Sometimes I think we are making progress in helping folks understand the need for magnet schools in Rochester. And then I make the mistake of reading a letter in the newspaper or an on-line post somewhere that vilifies city kids as lazy and parents as criminals. Or I hear someone blame the poor for being poor or lazy. And I wonder how can we change their attitude?
Attitude change is a topic that I know little bit about because I researched it for my doctoral thesis years ago at Penn State. My thesis was: The Development of a Reliable and Valid Scale to Measure Writing Attitudes. Don’t look for it on Amazon.
Attitudes are learned and evolve based on our experiences. We acquire them gradually. They are affected by important events and the people associated with them like our parents, friends and teachers. We know that individuals are likely to ignore or discount information that people outside their circle tell or show them. We all favor information from people close to us. And this information shapes our attitudes. This reasoning seems particularly relevant today in a political climate in which people are likely to tune into the news they want to hear from people who share their perspectives.
The concept of attitude contains a quality of evaluation: that is, you are for or against something or like or dislike a group’s ideas and institutions. But attitude can change. Many factors can contribute to attitude change: education, feedback, media, socialization and getting to know people who may have different attitudes.
My old research got me wondering what role attitude plays in our quest to create socioeconomically diverse magnet schools. On one hand the results of the GS4A survey seem to indicate that people would put their kids in more socio-economically integrated settings if they thought the school would be good fit. But some of the research on attitudes and their effect on behaviors make me wonder.
Attitude and behavior (the A-B relationship) are imperfectly correlated. Studies as far back as 1930s have found that variables like vested interest and who is asking the survey questions affect the answers. So a person may respond that they will send their children to a magnet school in the city but when push comes to shove they may not do so or be influenced by others who think it is a bad idea.
However, the A-B relationship does not only work in one direction. We can change attitudes by first changing people’s behaviors. For example over the past forty years our behaviors changed when legislation was passed requiring us to recycle. Now it is second nature for us to separate plastics and paper into different bins and many of us strive to maintain these behaviors because we think it is good for future generations and our planet. We changed our behaviors and our attitudes followed.
So the question is, “How do we change behavior that will change attitudes?” or, “How do we change attitudes that will change behavior?” when we know that people often ignore the research or new ideas because it is not shared by their family and friends?
I guess we just keep plugging away person by person. We had the political will to put recycling in place because we determined as a culture that there was no other way and eventually when asked to comply with new behaviors people found that it made sense and they changed their attitudes.
So continue to talk with and listen to your friends and family who may not have thought about the issue of socioeconomically diverse magnet schools and how they can help us all. It may change someone’s attitude.