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Why Study Stereotypes?
Jan Kubik
Rutgers University
Martha F. Kubik
West Amwell Elementary School

This curriculum module is designed to help students understand the role various stereotypes play in social relations between individuals, communities and even nation-states. It facilitates students' learning of how to define, identify, cope with, and overcome stereotypes that are prevalent in all societies.

Stereotypes are pervasive. We rely on them in our daily lives for they provide us with serviceable, simple, summary images of other people (individual or groups) we have to deal with. Our lives are hectic and we desperately need quick answers about who "the others" are and how we are supposed to interact with them. Sometimes we use them because we are lazy: its easier to apply a ready-made image or description of some group of people than to invest time and energy into finding more information about who they really are. It must be remembered, however, that the empirical accuracy of stereotypes is dubious. As Walter Lipmann - who is widely believed to introduce the term to the social science in 1922 - quipped: "All Indians walk in single file, at least the one I saw did."

Relying upon stereotypes may make our lives easier, at least in the short run, but we should understand that by using them we usually hurt those whom we are stereotyping. This in itself is a problem: on ethical grounds this is wrong. More pragmatically, we should refrain from doing unto others what we would not want them to do to us. Additionally, however, the reliance on stereotypes prevents us from gaining a more thorough knowledge of other people and other cultures. This is dangerous, because our social, political, and economic relationships with people from other cultures and civilizations are increasingly vital for our own well-being in the rapidly globalizing world.

While the complete eradication of stereotypes from our thinking is perhaps impossible, it is imperative that we understand their - often unintended yet devastating - consequences.

This curriculum module will address several important aspects of the study of stereotypes and presents various methods of dealing with them. It can be used on its own or in tandem with other curriculum modules offered by Global Citizen 2000.

The module was developed by a team. The final research, organizing, writing and editing was done by Martha and Jan Kubik.

JAN KUBIK, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Russian, Central, and East European Studies. His work is focused mostly on postcommunist transformations in Eastern Europe and revolves around the relationship between culture and politics and contentious politics. His major publications include The Power of Symbols Against the Symbols of Power. The Rise of Solidarity and the Fall of State Socialism in Poland, University Park: Penn State University Press (1994) and Rebellious Civil Society: Popular Protest and Democratic Consolidation in Poland, 1989-1993, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press (1999), co-authored by Grzegorz Ekiert.

MARTHA F. KUBIK, Enrichment teacher at West Amwell Elementary School in Lambertville, NJ. Working in a school that is dedicated to the enrichment of every student, she and her students are participating in this and other innovative projects. In her other lives, she has worked as a high school coordinator for the United Federation of Teachers, an editor, and a librarian (and still is).


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