Historical View of Race

Historically, scientists defined race as being a biological entity. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, scientists' claims of hierarchies among the races were used to justify slavery and segregation in addition to social, political, and economic dominance over and oppression of blacks by whites. Race was defined by skin color, hair texture, and other physical features. Moreover, researchers believed that a person's race was related to intellectual, spiritual, and moral qualities that they inherited and that the races were unequal in this regard. While scientists were not able to, and still have not been able to, scientifically validate this idea of race, this notion has continued to be perpetuated over time.

In the early 1900s, social scientists—specifically psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists— began to realize that differences in behavior, morality, religiosity and spirituality, culture, and intelligence were the result of environmental factors, including history and education, not genetic inheritance. As a result, the concept of race in psychology generally has come to mean inheritable, physical characteristics. If race refers to inherited physical characteristics, then one would expect that there would be genetic markers for racial characteristics that scientists can identify, just as there are genes for eye color or biological sex, for example. In other words, if being black, white, or Asian causes a person to have the bone structure, facial features, hair texture, or skin complexion that they do, there ought to be some gene or chromosomal marker that scientists can identify that is responsible for race. No such markers exist for all members of any one race. No genes or hereditary factors are shared by every Asian, or every black, or every white person. Moreover, specific traits such as the ones listed previously vary more within each racial group than they do between racial groups.

America has always been multiethnic and multiracial. As more immigrants settle in the United States, and people marry interethnically and interracially, ethnic and racial heterogeneity continues to increase. Racial and ethnic minority children and adolescents are the largest growing segment of the U.S. population. Changes in the ''face'' of America demand that individuals try to understand developmental processes operating in children from varying racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as other factors that influence the differences in children's development. Looking at similarities and differences in development helps researchers identify universal principles and processes that occur across all cultures, races, and ethnicities.

Standardized Tests and Race

A variety of race comparative studies have been conducted in the field of psychology and, more specifically, in child development. Race comparative studies on self-esteem, identity formation, out-of-school activity participation, risk taking, parenting style, and parental monitoring number in the thousands. Perhaps the most controversial area of study of racial and ethnic differences has been in intellectual performance. Many African-American and Native-American children score, on average, twelve to fifteen points lower than their European-American peers on standardized IQ tests. Hispanic-American children's scores fall between African-American and European-American children's, whereas Asian-American children's scores tend to be at the same level as scores of European-American children. It is important to note that neither IQ, future academic performance, nor life success can be predicted from an individual's race or ethnicity.

Researchers have suggested several possible explanations to account for racial and ethnic differences in intellectual performance. The first explanation is that standardized IQ tests and testing procedures are culturally biased toward European-American middle class knowledge and experiences. According to Janet E. Helms, IQ tests are designed to measure cognitive skills and information that middle class European-American children are more likely to have acquired. Researchers have attempted to make IQ tests more culturally fair, so members of minority groups and lower socioeconomic status are not placed at an instant disadvantage when taking them. A completely culture-free test, however, is good in theory, but not so feasible yet in practice.

Another explanation that has been suggested for racial and ethnic differences in intellectual performance is that minority children are not motivated to do their best on standardized tests. John U. Ogbu suggested that negative stereotypes about minority children's abilities may influence their ideas about their future educational success and career prospects. Children may feel that because of societal prejudice and discrimination they may not be able to get ahead in life, so the effort that they make and how well they score on a test is irrelevant. Furthermore, Ogbu suggested that African-American children may associate academic achievement and doing well on tests with ''acting white'' rather than with the values of their own group. Thus, they may avoid doing well because of the fear of being rejected by their own racial or ethnic group for behaving in ways valued by or associated with the majority culture. Claude M. Steele suggested that minority children and adolescents may experience stereotype threat—the fear that they will be judged to have traits associated with negative appraisals and/or stereotypes of their race or ethnic group (e.g., African Americans are not smart in reading; Hispanics just cannot do math; African Americans are simply intellectually inferior)—which produces test anxiety and keeps them from doing as well as they could on tests. According to Steele, minority test takers experience anxiety, believing that if they do poorly on their test they will confirm the stereotypes about inferior intellectual performance of their minority group. As a result, a self-fulfilling prophecy begins, and the child performs at a level beneath his or her inherent abilities.

