Saturday, April 23, 2011

Is Education Enough?

Throughout the semester, we have discussed how racism is deeply entrenched in our society. Although not everyone is the “frothing at the mouth” type racist, people implicitly react to others who have a different skin color. In my social psychology course, we had a guest speaker who discussed white privilege; according to him, an individual’s amygdala, the part of the brain that regulates emotions, shows increased activation within the first 20 milliseconds of interacting with a black person. However, this effect is not demonstrated when one interacts with a white person. Although the participants in this study were not seemingly racist, we are products of our society; “racism produces racists that reproduce the racism that produced them.”

Although we are now aware of this viscous cycle, the question remains, how do we break away from it? In class, we discussed that education, beginning in elementary and middle school years, is key in confronting racism. However, this must be done on a societal level rather than an individual level. Perhaps the government should mandate a nation wide curriculum that educates students on racism, including the consequences of both oppression and privilege. However, is education enough? If behavior predicts attitude more than attitude predicts behavior, then education alone is too shallow of a solution.

Again, according to social psychologists, the contact hypothesis predicts that increased contact with people who are perceived as being different will lead to more information about them and, consequently, less rigid stereotypes. However, this hypothesis will only reduce prejudice under five conditions:

1) Mutual interdependence and a common goal

2) Equal status

3) Informal setting where in-group members and out-group members interact directly

4) Repeated exposure with many members of the out-group

5) Social norms that promote equality

Is there a way to incorporate these conditions in school-systems? Even at Rhodes College, an institution that offers courses such as philosophy of race, there is very little interaction between white and black students. Since the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, schools have been desegregated for nearly sixty years. However, the consequences of segregation are still lingering. The contact hypothesis makes me believe that school systems across the United States should strive for greater diversity and greater interaction between students of different color. Although I understand that this is easier said than done, I do believe that this hypothesis, along with its conditions, demonstrate that education should not stand alone against racism.


  1. Nice post. I think you outline some really important limitations to counteracting racism only within the context of schools. I'm equally stumped about how to the legacy of segregation and continuing forms of racism can be eliminated from schools in there entirety. However, one way to that might help is to think about education in a more expansive notion, which is to say not only within the context of educational institutions. While targeting young children may be the ideal, clearly people of all ages are capable of altering their opinions. What this would look like I'm no sure, but hmmmmmmm

  2. Great post. That is a very interesting thought. Regardless of how educated we are and regardless of how early we start educating ourselves about race and racism , it still seems to be an issue beyond our control. As far as interactions in schools, as Kim said "Im stumped" as well. There is verryyyy little cultural emersion going on our campus and I'm not sure how to explain that. This will be very interesting to discuss in class.


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