In order to build a better nation and to continue one’s heritage and legacy, children look up to their predecessors for values on what to build for. Such goal is but normal for any family and in the course of human history, it has been a key factor in the growth and development of countries across the globe. However, society back then has been relatively easy to control and an environment that conducive to the development of the youth may be maintained. However, the current situation is rather different and more complicated than it was back then; and the realities of poverty, strife, discrimination and violence abound from all sides where children witness them transpiring. Social injustices have marked prevalence, and have taken shape in various forms: racism, abuse, violence, social inclusion and exclusion, poverty and other epitomes of maltreatment. What made the situation worse is the inability of adults to protect children from experiencing or from being influenced by these social injustices. Such are the circumstances that compel children to be swayed to walk a different path
It is without a doubt that the eyes of innocence from which children see these injustices allow them to form distinct meaning regarding these phenomena. Despite their young age, children do see things differently in stark comparison with than what an adult sees. The difference between an adult and children in their interpretation of the world lies in how they attach meaning to what they are seeing. From the eyes of an adult, the propensity is to complicate what has been witnessed before arriving at a conclusion; whereas children to see things without reference or special consideration of other things, thus making their interpretation raw and with strong veracity. It is thus interesting and relevant to investigate how a child makes sense of social injustices that they observe or witness.
The following literature review will present the various studies and views of researchers regarding social injustice and how children perceive it. By presenting various studies concerning the general problem, the study would be able to identify the needed resources that could be influential in determining the multicultural practices that help in children in defining social injustices are.
An act of violation or active denial of material and emotional things based on perception and race is the very essence of social injustice (Levy et al 2005). However, in modern times, social injustice does not only suggest maltreatment of the other party on account of his origins or ethnic identity. It is also based on personal reasons or experiences. Social injustice manifests in various forms and inflict damages in many ways. Social injustice might include the wide gap between the rich and a poor; the escalating incidences of bullying in school premises; domestic violence that is highlighted by abuse between parents and their children or between siblings; and ignorance of social condition due to ethnic origin or migrant status (Levy et al 2005). Furthermore, Levy et al (2005) justifies the fact that social injustice has been escalating over the years, resulting into preponderance of disease, injury, instability and early death. Moreover, most victims of social injustice are children especially those who are born and who have lived in harsh environments.
In their work, Arsenio and Gold (2006) highlighted a link between aggressive children’s social cognitive biases and the history behind these. Through models of social justice and fairness and their pre-theoretical model, the study identified that possible sources of children’s knowledge of moral lapses and their perceptions of unfairness could eventually influence a child’s moral reasoning and behavior (Arsenio & Gold, 2006). This work was propelled by the difficulties inherent in parent-child relationships. The authors further say that in the face of hostile environments, there is a tendency for empathy and emotional reciprocity to be eclipsed by maltreatment and harm. This has further evolved into the idea that children who grow under these conditions will eventually learn and depend on the belief that power and domination bring positive outcomes, while altruism and concern for others would only bring futile results.
Manifestations of Social Injustices
Social exclusion, poverty, racial discrimination and cases of abuses are some forms of social injustice which children are mostly exposed to. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), being the top destination of migrants, the United Sates of America is considered as the most violent country among the industrialized nations. Moreover, according to the NAEYC (1993), as many as 2.7 million children were victims of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional maltreatment. NAEYC (1993) reports that television shows a violent incident for every six minutes.
Apart from violence, there is also an alarming concern on the issues of racism, poverty and social exclusion. Evidence of racism manifests in the lack of representation for racial minority children as well as their families in large cities and the denial of government laws for immigrant access to important services such as education and health services. For instance, in Canada, there was a 143% increase in the number of children living under the poverty line and an increasing number of homeless children as well. Similar to racism, social exclusion could be considered as among the common forms of social injustice. Evidence of social exclusion is apparent among children with disabilities, as not encompassed by public policy frameworks and community life due to their handicap (Salojee, 2003).
Poverty might be the most conspicuous form of social injustice in society. In the work of Sutton et al (2007), poverty as well as social exclusion was seen as the most influential form of social injustices in the early lives of young people and the children. Growing and suffering from poverty has influenced greatly children’s health, personal growth and development, educational prospects and future job preferences. Having no future prospects, majority of children are strongly influenced by their perceptions. Poverty and the increasing inequality between the poor and the rich, are some of the social injustices that they attach meaning to; eventually, they may carry along these perceptions until adulthood.