In 1994, in their book The Bell Curve, Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray suggested that differences in IQ are the result of genetic differences between the races and cannot be explained simply on the basis of test bias or socioeconomic status differences. They also suggested that these IQ differences were responsible for higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and welfare dependence in minority groups as compared to majority groups. Arthur R. Jensen agreed with the genetic hypothesis and proposed that humans inherit two types of intellectual abilities: Level I abilities, related to memorization and short-term memory, and Level II abilities, which deal with problem solving and abstract reasoning. Jensen believed that all children perform Level I tasks equally well, but that European-American children perform Level II tasks better than children from other racial groups. Herrnstein and Murray were met

with extreme protest from many researchers who felt their claims were exaggerated, if not completely false. Critics suggested that Herrnstein and Murray's research was not scientifically rigorous. All findings relied upon a single data set, ignoring a century of research in the social sciences; the standardized tests used in their research measured academic instruction rather than inherent ability; the comparison groups were poorly designed; and they repeatedly overinter-preted weak relationships in the data. Moreover, The Bell Curve failed to explain within-racial-group differences in IQ. Similarly, neither the genetic hypothesis nor Herrnstein and Murray's theory of intellectual performance could account for multiracial children's IQ scores or the scores of adopted children.

The last and most compelling proposed explanation for racial differences in intellectual performance is that differences are the result of environmental circumstances. The subject of racial differences cannot easily be separated from the subject of socioeconomic class. Racial and ethnic group membership, in fact, is highly related to socioeconomic stratification. There is a direct correlation between parental income and education with standardized test scores. The scores of minority test takers tend to be lower, because minority children and adolescents on average come from families with lower incomes than do European-American children and adolescents. Furthermore, poor children and children from minority groups, who are more likely to be of lower socioeconomic status, are more likely to grow up in circumstances that do not favor intellectual development. Lack of access to resources and economic hardship can affect intellectual growth. Poor nutrition, poor health care, and living in chronic poverty or violent neighborhoods are just some of the factors that can combine to produce less than optimal learning environments.

Cultural Differences vs. Racial Differences

The direction of research on racial differences is beginning to move away from the race-comparative framework, which has cultivated the deficit perspec tive—the idea that minority children are inherently deficient or pathologic in some way—toward adopting race-homogenous frameworks, looking at within-ethnic-group variability, and the particular influence of the cultural context. A focus on intragroup and cultural differences rather than racial differences has more potential explanatory power for behavior and developmental processes. This movement has the potential to decrease the perpetuation of traditional notions of racial categories and subsequent stereotyping and racism, might legitimize race as a scientifically valid variable in behavioral research, and may lead to a meaningful recognition of social, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to differences in children's behavior and development.



Fraser, Steven, ed. The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America. New York: Basic, 1995. Helms, Janet E. ''Why Is There No Study of Cultural Equivalence in Standardized Cognitive Ability Testing?'' American Psychologist 47 (1992):1083—1101. Herrnstein, Richard J., and Charles Murray. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: Free Press, 1994.

Jensen, Arthur R. Genetics and Education. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

McLoyd, Vonnie C., and Laurence Steinberg, eds. Studying Minority Adolescents: Conceptual, Methodological, and Theoretical Issues. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998. Montagu, Ashley. Race and IQ. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Ogbu, John U. ''Black Education: A Cultural-Ecological Perspective.'' In Harriette Pipes McAdoo ed., Black Families. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1988. Steele, Claude M. ''A Threat in the Air: How Stereotypes Shape Intellectual Identity and Performance.'' American Psychologist 52 (1997):613-629.

Teper, Shirley. Ethnicity, Race, and Human Development: A Report on the State of Our Knowledge. New York: Institute on Pluralism and Group Identity of the American Jewish Committee, 1977.

LeShawndra N. Price


Reading can be an activity of extremes; either a person read or he cannot. What has to happen to be able to read? Why is it easy for some children and difficult for others? Reading is not an unlearned skill, such as talking, that starts developing at birth. The ability to read and write does not develop by itself; a child needs instruction to be able to read. When and where should that reading instruction begin?

The Emergent Reader: The Infant and Toddler Years

In the first few months after birth, children begin to play with sounds. Their cooing turns to babble as they attempt to imitate the sounds that they hear. They love to play games such as pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo, and manipulate objects. Adults need to talk to babies using simple language and acknowledge their language attempts to support their oral language development. It is during this time of play that infants begin their pathway to reading.

First readings with infants should include cardboard books, which are sturdy and allow the infant to handle the book without concern about pages being ripped. Most readings with a toddler center around vocabulary building, such as by asking him to point to different items in a picture. Toddlers can identify more items through this type of labeled reading than by actually talking. A toddler might not be able to voice the word if you point to an elephant, but if you ask him to show you an elephant, he will be able to point to a picture of one. As toddlers increase their vocabulary, they begin to imitate language around them by speaking in simple sentences; ''I want cookie,'' ''I go bye-bye,'' and ''I have book'' are a few examples. This oral language is the foundation for the development of literacy.

Precursors to Reading: The Preschool Years

To encourage vocabulary development, it is important for children to be engaged in meaningful conversations with others. Children need to exchange ideas about their feelings and thoughts. Children are often imitators of what they see and hear, and they need to experience reading and writing behaviors that will encourage their interest in and enjoyment of reading and writing.

