The Relationship of Ethnic Identity Development to Cognitive Development in Preschool Children
Heneger, Teresa L.
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With increasing racial tensions, visible in the Rodney King incident and the L.A. Riots, and with an increasing demand for cultural sensitivity and cultural diversity, the need for research on ethnic identity development is greater than ever before. Until recent years, these efforts were focused upon school-aged children, but recent research suggests that children have a greater sense of their ethnic identity than previously thought (Phinney, 1987, p. 265). Many researchers have found that racial attitudes are acquired at a much earlier age, and, once formed, these attitudes may form a strong intractable foundation for racism (Phinney and Rotheram, 1987,20; Katz, 1987, 99). This has led to an increase in research in the development of racial attitudes and in the development of racial identity. Poston (1990) states: Racial identity development is important for several reasons: (1) it helps shape individuals' attitudes about themselves, attitudes about other individuals in their racial/ethnic group, attitudes about individuals from other racial/ethnic minority groups, and attitudes about individuals from the majority and (2) it dispels the cultural conformity myth, that is, that all individuals from a particular minority group are the same, with the same attitudes and preferences. Both of these issues lead to the idea that there are different levels of development and specific attitudes associated with these various levels (p. 152). It has been theorized that the development of racial attitudes and biases are directly related to one's identity development, and it is suggested that children's ethnic identity development follows the same sequence as that of cognitive development (Vaughn, 1987, p. 75). The focus of this study is on preschool children's ethnic identity development and the relationship of ethnic identity development to cognitive development. For this study, literature on Piaget's theory on children's cognitive development will be reviewed, as well as recent literature on ethnic and racial identity development. The ultimate goal is to relate the two, to develop a better understanding of the developmental sequence of children's ethnic identity development and the ways children develop different racial attitudes. This study will also concentrate further on Black children's ethnic identity development versus White children's ethnic identity development, and how ethnic identity development differs for a minority child from that of a majority child (or how they are similar). Possible implications for this research include effective multicultural education, designed to be implemented at the preschool level, to promote cultural sensitivity and interracial harmony.