Writing and Counter-Racism

Fear of failure at school can be crippling, especially for ethnic minority students. Research shows it’s all too common for them to fear that their own poor performance will reinforce negative stereotypes. Unfortunately this anxiety only serves to undermine their achievement, thus perpetuating the cycle. Now Geoff Cohen and colleagues have shown a simple psychological intervention based on self-affirmation can help prevent this downward spiral, leading to academic benefits up to two years’ later.

Research Digest Blog, Simple psychological intervention boosts school performance of ethnic minority students

I have mixed feelings about this report– it’s too early to count these chickens, for one thing. I also wonder if it represents a kind of liberal wishful thinking, a hope that a simple, inexpensive solution might be found to a seemingly intractable problem. If it’s so easy, why did it take so long to figure this out?

Then again, perhaps the real problem is that it has taken us– Americans– so long to collectively accept that racism has profound effects that go well beyond anything an individual can correct on his or her own. It seems too obvious but maybe only recently have we really acknowledged that kids need help with racism.

Once we– or some sub-section of the American “we” anyway– accept that racism is real in this sense then we can begin to try to figure out ways to counter it. We have to recognize the disease as a disease, in other words, before we can even begin to imagine treatments. If that’s true, then perhaps this is very good news.

I wonder how well this would work in situations where the anxieties are rooted in class and gender as well as in race. At my school, for example, I meet lots of students whose fears about school seem rooted in socio-economics. I wonder what would change if we tried this sort of intervention…

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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