Among the first words that children recognize or read are those found on fast-food signs, the names of their favorite foods and favorite toys, the names they use for their parents, and their own name. To encourage reading, children need to be exposed to print every day; during this daily reading, print concepts are introduced that are necessary for the preschooler to learn to read. These concepts are understood when a child can:

• realize that there are words on a page;

• point to the words as they are read;

• understand that one reads from left to right;

• show where the story starts on a page; and

• show the beginning and ending of a word.

After reading a story to a child give her the opportunity to talk about the story. She can tell you her favorite part of the story; you might also encourage her to retell the story in her own words. Children enjoy rereading the books that have been read to them. They will pull out the same book to be read again and again. They may even "read" their books by looking at the pictures and telling the story. This pretend reading, known as book talk, provides another brick in the foundation of their reading pathway.

If a child were retelling the story "The Three Little Pigs,'' he would probably include the language: "I will huff and puff and blow your house down.'' The words "huff' and "puff' are not typically in a child's basic vocabulary. These are examples of book talk words; using such words shows that the child has retold the story using the language from the book. Normally these book words are important to the story structure or story meaning.

Book talks, story retellings, singing songs, and noticing rhymes in words are ways that children like to play with words. A child is ready to begin formal reading instruction when she is recognizing symbols, demonstrating vocabulary knowledge by using book talk, and identifying word patterns with rhymes.

Beginning to Read: Kindergarten and Primary Grades

Formal reading instruction begins when a child is introduced to the letters in the alphabet. This typically occurs in kindergarten or the primary grades of elementary school. Children must learn that the written word is made up of letters that are symbols for the sounds they hear. Children must match those known sounds with letters. To help children match the sounds that they hear to letters, they need opportunities to use different literacy tools such as writing lists, making signs in block building, writing notes, and using icons and words when exploring computer games.

Children's writing experiences should allow the flexibility to use nonconventional forms of writing at first, what is called inventive spelling. These spelling attempts show where they are developmentally in their reading. Children go from hearing the beginning sound, then the ending sound, before they begin to look at letters in the middle of a word. If they attempt to spell the word "jump" with a "j," they are looking at the beginning letter of a word when they read. If they spell "jump" with "jp," that would indicate that they are looking at both the beginning and ending letters of words when they read. When children look at both the beginning and ending sounds, they are then ready to look at the letters in the middle of the word. At this point children would spell "jump" either "jup" or "jop." To help children look at the entire word, they should be encouraged to stretch out the sounds they hear: "j-u-m-p."

In this beginning stage of reading, children "read" from matching what they hear to letters in the word. Having the children stretch out the word "jump" to hear the individual sounds will help them realize that there are four different sounds. When they can hear and identify those four different sounds they will be able to read and write "jump" with conventional spelling. Once children understand this letter sound match, they should be encouraged to write on their own as the next step in their literacy development.

In addition to being read to, children need to be encouraged to read independently. In the early stages of learning, children depend on illustrations to help them read a story. Before having a child read, have him look at and discuss what he sees in the pictures. This process, known as a picture walk, helps the child gather words he needs to read the story and is also an opportunity to teach any unfamiliar vocabulary found in the book. For example, while doing a picture walk the child tells you he sees a crocodile but the word on the page is "alligator." A parent would tell the child, "yes that does look like a crocodile, but it is really an alligator.'' When the child is reading the book and he comes to the word "alligator," he will be able to read the word successfully because of the discussion during the picture walk.

As children master high frequency words, they begin to look at words in chunks or parts (st-amp, float, gl-ad). They will start to recognize common blends (st, pl, br) and digraphs (ew, ar, ou). To become independent readers, children need to know several strategies to help them decode an unknown word. These strategies include: using the picture, sounding out the word, looking for sound chunks in a word, rereading the sentence, skipping the word, and thinking about the story.

During this early reading stage, it is very important that children continue to be read to. They need to be read meaningful stories and informational stories daily to continue to build vocabulary meanings of unknown words.

Reading to Learn: Second Grade through High School

Once a child can decode words using a variety of strategies, the focus of reading changes from word recognition to comprehension and reading fluency. Reading becomes an opportunity to learn as children read a variety of texts. Their reading success depends


Griffith, Priscilla, and Mary Olson. "Phonemic Awareness Helps Beginning Readers Break the Code.'' International Reading Association 45 (1992):516-523.

''Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Your Children. A Joint Position Statement of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).'' Reading Teacher 52 (1998):192-216.

Reading Is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF). Available from http:// www.rif.org/home.html; INTERNET.

on the skills learned in the early stages of reading. Children begin to make connections from one topic to another and are able to consider several viewpoints while reading.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Parenting Teens Special Report

Parenting Teens Special Report

Top Parenting Teenagers Tips. Everyone warns us about the terrible twos, but a toddler does not match the strife caused once children hit the terrible teens. Your precious children change from idolizing your every move to leaving you in the dust.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment