Intellectual Growth Means Moving Beyond Seeing the World Through the Lens of Race

Anyone who has spent any time at all around little kids will recognize Jean Piaget's notions of schema, assimilation, and accommodation. 

Johnny's dad comes home with a new toy for his young son. He rolls it up to Johnny and says, "Ball." The kid looks quizzically at the object and, after a few attempts, blurts out: "Ball!" His parents are overjoyed. Their child-to them an unbridled genius-knows what the new object is. 

They telephone Johnny's grandparents and make them listen-sometimes for hours-to their grandson saying, "Ball!" "Ball!" "Ball!" The parents are happy, Johnny is pleased that he is pleasing others, and his grandparents are thinking graduate school. 

The next morning, Johnny's mom is slicing oranges for juice. Johnny looks over at his mom. With his little chubby baby fingers, Johnny points to the oranges. Guess what he says? That's right! He says, "Ball!" "Ball!" "Ball!" 

Intellectual Growth Stems from Expanding Worldview Beyond Race

Intellectual Growth

Johnny at this young age has developed a scheme for his world. That is, all things round are "Ball." Everything he encounters that is round and unfamiliar to him is made to fit into his existing knowledge base. Things are assimilated into what he already knows. 

Later he learns that everything round is not a ball. Oranges, moons, suns, and wheels have roundness, but not ball-ness. Johnny learns to accommodate for these other round objects. In essence, he learns to expand his schema and worldview. 

In order for Johnny to expand his world and develop, he must learn to accommodate. Similarly, accommodation (or adaptation) to new ways of existence and perception of the world for black Americans must be mastered to ensure expansion and development. We must learn to expand ourselves beyond race. 

As well, we must work on our intellectual growth and expand our perceptions of the world beyond the myopic view offered through the lens of race. Otherwise, we are left to say, "Ball!" "Ball!" "Ball!" in response to new and emerging themes of social interaction. Our schema: "Prejudice!" "Racism!" "Discrimination!" serve to keep some of us as limited and psychologically unsophisticated as was Johnny. 

Come on, black people. You can do it. You can accommodate. Johnny did!

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Dr. James Davison, Jr. is an African-American licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and C-SPAN. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books - Prisoners Of Our Past and Sweet Release - related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.