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The First R


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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Preface Chapter 2 Young Children Learning Racial and Ethnic Matters Chapter 3 Using Racial-Ethnic Distinctions to Define Self Chapter 4 Play Groups and Racial Matters Chapter 5 Using Racial-Ethnic Concepts to Define Other People Chapter 6 How Adults View Children Chapter 7 Conclusion: What and How Do Children Learn about Racial and Ethnic Matters? Chapter 8 A Postscript: What Can Be Done?

About the Author

Debra Van Ausdale is assistant professor of sociology at Syracuse University. Joe R. Feagin is graduate research professor in sociology at the University of Florida.


The premise of this challenging study by Van Ausdale (sociology, Syracuse Univ.) and Feagin (sociology, Univ. of Florida, Gainesville) is that children are complex individuals from very early on. They are not "too little" to understand race or ethnic identity, and they can and will use those concepts to discriminate and segregate. Van Ausdale arrived at these conclusions after spending 11 months in a day-care center as a nonsanctioning adult observer. She describes many comments of the children, who were aged three to five, and the use of ethnic identity in their play. Often, when she reported what she had observed, teachers and parents responded with disbelief, arguing that the children must have picked up that attitude elsewhere. As a parent of children raised in diverse neighborhoods, this reviewer has some quarrels with the underlying meaning the authors attribute to what Van Ausdale observed. Certainly, many of the authors' opinions on race relations are well taken, but readers may have real reservations about some unsubstantiated claims made concerning the children's motivations. As the authors state, much more in-depth research needs to be done in this field. An extensive bibliography is included. Recommended for academic libraries. Margaret Cardwell, DeKalb Technical Coll., Clarkston, GA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"This is a scrupulously researched book." - Times Educational Supplement "A wonderfully vivid account of how children learn about the 'first R'--race--even before they start school. The authors show how children as young as three have entered into and are experimenting with the tangled ideologies of race of the adult world." - Barrie Thorne, author of Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School

Decades of "adultcentric" research have led social scientists to deny the existence of racial awareness in young children. Yet childrenÄeven very young onesÄare clearly able to understand sameness and difference, say sociologists Van Ausdale and Feagin after studying 58 children, three to six years old, in an urban nursery school. According to their findings, children learn to identify racial or ethnic markers (skin or hair color, eye shape, accent) and use them to gain social control, even in a nursery school with an antibias, pro-tolerance curriculum. Van Ausdale, the fieldworker of the two, spent 11 months listening to the children chat and observing their play, effacing her presence as much as possible. While the authors' validation of the child's perspective is compelling, and their societal approach to the race problem sensible, their study itself is underwhelming. First, the school's racial mix is curiously skewed: of 58 children, 24 are white and 19 Asian, and there is only one nonwhite teacher. The authors continually assert that Van Ausdale functioned as an invisible observer, although this concept is questionable. The most problematic aspect of this report is the anecdotal presentation of the findings. Readers are left wondering about the actual frequency of various types of racist behavior, data that would have given the study more credibility and depth. While the jacket is appealing, no one browsing this book would mistake it for a lively read. Still, early education professionals and interested parents will find it an important addition to their collections. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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