Much of social injustice that has been brought about by poverty is explicitly observed in Britain, where society has remained unequal due to the disparity between incomes. Such gap has brought civil disturbance, as blue-collar workers demand income and other benefits increase. Moreover, the gap between incomes has caused 3-4 million children living within poverty levels (Sutton et al, 2007).
According to Arsenio, Gold and Adams (2006), the moral emotions of children are likely to be influenced by aggressive and conflicting interactions while growing up. Additionally, children are still unaware or ill equipped to manage complicated things, discern right from wrong and their initial reaction towards these. Considering the drastic effects that it might cause, it is valid to be concerned about how a child, at his young age and mind, sees social injustice. Their inability to discern and their high exposure to social injustice will certainly have an impact on their cognitive, social, and affective development.
According to Ridge (2002), poverty involves being fixed in a stigmatized social position, and which can bring profound impact on the lives of children and young people, affecting every aspect of their lives. It was further emphasized by the notion that people who have ‘”less” commit the “worse”, a phrase connoting that individuals may be pushed to the wall by poverty and commit crimes for survival.
Sutton et al (2003) were able to observe how children make sense of the poverty that they experience. They separated the participants into estate (public) and private school children and centered on the children’s reactions and how they make sense of their social conditions. The study shows that the estate children have avoided identifying themselves with poverty while the private school children were humble enough not to dictate and share the actual wealth or property that they owned. The estate children refrained from speaking the truth regarding what they own and they tend to “talk up” or fabricate a story in order to avoid being identified with being ‘poor’ or living under ’poverty’ (Sutton et al, 2003). In the case of the private school children, they tried to remain ‘low profile’ in order not to be considered as ‘spoiled’. The estate and private school children both have their fabricated stories and have adjusted their social conditions to avoid the stereotypes of ‘poor’ or ‘spoiled’, which have been frequently attached to their social status. The results of the study is reflective of how much the student values the ‘saving face’ attitude within the children’s environment or the group that he belongs to.
In general, children both from the estate and private schools has set to adjust themselves according to the circumstances that they in. it also entails that the children, as much as possible, has set to value his or her environment. If the environment was set for those who are rich, then the poor must refrain from being identified as someone who experiences poverty in order to ‘save face’. It also shows the fear of the children from being ‘left out’ or treated differently by the other due to his/her social conditions.
The fact that the children were very aware of their social conditions and that the children distanced themselves from their actual status or from poverty reflects their thinking. The way that they avoided being identified with the stereotypes of ‘poverty’ and ‘spoiled’ shows that the children have been able to define and make sense of poverty and social inequality in extreme terms. This has been highlighted in the term of social ‘otherness’.
In another research that has been conducted by Sutton et al (2003), they were able to emphasize the children’s notion of extreme poverty. Through the pictures presented to them, the children were asked to identify different children that are along the rich-poor continuum. The children were able to identify only one child in the group of the ‘poor’ and it was a native girl from Africa. However, when asked why the children thought that the girl belongs to the ‘poor’ group, they simply answered and explained that the girl was poor because she was from Africa. In relation to the definition of poverty, both the estate and private school children were able to grasp the general notion of poverty from such a young age. However, there are differences in how the estate children and private school children define poverty. According to Sutton et al (2003), the private school children see poverty and acknowledge those people categorized as poor as measured by material wealth. They consider poverty as the lack of material wealth and they see wealth as having more property and possessions than other people. In contrast, estate children see poverty as something that made them unable to continually pay their house rent. In summary, children make sense of social injustices, such as poverty, based from their own experience. Moreover, they react towards it by completely turning away from it, denying any connection to their social condition.
Domestic violence has been caused by multiple factors that eventually lead the perpetrator to commit an act of harm to other people. More often than not, children are victims of domestic violence, such as physical abuse inflicted by parents and school bullying. In their eyes, children see and experience harsh things that cause serious repercussions to their development.
