Children learn to hide prejudice, says study

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Research showing that children learn to 'use mental control' so they do not give public vent to ethnic prejudices reinforces the need for all nurseries and schools to have effective anti-racist policies, according to a leading early years consultant. Gina Houston, vice-chair of Early Years Equality and director of a Sure Start programme in the London borough of Brent, said, 'Children learn to control their racism, particularly in the presence of an adult such as a teacher.'

Research showing that children learn to 'use mental control' so they do not give public vent to ethnic prejudices reinforces the need for all nurseries and schools to have effective anti-racist policies, according to a leading early years consultant.

Gina Houston, vice-chair of Early Years Equality and director of a Sure Start programme in the London borough of Brent, said, 'Children learn to control their racism, particularly in the presence of an adult such as a teacher.'

Ms Houston was commenting on research sponsored by the Educational and Social Research Council and led by Dr Adam Rutland of the University of Kent's Psychology Department. His study involved splitting 155 white children aged between six and 16 into groups according to how acceptable they found social discrimination.

They were questioned about several scenarios where black people were victims of discrimination, with some told that their responses were being filmed.

Dr Rutland said all ages showed implicit ethnic bias, though being aware of the video camera resulted in the children 'controlling their explicit ethnic bias in line with what is generally regarded as acceptable'.

However, the same reticence was absent when the team investigated national prejudices. Swap- ping English and German scenarios for the black and white examples, the children's prejudices were not curbed by the filming.

Ms Houston, who is also an early years trainer, said the studies underlined the fact that 'racism is socially learned' and that it was essential to understand children's internalised feelings. 'Banning racist language is not enough because it doesn't stop children using it when the teacher is absent,' she said.

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