Self-Fulfilling Prophecies in Education and the importance of students’ worldview

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I recently read and discussed with students two very interesting articles from the Atlantic that I think are strongly related to educational outcomes. The first details a fairly well-known phenomenon – the fact that kids who believe they are bad at math, or more generally that intelligence is inherent and not a product of hard work, tend to fall between peers with similar skills who believe that through hard work they can improve their math and their intelligence generally. The second is also a fairly believable phenomenon – the fact that among underprivileged children, having two parents correlates educational achievement and economic mobility.

But the most interesting things about these articles are not in the headlines. The first for me is that it seems that the belief that hard work can really increase academic performance correlates with hard work actually having that effect. I’m less concerned with genetic determinism, however, than with socio-economic determinism. Educators often point out that the fact that half of all public school students are living in or near poverty is a huge factor in the apparent failures of the US public school system. This is undoubtedly, but unevenly, true. Smith and Kimball’s arguments about math lead to a disconcerting possibility -if students living in poverty or difficult family situations believe they are therefore destined to fail at school, this is far more likely to be true for them. Most educators agree that convincing students that they can be successful is key to helping them achieve success. But the danger always exists that in rightly pointing out the challenges students face, we may be contributing to a culture that by and large reinforces this fatalistic self-fulfilling prophecy.

What does this have to do with two parent households? Very little, though I think again part of the reason is that there is an assumption that children of single parents will be more likely to fail, and students themselves internalize this belief. The most interesting tidbit there is an almost trivial fact at first glance: the city in the United States with the highest economic mobility for poor children is not a blue state metropolis with high investment into projects for low income children, but Salt Lake City (This is not altogether surprising, in that Utah itself has tended to avoid the many of the socio-economic problems that have befallen other Red states). While the authors of the article claim this as a victory for intact families, the significance I think is deeper – there is a degree to which the beliefs and worldview of both students and parents influence student achievement even beyond the documented socio-economic metrics social scientists have already identified.

All this unfortunately lacks a straightforward political or educational solution, but it serves as reminder of how the education system is constrained by and connected to a wider culture that cumulatively has an enormous impact on student performance.

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The Polish Wolf

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Rev. Timothy Gordish
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Wolf, your conclusion is spot on, but I do not share your fatalism. Please consider that there is a cognitive dissonance between the agnostic/atheist worldview embraced by public education and any belief in a higher justice, and direction who powerfully and personally supports and lifts students out of any predetermined belief in a self fulfilling prophecy of failure. Your case in point, Salt Lake City, is a place where a specific religious world view permeates the culture, and civilization. Placed very conveniently next to every high school in Salt Lake city sits a Mormon “seminary” to teach their faith. Students… Read more »

NamelessRange
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NamelessRange

“Please consider that there is a cognitive dissonance between the agnostic/atheist worldview embraced by public education and any belief in a higher justice” That’s a false premise Rev, and even if it were true the conclusion wouldn’t follow. Public education tries to be secular, not atheistic/agnostic. Teachers don’t claim the existence or non-existence of a disembodied cosmic mind in public schools, and they shouldn’t. Leaving religion out of public schools isn’t the same as saying religion is bad or its tenets are false. Thus, the premise is false. The conclusion doesn’t follow because atheism is a lack of belief in… Read more »

Rev. Timothy Gordish
Guest

You say, ” Leaving religion out of public schools isn’t the same as saying religion is bad or its tenets are false.”

You are correct, but leaving religion out of ones epistemology is saying that religion is irrelevant, and not a necessary part of a well rounded education.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
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Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

Mormonism? Really, Rev? Is that a religion in your view? Guy puts his SEER stones in a hat, and starts translating (making up) an ancient language unknown to all the worlds’ scholars? ‘Bout how Jesus was here at one time? Wow. Sounds like YOU got kind of a low bar for what a religion is there, dude! I’m guessin’ that you DON’T even know what Mormonism is all about. But then again, I’m SURE you don’t. So, in an effort to show just what a great “religion” Mormonism is, would you mind STATING for us the last time you heard… Read more »

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
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Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

This is what we expect from a religion, Rev, NOT seer stones in a charlatan’s hat! He pull SUMTHIN’ outta that hat, AND his ass! ” I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) American physicist, known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” The first nuclear test, perversely called Trinity. J. Robert Oppenheimer was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, the USA’s World War II program to develop the first nuclear weapons. This quote is often attributed to Oppenheimer on the occasion of the first successful nuclear test, the Trinity test in New Mexico… Read more »

Rev. Timothy Gordish
Guest

Nameless, Legitimizing the religious beliefs of public students is a slippery slope? Why not have a metaphysical naturalist teach a class. That would be better than the lack of the metaphysical in public education. This is a free country, if someone has the time and talent to give kids some sort of theological, philosophical, and ethical education on their dime, and with voluntary attendance it is bound to be a boon to thought, freedom, and meaning for those whose parents have failed them. Would oppose any introduction of intelligent design theory taught because it is nothing more than teaching creationism?