In order to fully comprehend this, Astor (1994) investigated how children from ages 8 to 12 years old see and interpret violence, especially in their family and between their circles of friends. The analysis also explained the moral reasoning that children uphold towards the violence that they experience and see. Astor (1994) claims that violent people see their violent acts as a form of ‘reciprocal justice’ from the provocation that caused them to commit such an act. Furthermore, once provoked, violent individuals tend to focus more on the immorality of provocation thus making it easier for them to retaliate.
On the other hand, for nonviolent people, retaliation was seen as worse than the psychological harm that provocation entails (Astor, 1994). Once they experience retaliation, nonviolent people tend to condemn those who commit violent acts and violence itself, thus leading to emotional stress due to excessive anger and dismay. Moreover, Astor (1994) gathered data from children ages 8 to 12 years old; thus the nonviolent and violent opinions came from the children themselves. As it is seen, the two groups hold different views about violence and signify that children at this age already know how to make sense of social injustice around them. For violent children, their acts are a ‘social justice’, despite being unlikely and unjust in nature. As for the nonviolent children, they see violence as something to be condemned due to its severity and impact. Despite being young, children do make sense of social injustice in different ways. Based on the work of Astor (1994), children do define social injustice based on what they see, experience and feel.
Child Rearing at an Early Age and Social Injustice
There is nothing erroneous about how the estate and private school children define poverty and their reactions to it. However, that study only represented a small portion of the children population that is currently exposed not only poverty but to other forms of social injustices such as violence, social exclusion and other forms of maltreatment. It could be considered relief that children see poverty within conventional parameters; however the there is still a growing concern for children that are exposed to harsher and critical conditions. In response to this, it is essential that children at an early age be handled and carefully guided as to what path he or she ought to take, rearing him in a formal and uncorrupt manner. Bynner (1998) emphasized the early stages of life as crucial in the latter development of children. He further cited that as early as the first year of growth, the brain is already experiencing rapid development and external factors such as the quality of parenting play a crucial role in the developing mind of the infant.
Bynner (1998) also accents that what the child experiences before he/she starts his formal education is also important and should also be attended to with prudence and tact. Along this line, Bankston III & Caldas (1996) pointed out that ‘input factors’ are more important and have more impact on academic achievement than the so called ‘process factors’. Input factors relate to characteristics such as behavior, inborn knowledge and socio economic status that a child possesses and brings to school. Process factors, on the other hand, describe the contributions made by school policies, methods and resources (Bankston III & Caldas, 1996). Serving as the “capital” behavior and attitudinal foundation in school, students tend to disseminate their characteristics in school, letting their attitude and behavior be part of the common holdings and earning them peers as well as enemies in the school premises. Using the outcomes of the study, Bankston III and Caldas (1996) further emphasize that process factors contribute little to the overall academic achievement that is measured through achievement tests. Such claim collaborates with what Bynner (1998) has been pointing out, that early rearing matters more than formal education itself. Children often depict what they see before they enter school, and social injustices are often misinterpreted and miscarried once a child begins schooling. Such instances should be avoided since it will greatly affect how children see and understand things in his world. Following Bynner’s (1998) precept should somehow help in nurturing children at an early age.
The theoretical framework represents a paradigm in which children are protected and nurtured in an environment that safeguards them against social injustices. In this paradigm, the community plays an important role in rearing children starting from an early age. By doing so, the community protects their young minds from being corrupted and raises them in a way that will help them discern and understand complex phenomena, such as social injustices. The idea of nurturing programs and campaigns against social injustices was garnered from the work of Thomas-Fair & Michael (2005). In their study, the authors presented to the students, still in their kindergarten years, the history and context of social injustices in the form of children’s literature, stories and journal entries that focus on moral dilemma. The moderator further emphasizes what has been relayed to the children by letting the students connect these to real life relationships. The outcome was that more and more students have come to enjoy and participated actively in the discussion of stories centered on the context of social injustice. The outcome further suggest how children at this age perceive social injustice through analysis of events and situations that involve social injustices over the course of history, interpreted in a manner that is both subtle and entertaining for young ones (Thomas-Fair & Michael, 2005).
