Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stereotype Threat and Minority Achievement

During my senior year at Wellesley, I wrote an extensive paper on acculturation as it relates to the achievement gap facing African American males in the United States. The concept of stereotype threat was important to this paper as I discussed the ways in which feeling pressure to not perpetuate society's negative ideas about your racial/ethnic group often leads to poor academic performance. Although the theory of stereotype threat has studied extensively, I still have to wonder if this theory is truly what is partly driving poor achievement among African Americans (males in particular). There are many factors that can affect achievement including poverty, a lack of parental involvement, medical illness and undiagnosed or untreated learning/psychological disorders. Social psychology researchers have often focused on stereotype threat as one of the more significant factors affecting achievement, but it hard to believe that this is true across the board. Some minority children grow in minority-majority cities where racial prejudice may not be as significant; there also may also be protective factors such as community solidarity that prevents or lessens the negative psychological affects of discrimination. 

Despite my questioning of the actual real world applicability of stereotype theory, I still think that internalization of racial prejudice can have an affect on minority students. I just wonder if we looked at both white and minority students who don't do well in school, if there would be significant differences in the factors that have led them to this result. A significant number of minorities are currently living in poverty with a lack of access to medical and mental health; if one compared white students from similar backgrounds, would achievement still differ? I am indeed a proponent of the belief that poor achievement is a complicated issue that results from the interaction of a number of factors within certain types of environments. I just wonder if racial differences have been too easily been resorted to as "the answer" by some without the type of evidential support that such a notion requires. 

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