Mar 5, 2011

Old School Tricks/New School Application

Even though, I've studied self-fulfilling prophecies before, sometimes it takes a certain context to facilitate new ideas. I just started reading Outliers. You know you are a science dork, by the way when you get more engaged by the footnotes then the text. Here is a footnote that really struck me:

The way canadians select hockey players is a beautiful example of what the sociologist Robert Merton famously called a “self-fulfilling prophecy”-a situation where a “false definition in, the beginning...evokes a behavior which makes the original false conception come true.” Canadians start with a false definition of who the best nine- and ten-year-old hockey players are. They’re just picking the oldest every year. But the way they treat those all-stars ends up making their original false judgement look correct. As Merton, puts it: “This spacious validity of the self-fulfilling prohecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.”

At first, I thought of my experiences with Nelly this week as I read through this passage. Our relationship has changed in the past 3 weeks due to a series of events that have allowed her to make her own physical and mental space in the learning environment: a class job and the removal of a distracting buddy from class.

Her behavioral changes facilitated a rise in my expectations, my increase in patience with her cultivated a more intellectual relationship that has brought out a more intellectual engagement in class and in turn a greater understanding of biological concepts.

These connections between the Nelly incident and the self-fulfilling prophecy give me hope that I can create a self-filling prophecy for any student if I doctor the circumstances well enough.

Self-fulfilling prophecies in education are often discussed as a negative phenomenon often applied to lowered expectations of minority students and the criminalization or vilification of minority students especially African-American males.

It is time to use this cousin of reverse psychology, let’s call it front-loading psychology, in our favor as educators. In reverse psychology a person tricks the subject into doing what he or she wants by manipulating the subject into thinking that the idea was originally his or hers. The trickster does this by presenting oppositional viewpoints to incite rebellious desires in the subject driving this person to conceive his or her “original” idea.

Front-loading psychology would use the “self-fulfilling prophecy” as an advantage: trick the subject into believing they were chosen for their potential, when they are in fact participating in an open enrollment program that they selected. Educators could convince their students that they have been selected to participate in an “elite” small learning community or academic program. We could treat the students as though they had earned their way into a reward for their merit. Maybe students would react to school and teachers differently with this change in mindset. Maybe it will generate greater feelings of ambition, duty, and belonging.

This may seem like a simple concept and idea, I wonder how hard it would be to convince students of this though, since our program is open enrollment (as it should be in order to provide students of all backgrounds the equal access to high quality public education).

You may be thinking “Of course, I have high expectations of my students, that’s just good teaching.” First, I challenge you to consider who you punish during class the most and why and who is not succeeding in your class. Second, I am talking about a systematic and widely implemented application of this phenomenon to an entire school of approximately 2,000 students. Now, I just have to figure out how to do it.....

1 comment:

Dave Orphal said...

You are so right about the self-fullfilling prophesy. I can not tell you how many times kids lived down to my poor expectations. Once I learned that they could also live up to my assumptions about them, I was thrilled!

In both circumstances, I was rarely surprised. Only occasionally did a students disappointment me when I teated her/him with the assumption that s/he was a serious and intelligent student.