Although the outcome would not be similar to those of Thomas-Fair & Michael’s study, this theoretical framework presents an attempt to reduce the risk and exposure of children to the harsh realities of social injustices. Furthermore, the theoretical framework shows another important reality in the rearing of children at an early age. The role of the national or local government has long been instrumental and significant in the campaign for social injustices. Providing children with the necessary materials to grow and securing their future has been one of the top priorities of every government. Over the years, the government has ensured that this policy is always maintained; however, despite the apparent importance of the issue and efforts to resolve it, there is still growing concern over the lack of improvement in the well being of the children. Such was aggravated by special circumstances including economic downturn, budget deficit, federal-provincial crisis and terrorism. Many areas have lost to social injustice due to the lack of protection and commitment by the government, as attested to for instance by the case of the some families and their children in Canada.
This paradigm is all about collective action between the government and community. Emphasizing the practice of collective action, this entails overcoming national issues such budget deficit and economic crisis. By working collaboratively, the local community and the government may identify the missing link or institutions that could strengthen the protection of children against social injustice.
In the face of social injustice, children have taken their own stand and viewpoints that is interestingly different from that of an adult. With or without the help of someone to interpret and clarify things for them, children rely on what they see and experience to come up with a distinct interpretation of what has been observed. This paper then shall deal with an assessment of how children make sense of social injustice.
The succeeding portion walks the reader through the research design, research method, data collection, and method of data analysis of the current research.
By focusing on textual data and the spoken word rather than on numerical data and statistical methods, qualitative research is meant to describe human experiences in various subjects. The multiple perspectives of each participant are the direct source of data for this research design. By analyzing frequent phrases, patterns or statements from the participants, the researchers are able to develop a theoretical basis for their conclusions. Furthermore, this research approach may entail observing participants in their natural setting, jotting down notes during the process, and thematically analyzing these (Patton, 2002).
According to Patton (2002), qualitative design may be very tedious and time consuming. Researchers are forced to adapt to the participants’ conditions in order to extract the information they need without jeopardizing the content and value of the data. However, analysis of data could pose as a major threat to the success of the study. After being influenced by the participants’ environment, interpretation of the data could be subject to biases and personal opinion of the researcher (Myers, 2002). The main advantage of opting for this research design lies in its descriptive reports and exploration of human views that could offer the future readers of the study a better understanding of the problem, from particpants’ phenomenology.
The research method to be employed in this study is the case study method. To highlight the detailed analysis of an event, human condition or social relationships is the main purpose of a case study. According to Yin (2003), a case study is defined as an empirical inquiry between real-life context and contemporary phenomenon, especially when the relationship between the two is ambiguous. On other the other hand, Creswell (2002) presents the case study as the start of an inquiry that will bring up profound understanding regarding the system where a problem or issue is situated. The system will eventually become the case and within the system, the researcher would choose an event, activity or any form of contemporary phenomenon that does not have clear boundaries within the real-life context, making it the subject of the case.
Despite being extensively used by researchers, Stake (2005) cited that a case study is difficult methodology. It is possible to deduct theory from a case study; however, it does not provide the same ease with which conclusions are derived as in quantitative research. Lincoln and Guba (2002) also discussed that, despite the absence of ‘true’ generalization, there could be a working hypothesis that provides the case study researcher with the idea needed for the research. It is made possible by applying a tentative hypothesis that is formulated according to rational, specific conditions and circumstances (Merriam, 1988).
In this research, the subject of the case study would a 6-year old Iraqi girl named Teeba. Teeba was enrolled in a school for medical treatment due to numerous and severe wounds that she accumulated from a car bomb. Her brother was killed in the incident. Due to her appearance and place of origin, Teeba received maltreatment both from adults and her peers. Adults tend to stay away from her due to her appearance and other children her age do not approach her or interact with her. At a young age, Teeba has already been exposed to various forms of social injustices. Teeba’s experiences as well as her story of social injustices, has inspired the researcher to undertake this study. In carrying this out, they intend to address the following questions: 1) How does a child make sense of social injustices? 2) How can multicultural practices be imbibed in early childhood settings? These two questions would then be the center of the present empirical inquiry.
There are various ways of collecting data for a case study. However, in this case, interview, participant observation, and direct observation shall be employed. An interview is a focused face-to-face meeting between two parties, namely, the interviewer and the interviewee (Treece & Treece Jr., 1977). The difference of an interview from a simple list of open-ended questions is that the former may be considered as an ordinary dialogue between two people. The researcher is not subject to follow any plan during the interview although he/she could formulate a simple guide to follow. The dialogue could supply a wealth of information since the discussion may cover several topics that are related to the main focus of the study. The interview method is further classified into three types: the structured, semi-structured and non-structured interviewing types.