Anonymous
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Anonymous

I really wouldn’t be opposed to children learning about religion from anthropologists or from a sociological viewpoint. But having a “religious professional” teach religion would be nothing more than apologetics, for obvious reasons. I would feel the same way about any metaphysical viewpoints being taught as fact in a publc education setting, whether it would be metaphysical naturalism, pantheism, or theism. Big ontological conclusions are outside the purview of our epistemic abilities, and are incredibly divisive, and are difficult for young minds to be open about. Especially when specific ones have been drilled as fact into their heads since their… Read more »

NamelessRange
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NamelessRange

Above comment is mine

Rev. Timothy Gordish
Guest

If the students of the school are being elevated out of poverty, and learning better, what is so offensive with moon stones? You are not interested in improving education, just keeping out any religious or moral thought from public education even if it is legal. (see this states release time law)

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
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Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

“You are not interested in improving education, just keeping out any religious or moral thought from public education even if it is legal. (see this states release time law)”.

Absolutely untrue, Rev. There is NO moral thought that comes from religion, for ALL religion is of human origin. It all comes from the intellect, whether you like that or not. Now, do I think that there is great wisdom in the Bible? Of course there is, but no more than comes from Shakespeare, Cervantes, or ANY great philosopher or writer.

Rev. Timothy Gordish
Guest

Nice opinion Larry. Based of course on the assumption that you are indeed omniscient ;^)

“It all comes from the intellect, whether you like that or not. ”

Here you are correct, but the intellect is not human, but divine!

Longtime Rez
Guest

No one who expresses belief in virgin pregnancy or satanic pigs gets to poke fun at Mormons.

Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers
Guest
Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

Who believes that crap, rezzy? Not me. You see, dude, I poke fun at ALL religions! Or did you miss that? It’s just that the Morons are particularly lacking in ANY real religious significance. Or maybe YOU’D like to be the first to take a whack at it. NAME one famous quote from the Book of Moron. Can you do it? I can’t. Or name ONE great Moron thinker that influenced the world. I rest my case AGAIN! Come back when you got sumthin’, dude. Until then, I’ll poke fun at the Morons all day long, for they are nuts… Read more »

Billings Dad
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Billings Dad

Larry, I don’t know if you’re truly an agnostic, or an athiest, or just trolling for an argument. If you actually take the time to look around at this world we live in, you won’t disagree that we have a creator. Walking through the valleys, you might come upon a prefectly laid out wild rasberry patch. Is your first thought, that “Wow, there’s about a 2,000,000 to 1 chance of this happening in nature !” or do you realize that there’s a gardener at work ? A Diety, or a longshot ? And when the mother black bear is out… Read more »

Billings Dad
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Billings Dad

I’ve graduated 3 kids from Billings Senior High, with one still to graduate, and so far my kids are an Engineer, a Licensed Beautician, a second-year Engineering stident at Mt. Tech, and an aspiring school teacher. I’ve gotten to know a lot of their peers and families over the last two decades, and I’ve learned a few truths that go with your posts; (1) The kids that did well, had a parent, or parent(s) that took an interest in their education, actually talking to teachers, and making sure homework was done, etc. (2) The kids raised by Grandparents, with parents… Read more »

Longtime Rez
Guest

The effect of culture is undeniable. You hear that old saw about a meritocracy, i.e., getting ahead by dint of your own effort. These non-critical thinking types go off in high dungeon when some points out that no one really climbs the ladder of success alone. Most of us live in communities, attend public schools, drive around on public roads, have parents or grandparents on social security and Medicare. Despite the noisy advocacy coming from the pull-yersef-up-from-th-bootstraps crowd, you are, indeed, the product of others’ expectations and investment. There’s no justice and precious little sense in that selection process because… Read more »

NamelessRange
Guest
NamelessRange

To your overall point PW, I think it would be correlation fallacy to point to one city, like Salt Lake, and assume their worldview beliefs are working to create economic mobility for poor children, any more than it would be to assume their worldview leads them to have the highest rates of depression in the country. That’s not meant to be a dig against the LDS faith. https://www.uvu.edu/studenthealth/docs/depression_utah.pptx? The point about self-fulfilling prophecies is fascinating, and is further supported when we consider this study by Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler. In their study they found that participants who had their… Read more »

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