My son recently shared with me that his English teacher held him out to the class as the highest scorer on some standardized assessment they took. He said his teacher, Mr. Freeman I believe, noted that my son was reading on a college level as a high school freshman. Kendall was beaming as he shared this with me, partly (I think) because it made him feel good to achieve and be recognized publicly for it and partly because he thought I’d be pleasantly surprised by it since he’s had bouts of lackluster academic performance over the last few years. I told him I was pleased and proud, but not at all surprised because I’d known for a long time how smart and capable he was.
Within a few days of Kendall's news, my daughter, who is two years younger than Kendall and in the sixth grade, approached me and declared, “Dad, I’m really good at math.” I should note here that any time prior to this year, she would have never dared make such a proclamation, even though she’s been getting A's in the subject ever since she started getting letter grades. Anyway, I told Braxton I knew she was good at math, but being curious as to how she had uncharacteristically arrived at such a forceful conclusion about her mathematical prowess, I asked her to elaborate. She told me that they often work in groups in her “gifted” math class to solve problems. Without fail, according to her, if there is disagreement amongst the group about a problem they are working, the solution she has come up with is the right one. As a result, her teammates have begun to defer to her.
So where am I going with all this? Well, the first point is that I’m very proud of my kids. Second, I’d like to give them the credit they deserve for their accomplishments. Third, I’d like to extend some credit to my beautiful wife and take a little for myself. Braxton and Kendall are both going to derive huge benefits from the manifestation of the Pygmallion effect, which holds that people tend to live up to the expectations of others. My wife and I carried, and will continue to carry, the expectations torch as it relates to their academic lives. Our early efforts have borne fruit in that they now have teachers and peers expecting great things from them as well. It seems there’s a positive compounding effect associated with Pygmallion.
A good friend of mine used to say all the time, “We’re all C students, some of us get A's and some get F's”. I believe that wholeheartedly. And I think Pygmallion is the differentiator, as long as those doing the expecting don’t accept less, as my friend used to also say.