers in the classroom

The Nature of Prejudice in the Classroom

All of us have within us an inbuilt tendency to prejudge. However, as Allport points out, some of these prejudices are social prejudices and are, as a consequence, quite dangerous for those groups which are targeted. For example, the classroom has served as a forum for prejudgments of students from particular racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. Within the classroom, the sifting and sorting of students are routinely done in accordance with their racial group's image and/or teachers expectations. Blacks students are frequently streamed into non-academic and athletic programs and categorized as "special education cases".  In his M. Ed. thesis on the measurement of the African (terminology for Blacks in the diaspora) image on the Eurocentric value system, Kitossa notes:

The shock of negative self-recognition an African child endures

in a culturally denigrated body can produce alienation and

disengagement from learning. What I have called existential

epidermal crisis is therefore a constant in the lives of African

Children. This condition, already produced through a priori

Eurocentric cultural assumptions is compounded on contact with

Eurocentric institutions which deepen the effect of Eurocentric

cultural norms the status quo of the racial, class and gender group

which created these institutions. (Kitossa, 1998: 22)

This work shows that the negation of the African child’s image in the classroom can have a lasting and damaging effect on their psyche resulting in their alienation and withdrawal from learning, hence their classification as special education cases.

The categorization of Black students in the classroom is not a new phenomenon, there are overwhelming documentation on this predicament: in commissioned educational reports; books such as Educating African Canadians edited by Keren S. Brathewaite  and Carl E. James.  The African Canadian community along with other concerned communities threw their support behind theoretical recommendation, and empathized with victimized Black students in the educational system.  In empathizing with Black students in their alienation, disinterestedness and disconnectedness in the classroom, Franz Fanon states:

I should like nothing more nor less than the establishment of children's

magazines especially for Negroes, the creation of songs for Negro children,

and, ultimately, the publication of history texts especially for them, at least

through the grammar-school grades. For, until there is evidence to the

contrary, I believe that if there is a traumatism it occurs during these years.

(Fanon, 1067: 148)

Fanon, a 20th century psychiatrist and socio-political activist, recognized the need for culturally relevant materials to address the ills that Black children face in the educational system back then.  Imagine the need for such materials in the 21st century, when racism is still rampant, subtler and insidiously institutionalized.

In my experience as a teacher I observed that some White teachers have the tendency to prejudge the performance of Black students without concrete evidence to support their ill-advised prejudgments. Although these students' subsequent performances might prove teachers wrong, some teachers have refused to reverse their prejudgments.

If teaching is a democratic profession that is intended to support the liberal economic system, why would a teacher refuse to reverse his/her prejudgments of their students and thus interfere with equality of opportunity? This is not to say that teachers cannot have prejudices. All of us after all have them, and teachers are no different in this regard. The question is how does it endanger the life opportunities for Black students when teachers utilize negative prejudices in the classroom in their expectations of their students?
 
Allport's The Nature of Prejudice comments about the production of stereotypes about several groups. Ironically, race is no barrier to the production of stereotypes, white supremacy or middle class standards. For example, in Pygmalion in the Classroom, the studies by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) and by Ray Rist (1970) showed that Black teachers at times are guilty of sorting and sifting in their classroom. They do so through the prejudiced lenses of White Anglo-Saxon and middle-class standards.

What do you do with a teacher in a position of power who does not recognize his/her own prejudice in the classroom? Are we conscious of our prejudice as prejudice? These questions are pertinent to the recognition and re-direction of prejudicial motivations in the classroom and school. Teachers will need to make valiant efforts at redefining their belief system: the future of our children depends on this. Ultimately, I believe it is up to the Black community and other concerned communities to ensure accountability and fairness in the educational process. 

Sources:

1.       Allport G.  1979 The Nature of Prejudice, Massachusetts. Addison –Wesley Publishing Company.

2.       Hernstein, R. & C. Murray 1994, The Bell Curve, Intelligence and Class Structure in American

          Life, New York: The Free Press.

3.       Rosenthal, R. & L. Jacobson 1968, Pygmalion in The Classroom, Teacher Expectation & Pupils’

          Intellectual Development: USA: Rhinehart & Winston Inc.

4.       Fanon, Fantz 1967, Black Skin White Mask. New York: Grove Press.

5.       Kitossa, Tamari 1998, Image, Identity, and Experience in the Educational Encounter: Life

          Histories of Four African Canadian Men. M. Ed. Thesis, York University.

Prepared by Andre Clarke (OISE/UT)

2002

Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugurensky/assignment1/  (date accessed).

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