An investigation of the effect of books with black characters on the racial preferences of white children
Lancaster, Joyce Woodward
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The influence of books on human behavior has been attested since ancient times. Today books have been advocated as a solution to the difficult problem of combating racial prejudice. Many educators and librarians have recommended the inclusion of children's books with black characters in the school curriculum. It is thought that empathy with a black character in a story may cause a change in attitude toward Blacks. Festinger's research on attitude change through the creation of dissonance lends support to the theory of empathy. Festinger found that involving an individual in an action which disagreed with his attitude was likely to effect a change in attitude. Although much has been written on the influence of books, few experimental studies have been reported. Shirley (1969) documented the kinds of influence from books which high school students report. Litcher and Johnson (1969) found a significant attitude change from the use of multi-ethnic readers. Jackson (1944) concluded that books could be effective in changing racial attitudes, but Carlsen (1948) disagreed. To investigate the effect of reading books with black characters on the racial preferences of white children, a picture test was constructed based on the work of Horowitz (1938). The Race/Activity Decision Criteria Picture Test is designed to measure the degree to which race is used as a criteria for decision-making. Fifty-six children's books with black characters were rated by librarians and teachers on literary quality and ability to foster good race relations. These books were read during class time by 125 fifth grade students in an all white suburban school. All reading was voluntary and was not associated with regular assignments. A posttest was administered and the data was analyzed by a multiple regression analysis system using a computer program which allowed either specified or unspecified ordering of variables. Due to non-linearity of the test scale, the population was divided on the basis of posttest scores into two groups: (a) those who displayed no racial preferences or a bias toward Blacks, and (b) those whose scores indicated a prejudice against Blacks. Results of the analysis indicated that the effect of books on racial preference is not a simple one-to-one relationship. In the Bias/No Preference Group, the greater the number of books read, the less often race was used as a decision-making criteria. For the Prejudiced Group, however, the greater number of books read was associated with higher prejudice scores. Results were significant at .05 level for both groups. The quality of books read as defined in this study was not significantly associated with posttest scores. Specific content of books was significant only for the Bias/No Preference Group. In this group, reading about black characters with socio-economic status was significantly associated at the .01 level with greater bias toward Blacks. Although these findings generally support the theory that books are effective in influencing human behavior and indicate that this effect is cumulative, the implication is clear that, as yet, we do not have sufficient knowledge to make reliable predictions of the effect of particular books on individuals. The relationship is complex and requires further study. It would appear that most schools would be justified in including books with black characters in their curriculum. However, books should not be relied upon to provide the exclusive thrust of a program to alleviate prejudice, especially in communities where extreme prejudice is the norm.
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RightsCopyright © 1971 Joyce Woodward Lancaster. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.