With particular emphasis on education this work will examine the effects different types of discrimination and oppression can have on minority groups in general, before progressing to address the effects on specific minorities. This will include considering the effects, personal, cultural and structural levels of discrimination have on groups such as: ethnic minorities, non-English speaking and disabled and low socio-economic status children.
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Focus will then shift to evaluate the success some informal measures have had in combating such effects and if they have redressed the balance for societies minority groups. In this respect, the impact of equal opportunities, anti-discriminatory practice, social inclusion, participation and empowerment and advocacy will be analysed through experiences of non-English speaking families, children of different sexual orientations, disabled and traveller children. The inter-relationship of these informal measures will be noted as will the multiplicity and increased magnitude the effects of discrimination will have on children belonging to more than one minority group.
Social stratification refers to the way societies rank people into hierarchical categories, this is a means by which one group exerts power over another and can result in minority groups being discriminated against and oppressed when this power is unjust or cruel (Macionis and Plummer 2008). Discrimination can therefore be described as behaviour that has the effect of disadvantaging a particular group of people, and within multi-faceted societies a tendency exists to discriminate against groups based on factors such as gender, disability, religion, race and class (Malik 2009).
Thompson (2003) argues, the major outcome of discrimination is oppression and the insidious relationship between the two, is that the former causes the later. Thompson (2006) also refers to his PCS analysis as a framework in recognising discrimination takes place via interlinked and constantly interacting relationships between one’s personal feelings, cultural beliefs and messages received from a powerful structural level. This re-enforces the complex nature of the roots and explanations of discriminating behaviour.
Adding to the complexities of discrimination are the types and various vehicles used to perpetuate it, one of which is stereotyping which can be both an unconscious and conscious processes (Malik 2009). Through stereotyping, some minority groups are labelled and negative images or expectations are attached to these groups (ibid). The effect of this, for young people from any of the previously mentioned minorities, can result in them engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy loop, whereby one is conditioned to conform to other people’s expectations of them. Through this process the child will not fulfil their potential in life and their self-perception will be seriously affected resulting in low self-esteem (Malik 2009). Allowing some children to claim social superiority over another group based on race, gender, class and other social groupings, will result in false perceptions about society and an opposite self-fulfilling prophecy (Lindon 2004).
The notion of racial discrimination resulting in low self-esteem was examined by Clark and Clark in a study into the effects of discrimination on self-perception of black children. They concluded, racial discrimination resulted in black children entering a cycle of self-hatred based on skin colour and consequently positive peer group identification suffered (Sturt 2000).
In addition, children from ethnic minorities are at greater risk, than their non-ethnic minority peers, of experiencing direct discrimination in an educational setting through name calling or physical abuse from other children. This may result in negative feelings including isolation/exclusion from mainstream society, low self-worth, culminating in low educational attainment thus constructing barriers to future employment, health and life chances (United Nations 2000).
This may be further compounded if these children do not have English as their first language, with non-English speaking parents and without adequate language support within the structure of the school setting. Discrimination such as this may be described as unconscious or institutionalised, or both, affecting a child’s emotional, social and cognitive development whilst giving rise to feelings of; lack of cultural dignity, being ignored and avoided with a general lack of independence or empowerment leading to depression (Moonie et al 2000). This example provides a working illustration of interactions and relationships between Thompson’s personal, cultural and structural levels of discrimination (Thompson 2006).
Concerns over institutionalised and unconscious discrimination towards disabled children within school playgrounds were highlighted, in recent research by Wooley et al (2006). The effects of organisational, social, physical and attitudinal barriers on disabled children ranged from; shortened or no break-times, grouping all disabled children together during breaks, heightened concerns over risk taking resulting in limited play opportunities thus exclusion from peers, a disproportionate length of playtime spent in exclusively adult company to the playground environment not being adapted to suit the needs of disabled children (ibid). This gives rise to concerns including; isolation and exclusion of disabled children, educational institutions fostering a learned helplessness self-concept, and the increased probability of re-enforcing negative stereotypes of disabled children (Wooley et al 2006).
The impact of discrimination for disabled children is heightened within education for those with dual memberships to minority groups, such as belonging to a low socio-economic group and being disabled (Oliver 2009). Effects of discrimination on disabled children outlined above, coupled with evidence that poorer children do not attain the level of qualifications their better off peers aspire to, are significant (Gentleman 2009). This is linked to a lack of equivalent advice, mentoring and support available to middle class children, as well a lack of finances playing a role in lower leaving age and non-take up of further/ higher education (ibid). The implications of belonging to poorer families has a bearing on children’s health, diet and impinges on all areas of development which then discriminates against high educational achievement, and low expectations of such children is reflected in results throughout the education system (Harman 2010).
Bernstein (2003) further argues, through his elaborated and restricted code theory, lower class children are discriminated from any learning environment, as they are more comfortable using a restricted language code which assigns significantly different meanings to spoken language than their middle class peers who use an elaborated language code. He explains educators use this elaborated code, thereby discriminating against working classes, resulting in these children turning away from education due to feelings of; inferiority, boredom and not being represented in educational role models, resulting in low grades hence a repetitive cycle of generational poverty (ibid).
Effects including those outlined above are a growing concern for society and have highlighted the increasing need to tackle discrimination with a positive attitude to change. Thus resulting in a two-pronged approach, using best practice/informal measures underpinned by formal legislation/policies (Millam 2002). Informal measures are not mutually exclusive in tackling discrimination. This is illustrated by elements of anti-discriminatory practice overlapping, supplementing and feeding into equal opportunities and social inclusion, thus promoting participation, hence enabling empowerment and advocacy (Malik 2009).
