Difference Matters: Teaching Students a Contextual Theory of Difference Can Help Them Succeed

Nicole M. Stephens*, Mar Yam G. Hamedani, Sarah S.M. Townsend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Today’s increasingly diverse and divided world requires the ability to understand and navigate across social-group differences. We propose that interventions that teach students about these differences can not only improve all students’ intergroup skills but also help disadvantaged students succeed in school. Drawing on interdisciplinary research, this article theorizes that teaching students a contextual understanding of difference can accomplish both of these important goals. Understanding difference as contextual means recognizing that social-group differences come from participating in and adapting to diverse sociocultural contexts. This article begins by reviewing research that highlights two distinct understandings of social-group differences—as contextual or essential—and demonstrates their consequences for intergroup outcomes. We then review research on multicultural and social justice education that highlights the potential benefits of educating students about social-group differences. We propose that these educational approaches are associated with intergroup and academic benefits for one key reason: They teach students a contextual theory of difference. Finally, to illustrate and provide causal evidence for our theory of how a contextual understanding of difference affords these benefits, this article provides an overview of the first social psychological intervention to teach students a contextual understanding of difference: difference-education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-174
Number of pages19
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Volume14
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

Keywords

  • culture
  • diversity
  • education
  • inequality
  • intervention
  • socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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