December 6, 2010
2 The word prejudice is defined as a “preconceived judgment or opinion formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge” (Merriam-Webster, 2010). Prejudice has become a complex problem in the nation today, and much of the worlds’ history is based upon such hatred. Prejudice can be found between many different factors, such as a person’s religion, gender, or cultural and geographical background. America today has the power to greatly reduce the amount of prejudice in society. This is done mainly by teaching and educating the nation regarding issues such as cultural backgrounds and social differences, starting at a young age. The effects will not only be seen in the present day, but the hope is that the ideas will continue to be spread to, and have an impact on, the following generations.
The concept of prejudice emerged during the early twentieth century. It soon became the most prominent social scientific concept to describe antipathy for others based on their social group or category membership. Modern approaches see prejudice and stereotypes as incorrect, irrational, or faulty. However, in the early twenty-first century they were seen as arising out of a normal and adaptive cognitive process, such as categorization, which function to reduce the complexity of social information processing. This way of thinking taught society to generalize expectancies about social groups, which bias the perception of, and behavior toward individual members of those groups.
To have a better understanding of how prejudices function, one must look at how it is leaned. As a child many stereotypes are taught. Ideas are learned as 3 fact and children are taught to behave as if they are true, even though a child most likely will never have the opportunity to test these theories. Later in life is when one will learn and acquire a belief system in a more active way. This is when the individual begins to discuss, evaluate, and decide for themselves. This may cause conflict between the two systems of “earlier learning” and “later learning”. Some may hold on to that original teaching, while others, after re-evaluating and questioning, may branch off and adopt a new way of thinking.
Many people seem to hold fewer “later learning” beliefs or conflicts, but they still have earlier learning reactions and perceptions that they themselves may not even be aware of. For example, those born into extremely religious or conservative homes may have been raised with the belief that homosexuality is an abomination and those who “choose” to live that lifestyle are immoral people who will be punished for their actions. They most likely will not have to opportunity to question what they have been taught at a young age, and therefore will grow up believing it. Later in life, there may come a point where the people that they meet along the road will cause them to challenge and question their original teaching. The decision to change that “early learning” and adapt a new or “later learning” ultimately rests on the individual.
Internationally known teacher and diversity trainer Jane Elliot is one of the people that agreed with the idea that prejudice is learned at a young age and that people have the power to alter their way of thinking. Elliot wanted to expose prejudice for what it is, an “irrational class system based upon purely arbitrary 4 factors” (BBC, 2003). In response to the growing racial hatred across America, specifically the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Elliot devised the controversial “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise.
While teaching in a small, all-white town in Iowa, Elliot was frustrated by the fact that she had been unsuccessful at explaining racism to her third and fourth grade class. She decided the best way