First Day at School

By Marcus Lithander


I just started school again. This time as a Ph.D.  student. This time in in the States. I’m almost as excited now as when I started school as a seven-year-old boy.

I feel very privileged to get the chance to develop as a researcher, and, to develop myself through being in a new culture. One thing that I always regretted from my undergraduate studies was that I didn’t join any exchange programs. I’m thinking to myself, why didn’t I try a new school? Why don’t switch it around?

During my first nine years, almost nothing switched. I’m lucky I was born close to a good school. Otherwise, I probably would have been stuck in a bad school for 9 years.

Otherwise, I probably would have been stuck in a bad school for 9 years.

This got me thinking about the school system and integration and desegregation. The school system is not integrated. Not on a micro level. Not on a school level. Not on a world level. You get it… Not in any level!

And this effect our learning. I stumbled upon a news article east side highs cool where 100% of the students are Black with a Cleveland High school where 45 % of the students are black.

100%! But what also struck me was when they interviewed one of the boys in Eastside High school:


It´s this side of the highway versus that side of the highway, it has just always been a rivalry a long time”

I couldn’t help myself from thinking of Muzafer Sherifs classicalRobbers Cave Experiment where you boys were the in-group formation and friction stage. It´s not in any way weird that students don’t want to disintegrate, does this mean that we should listen to them, of course not

“The independence day effect”

Happily, there is a third step integration stage, or as I like to call it “The independence day effect”. Why? an external threat! all humans on earth come together to fight for a common goal and this is exactly what Sherif means with his third stage, the integration stage.

When groups in a state of conflict are brought into contact under conditions embodying superordinate goals, which are compelling but cannot be achieved by the efforts of one group alone, they will tend to co-operate toward the common goals. (Sherif, 1967. p. 452)

How can this be implemented in communities and schools? Well as it happens we do have an external and common threat, global warming.

But how should this project be put together, as always social psychology has the answer!

In the 1970s in Austin had a huge problem with segregation within schools. One school decided to call in an expert, that expert was Elliot Aronson, professor of social psychology. He soon saw the same pattern has Sherif, inter-group hostility. He came up with the smart solution of the Jigsaw Classroom. A strategy where students switch between different groups, in some group, they are the learner and in some groups, they teach others. But every small group always have a small common exercise to solve together. Genius

The results of the strategy are stunning, both regarding integration and learning.

Again, I think back to those first school years. The first nine years in school I was in the same class. Not much switching and change of roles! There should be. Why don´t even try to make the jigsaw classroom into a jigsaw community? Why not send students to short exchange programs to other schools in the community?

But remember. The students don´t want to do it. Responsible guiding is needed. This needs to be regulated. Chaos through regulation.


#UML #commpsych


Marcus Lithander is a Ph.D student in Applied Psychology & Prevention Science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.


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