The current study will opt for the semi-structured interview. Semi-structured interviewing is a type of interview in which the researcher, who will act as the interviewer, is not strictly limited to the questions that he has to ask. This suggests that he could ask additional questions that he deems necessary for the extensive coverage of topic, since it will enable the researchers to gather more in-depth information (Treece & Treece Jr., 1977).
The next methodology is participant observation, which is an ethnographic research method that helps the researcher in gathering the data through observing and participating in the study population’s daily activities. In doing so, the researcher is out to learn the perspectives held by the participants (Mack et al, 2005). On the other hand, direct observation, according to Taylor-Powell and Steele (1996), allows the researcher to document the activities, behavior and physical aspects of participants without relying on their willingness to respond. Seeing and listening are the main key behaviors in order to carry out direct observation effectually.
Just like other research methods, the case study allows the researchers to use a single or multi-modal approach (Writing Guide: Case Study, 2008). By using more than one tool for data collection, a case study would be more accurate and convincing, mainly because there is substantial information supporting the claim of the researcher.
Data analysis for case studies could be done in two ways; holistically or through coding. Holistic analysis attempts to draw the idea and conclusion by understanding the context as a whole while coding entails that the data be broken into pieces, searching for specific information (Writing Guide: Case Study, 2008). For this study, coding will be used to analyzed the critical incidents that have shaped the fundamental beliefs of Teeba, as well as her values.
In doing a qualitative research, the validity and reliability of the study is always emphasized and serve as perennial points of contention. The researcher must set a clear basis for the evaluation of the study’s validity and reliability. According to Morse et al (2002) “trustworthiness” may be ambivalent and may cause confusion among researchers. There are two standards definitions of trustworthiness and these were derived from Yin (1994) and Lincoln and Guba (1985). According to Yin (1994), trustworthiness is described as the criterion used to assess the quality of the research design, while Lincoln and Guba (1985) refer to it as the goal of the research. These two standards were later on followed by other researchers, which resulted in the development of a criteria or a standard for evaluating the validity of the evidence that have been presented for research process.
According to Morse et al (2002), aside from the issue of setting validity and reliability, there are still four factors that need to be considered in order to the research to be considered worthwhile. These are truth value, applicability, consistency, and neutrality. In order to meet these criteria for the research study, Morse et al (2002) has suggested different trustworthiness strategies to be used in different cases of qualitative research.
There are at least six verification strategies that could be used in verifying the validity and reliability of a study. However, one may prove sufficient for a study to ensure the reliability and validity of data. The verification strategy of having an adequate and representative sample would be the best out of the six verifications strategies, and which may be employed in the present study (Morse et al, 2002).
Having the appropriate participant would ensure that the data represents accuracy and veracity. According to Morse et al (2002), under this strategy, sampling adequacy, saturation of evidence and its replication would be attained, ensuring that all data needed to account all the aspects of the phenomenon or the topic have already been obtained. Data that have undergone saturation would guarantee replication of categories, while the latter ensures comprehension and completeness that are needed to adequately meet the verification standards (Morse et al, 2002). .
In this case, Teeba is the ideal and apt participant, since she has experienced first hand social injustices while being treated at the hospital. Despite Teeba’s young mind, she is already keenly aware of what is social injustice is and sees it according to what she has experienced and seen, making her the appropriate participant for this qualitative empirical inquiry.
This research would be closely linked to what Teeba says and how she reacts to the questions that would be put forth by the researcher to her from time to time. Although Teeba might be considered as the appropriate subject for this study, there are still setbacks that are expected to transpire, and which may serve as methodological limitations. Firstly, the information revolves around Teeba and no matter how completely and profoundly she views social injustice, there remains to be other perspectives or phenomenology from other children with similar traumatic experiences. Furthermore, Teeba’s sensitivity and youth may stall the progress of the research, in terms of gathering the necessary data for analysis. Lastly, Teeba’s opinions would be highly subjective and the fact that the study presents clear methodological constraints on the quality and comprehensibility of the data. These are some of the limitations that the researcher must work with and have keen awareness of in carrying out the current study.
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