Changing ethnic attitudes of children with the help of teachers

In today’s world, we become more and more surrounded by cultures that are different from ours. We often find it difficult to understand the other cultures. So, as you can imagine, it is important that we find a way to accept each other and live together. To not think it is us versus them. We should think of each other as one people, one community, one group. This is where the so-called outgroup-ingroup comes into play.

Quick background info: Let’s say you identify yourself as a white person, or as a male, or by your nationality. So everyone that is also white, or male, or has your nationality belongs to your group. All the people who are different from your group, are in the outgroup. Why can this be a problem? Well, you tend to have negative prejudices about the outgroup and think they are all the same. You also don’t distribute points fairly amongst your ingroup and the outgroup. This happens even if the difference is very small, like when people wear a different colour t-shirt.

Translate this to the real world and you get unfair treatment of whoever is in the outgroup. Science has been trying to find a way to get rid of the ingroup-outgroup mentality. One possible option is to teach our children to include ethnic minorities in our ingroup. Geerlings, Thijs and Verkuyten (2017) found that the relationship between the students and their teachers can play an important role in this.

Children’s ethnic outgroup attitudes develop and change over time. They also depend on the situation and on social influences in a certain context. One possible context is school: their teacher has a lot of influence on children’s attitudes on cultural diversity.

How would this work? Well, if the child forms a healthy and safe attachment with their teacher, this might provide the child with a sense of security which in turn makes them feel more comfortable with ethnic outgroups. Geerlings and her colleagues tried to find out if this is the case through three experiments. Here’s a short review of all three.

Study 1
For the study, they gathered 402 Dutch students in 4th- to 6th-grade classrooms within 8 elementary schools across the Netherlands. They only used the students that had native Dutch parents and who identified themselves as being Dutch.

They used a couple of measures: children filled in the Closeness subscale from the Student Perception of Relationship with Teacher Scale (SPRTS), to assess the student-teacher relationship. Furthermore, their attitudes were measured with questions about the general evaluations of Turkish and Moroccan people (two of the biggest ethnic groups in the Netherlands). They also filled out four stereotypic trait dimensions.

They found that children with a close relationship with their teacher also reported more positive ethnic attitudes on the stereotype measure and on general attitudes.

Study 2
For the second study, they gathered 334 Dutch children in 18 schools in the 4th and 6th grade. They again used the Closeness subscale from the SPRTS for the student-teacher relationship, and also for the child-parent relationship. For outgroup attitudes, they measured the general attitude. They also measured if the teachers showed multicultural norms to the children, with three questions.

They found that, again, a close relationship with the teacher was associated with a more positive ethnic outgroup attitude. When adding the child-parent relationship to the model, the student-teacher relationship still remained significant. At the same time, the child-parent relationship was not related to the outgroup attitude. The displayed teacher norms about multiculturalism were also significant; if teachers display more positive norms, children have more positive outgroup attitudes. Moreover, the effect of the student-teacher relationship remained intact.

Study 3
In the last study, the authors gathered a total of 308 children in 23 schools across the Netherlands, who identified as Dutch. The student-teacher relationship was again measured with the same Closeness subscale and the outgroup attitudes were assessed using the stereotypic evaluations as in the first study. They also measured intergroup anxiety (if you have anxiety in groups from another ethnicity) with six questions they developed for the study. Lastly, they also measured the internal and external motivation for openness to another culture. This was done by presenting six reasons for being nice to children from another country (3 reasons being internal, and 3 being external).

Again, they found that a closer relationship to their teacher was related to more positive outgroup attitudes. External motivation did not seem related to outgroup attitudes at all. Also, while intergroup anxiety was related to outgroup attitudes (more anxiety meant more negative attitudes). The indirect relationship was significant for internal motivation for cultural openness. This also caused the direct relation between student-teacher relationship and outgroup attitudes to be insignificant. So, if students are closer to their teachers, they become more internally motivated to seek and develop positive interactions and relations with outgroup peers, which then is related to more positive outgroup attitudes.

So together these studies show that the relationship the children have with their teacher can be important in gaining more positive attitudes towards ethnic outgroups.

The authors state that ‘a good relationship with the teacher can stimulate children’s internal motivation to seek and develop positive outgroup interactions. This suggests that teachers can influence motivations of students other than those related to academic engagement and achievement.’

This study shows that schools and teachers are not only important for the children’s’ academic growth. They are also teaching them about cultural differences and to stimulate tolerant attitudes, which are necessary for our increasingly diverse world. The relationship that teachers have with their students can play an important role in promoting a more positive attitude towards people who have a different culture than the one they are used to. Hopefully, this can help in creating more love and understanding between our different cultures.

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