"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stereotype Threat, NCLB, and the Half-Way Solution

From Ed Week:

Stanford University psychologist Claude M. Steele made headlines in 1995 with a study that introduced the phrase “stereotype threat” into the national lexicon. Put simply, it’s the idea that people tend to underperform when confronted with situations that might confirm negative stereotypes about their social group.

Could there ever be devised a more consistent, hammering confirmation of stereotype for minority children and parents living economically disadvantaged lives: the more you struggle, the steeper the hill gets over time, and the more likely you are to fail the high stakes tests on which NCLB is built?

It is sadly interesting to note, too, that now as we finally start talking about interventions to address stereotypes and the achievement gap, there is a focus almost entirely on psychological interventions--as if the poverty that drives the achievement gap can be fixed by tinkering inside the heads of students and teachers. While surely the psychological space is critical in terms of shaping learning and education, fixation on the psychological can lead to a debilitating blindness to the equally-strong sociological realities that shape children's lives. All the tinkering inside the head can only go so far in getting to a full solution to the educational achievement gap, as John Dewey knew over a hundred years ago. Focusing on they psychological, alone, can bring more negative consequences, in fact:
--this educational process has two sides--one psychological and the one sociological--and that neither can be subordianted to the other , or neglected, without evil results following (My Pedagogic Creed, Article I).

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