Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What is Your Locker Number

There are some worrying trends appearing when discussion shifts to young children, and the problems modern day parents have in controlling these little people. On a recent television show I was watching a 40 something, first time mum, was admitting defeat controlling her 3 year old, and Dad was saying he was reluctant to come home at night because it resembled a war zone. The mother was commenting that she had no problem running a department of 30 people but this little ankle biter had her on the ropes.

We were then taken to an interview with Super Nanny... who was recommending old fashioned discipline as a remedy to this unsavoury situation. Unfortunately, for a generation of young people, turning back the clock may have come too late.

One area where the lack of discipline shows up is in the modern classroom where teachers have resorted to building their pupils self-esteem rather than demanding minimum standards... and the steady decline in overall achievement levels of today's students.

In the film, Stand and Deliver, the work of Jaime Escalante is honoured. He pushed his class of inner-city academic discards to remarkable performances - in calculus, no less.

There is also another similar story about achievement where expectations were raised, rather than dumbing down to the lowest achievers level of acceptable self-esteem. A Chicago public-school teacher, Mary Daugherty found herself confronted by a class of sixth-graders who were so clueless and intractable that she suspected many of them had learning disabilities.

One day, while the principal was off the premises she broke a hard and fast rule and snuck a look in the file where student details, IQ scores and other relevant data was kept. She was amazed... most of her students had IQs in the high 120s and 130s - near genius level. One of the worst offenders had an IQ of 145.

After some soul searching, Mrs Daugherty concluded that it was her fault that these brilliant minds had resorted to unruly behaviour... she blamed herself for boring them into misbehaviour.

She began bringing in difficult assignments. She upped the amount of homework and inflicted stern punishments for misbehaviour. By the end of the semester, her class was one of the best behaved and the most accomplished in the entire sixth grade.

Impressed, and stunned, her principal asked her how she had achieved this amazing turn around. Haltingly, she confessed that she had looked at the IQ files and she had changed her approach to teaching the class.

The principal pursed his lips, smiled, and told her not to worry about it. All's well that ends well, he told her.

"Oh, by the way," he whispered as she turned to retreat to her classroom, "I think you should know: those numbers next to the kids names? It's not their IQ scores. It's their locker numbers."

Now I have no reason to believe the story is an urban myth... but even if it was, there is plenty of research to show that by treating someone as being bright or dumb, you will get the result that reflects how you treated the person.

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