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Co-Constructing the Transition to School

Reframing the Novice ersus Expert Roles of Children, Parents, and Teachers from a Cultural Perspective

Fabienne Doucet and Jonathan Tudge

R e s e a r c h e r s h a v e l o n g r e c o g n i z e d t h a t t h e t r a n s i t i o n t o s c h o o l f o r y o u n g c h i l d r e n i s o n e o f t h e m o s t i m p o r t a n t s t e p s i n t h e i r d e v e l o p m e n t ( E n t w i s l e & A l e x a n d e r , 1 9 9 3 ; M a n g i o n e & S p e t h , 1 9 9 8 ; R a m e y & R a m e y , 1 9 9 4 ) . B e y o n d t h e e d u c a t i o n a process, children also must learn to negotiate which attitudes and behavior habits are most adaptive to the school culture (Beery, 1984). School represents one of the first formal set- tings in which children are faced with new ideas and ways of doing things. Although this process may appear unilateral, sociocultural factors such as race/ethnicity,1 region of origin, and social class play important parts in shaping how the transition to school is perceived, how children are prepared for it, and how easily the transition is made (Doucet, 2000; Swick, Brown, & Boutte, 1994). This chapter presents the argument that the transition to l

We wish to thank all the participants (particularly the children) who so generously gave their time. We also gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Spencer Foundation and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (funding provided to the second author) and the Center for Developmental Science, Chapel Hill, for its support of the first author at the time of data collection. The views expressed are solely those of the authors.

1Our use of race/ethnicity (or racial/ethnic) denotes our perspective that race, used alone to distinguish among peo- ple based on perceived hereditary characteristics (most often skin color), is socially constructed and limiting in its abil- ity to help us understand the complex nuances of identity and cultural variability. Ethnicity is a more helpful construct because it encompasses shared cultural traits, with national origin or ancestry as the point of reference (Betancourt & López, 1993). However to deny the powerful role that race (i.e., skin color) plays in everyday life in the United States would be misguided (Appiah & Gutmann, 1998). Thus, we use race/ethnicity to acknowledge that, as a social con- struction, race is a meaningful concept that has an impact on everyday life, but because we are interested here in cultural variation, ethnicity captures more accurately the way in which we frame shared values and beliefs based on ancestry.

2The authors use the term “of color” to refer to U.S. native and immigrant groups with ancestry in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Oceania.

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