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Promoting equal opportunities within education is crucial if unfair inequalities between groups are to be successfully addressed (UN 2000). Therefore in schools which have children from ethnic minorities whose first language is not English, all barriers should be eliminated to ensure full participation from the child and their family (Moonie et al 2000). This might include ensuring newsletters and welcome signs within school can be understood by all families, arranging interpreters during parent/school consultations and providing children with individual support within the classroom (ibid). It is also important associated negative stereotypical images are eradicated from books within the classroom, and might also involve cultural and religious differences being celebrated by encouraging appropriate culture tables to be displayed and discussed (MIllam 2002).
Whilst this informal measure might redress some imbalances and promote equal opportunities for non-English speaking children, teachers unions are concerned about the added burdens this incurs. Their worries relate to increased financial and resource pressures on individual schools and local educational authorities arguing promoting equal opportunities to this minority group seriously undermines the quality of education given to pupils as a whole (Kirkup 2007).
Applying equal opportunities through anti-discriminatory-practice to eradicate discrimination and oppression can be aided by using Thomson’s PCS analysis to understand and challenge such behaviour (Thompson 2006). Applying this theory to explain why children and teachers might practice hetrosexualism reveals that personal, direct prejudice against gays, lesbians or bisexuals is commonplace and rarely challenged, this is re-enforced culturally by negative stereotypical images and jokes aimed at this minority group and is backed up structurally by being seen as threatening to religious beliefs and family values (ibid). Understanding this relationship allows anti-discriminatory practice to be actioned on all three levels by; challenging discriminatory language, whether delivered through jokes or otherwise (Teacher Net 2007). Ensuring discussions are raised within school settings in order to eliminate negative stereotypes associated with persons of ] different sexual orientations, warranting all books do not depict only typical nuclear families and promoting sexual diversity in society in a non-threatening but serious manner (ibid).
Some of the afore-mentioned anti-discriminatory practices may be relatively easily implemented in primary school settings, however, secondary schools prove more challenging environments to confront such discrimination and deep rooted prejudices (Curtis 2008). In some secondary schools staff report being afraid to challenge homophobia for fear of making themselves targets of abuse, or being seen to promote homosexuality. Teachers also feel they will not be supported by parents if they tackle homophobic behavior (ibid). This again highlights the interplay between Thompson’s PCS levels and the direct, indirect and institutionalized nature, within education, of discrimination against this minority group (Thompson 2006).
Social inclusion of disabled and special educational needs (SEN) children into mainstream education has been embraced by the Scottish Government (2007) whose main aim was, ‘the achievement of equal access to, and participation in skills and learning for everyone, including those trapped by persistent disadvantage’. CSIE (2008) believes inequalities and discrimination will reduce as a result of integration. Through valuing diversities between students and embracing all types of learners within the school community they see developmental benefits to all children. Integration is viewed as integral to the de-structuring of physical, societal, attitudinal and legal barriers confronted by disabled learners (ibid). There is however growing concern appropriate staff training and increased numbers of specialist staff are not in place within Scottish Education to make social inclusion of disabled children work (Montgomery 2004). These concerns are added to when statistics of exclusions from Scottish Schools show that children with SEN’s in mainstream education are three times more likely to be excluded than non SEN children and thirteen times more likely if the child is also in receipt of free school meals and looked after by a local authority (Scottish Government 2008).
Many minority groups feel their voices are not heard and their level of participation in decision making is compromised, this can be a particular concern for children as this ageism can lead to discrimination (ATL 2010). Schools can address this by practicing simple measures ensuring participation such as: children deciding on story endings, meaningful decision making through representative pupil councils and involvement in writing positive behaviour policies (ibid). Engaging children in participation and by listening to their views raises self-esteem and equips children with valuable decision making skills (Clark n.d.). The quality and degree of participation can be assessed using Hart’s Ladder of Participation; which shows the higher the level of participation the more autonomous the child feels. It also outlines the dangers in appearing to allow children to participate which may be simply tokenistic or manipulative on the part of the adult (Fletcher 2008).
Levels of participation links to increased empowerment and the minority group of traveller/gypsy children has consistently been identified as segregated from society and requiring advocacy in order to have equal opportunities (STEP 2009). Due to racial discrimination, cultural mistrust of educational establishments, and the nomadic nature of their lives, the uptake of education has been low and has been influential in rendering empowerment out of reach to the majority of travelling children. In efforts to combat this inequality and provide much needed advocacy, outreach teachers educate the children in their communities whilst trying to encourage mainstream take-up (O’Hanlon and Holmes 2004). This approach has had limited success in bridging the equality gap and eliminating discrimination and oppression, but has had some success at promoting more positive images of travellers and providing/maintaining vital links with other services (Myers and Bhopal 2009).
It is hoped this analysis has been successful in highlighting devastating life-long impacts discrimination and oppression can have on the lives of minority groups in society. These effects span all developmental areas and can result in compromised health, education, life chances thus impinging access to societal services. Complexities surrounding why people discriminate against minority groups can be better understood and more effectively challenged using Thompson’s PCS theory.
Whilst informal measures are important factors in combating discrimination and oppression their success concerning some minority groups is measured, illustrated in problems encountered by education services integrating disabled children within mainstream education. General consensus appears to be; more funding and training is required rendering this workable. Similarly promoting equal opportunities to non-English speaking children is important, making significant differences to cultural identity and inclusion within the wider community but financial concerns arise. Informal measures have had little impact on travelling communities as they are still generally socially-excluded. Negating effects of discrimination is a complex balancing act with no easy solution.
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