Friday, September 30, 2011

Great Expectations

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." -Lady Bird Johnson

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." -Albert Einstein

Children are incredible perceptive, whether they are fully aware of it or not. And they take their cues from adults, the media, the general public, the government even. It may not be said directly, but some kids are not expected by the adults in their lives to do well in school, or to graduate, or to go to college, or to do much of anything. Which is sad--every kid has enormous potential, but when we separate them, we set them on an expected path for success, mediocracy, or failure--say in tracts in high school (AP/Honors, Vocational, etc.), or segregate schools. Yes, I suppose that's a charged word. But don't try to tell me that students aren't segregated. No, not by the color of their skin necessarily (although that is often the case as it ends up), but mostly socio-economically, based on neighborhood and whether they have the resources for private school, or have the chance to go to a successful charter school. It wouldn't be an issue if everyone were given access to the same resources at schools--then it shouldn't matter as much if your neighborhood happens to be all white, or all hispanic, or all whatever you might be. I suppose this is why some cities do city-wide bussing--but St. Paul just moved back toward a neighborhood school model. (With certain schools--like mine, unique in its arts-integration--keeping city-wide bussing).

But this isn't just on a school-wide level--where some schools, based on population are expected to do better, but on a personal level as well. If a teacher gets it into their head that a student is a low performer, or has poor behavior, you know what? That student will continuously perform well or behave poorly. Kids have a knack for meeting your expectations. It may not be at a conscious level, but a teacher will treat a student differently based on expectations, whether it's slightly less individual attention, or unknowingly giving up early on a kid, the kid will feel it. Recently-ish I came across this article (Thanks Stefani/twitter!) about the Stanford Prison Experiment, which was all very interesting (me being a psych major and all), but maybe not directly education related, until....
"One thing that I thought was interesting about the experiment was whether, if you believe society has assigned you a role, do you then assume the characteristics of that role? I teach at an inner city high school in Oakland. These kids don't have to go through experiments to witness horrible things. But what frustrates my colleagues and me is that we are creating great opportunities for these kids, we offer great support for them, why are they not taking advantage of it? Why are they dropping out of school? Why are they coming to school unprepared? I think a big reason is what the prison study shows—they fall into the role their society has made for them." -Richard Yacco
Yacco summed up what I could probably never put into a nice, succinct, eloquent statement. And touched upon a point that I see so much at school. We do our best to teach our kids to be good people--be nice to others, blah blah blah. And it seems like they get it--that they understand and see where we're coming from, and then the next thing you know, this sweet kid is in the office for hitting another kid.

So what do you do? I don't know, you tell me. I'm just going to pay attention to how I treat my students, and consciously continue to believe in the potential of every last one of them.

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