Everyone who ever took a teaching methods course in college knows the movie. It’s about a teacher who sets up her class based on brown eyes and blue eyes. It’s supposed to teach the children about race and discrimination without needing any particular ethnic minority. The theory is, you can discriminate on any visible characteristic. The discrimination takes place because you transfer your prejudice (read pre-judging) by expecting certain behaviors based on what you see. You may have learned it as the Pygmalion effect (from the great Greek story about a sculptor who fell in love with a female statue and by his wishes alone caused the statue to come to life). At any rate, we see it every day in our class. Because a student dresses a certain way, looks a certain way, acts a certain way, we “pre-judge” how they will behave; frequently thinking we can’t control what they do.
Now apply this to the Jeremy Lin story this week. If you haven’t been following, it’s a great story of a man who overcame an entire professional sports leagues prejudice to become a phenomenon. In the space of six games, he has broken records that were not touched by Jordan, Shaq, or Kobe. He’s lit up the Twitterverse with his performance, and his grace under pressure. Each game he seems to score more points, or do something totally unexpected.
So why is scoring over 20 points per game so unexpected? Well, there’s the story. You see, Jeremy is Asian. He went to Harvard. He was an Economics major and he graduated. Do you know how many NBA stars have been Asian-American? None. Do you know how many NBA players come from Harvard? Four. So it’s not surprising that he almost didn’t make it to the NBA, based on what you would “expect”. It’s not surprising to hear that he was cut from two teams and almost from the Knicks. If he had been cut last week, it would have been “expectancy confirmed”. Everyone “knows” Asian Americans are not NBA stars (especially when they graduate from Harvard!). Everyone knew that except, perhaps, Jeremy Lin. He just kept playing, waiting for his chance for someone to see his ability, his grace under pressure (How about that 3 point shot in Toronto with .5 seconds to go?). And when given a chance, he exploded.
So my question to you as a classroom teacher is, What do you Expect in your class? Who can you call today, off your bench, and turn into a phenomenon? Research (and real life) tells us the number 1 variable in student achievement is you, the classroom teacher. Look around your class today. Create your own Lin-sanity!
By Tim Dugan
Princeton City Schools
School Improvement & Tech Director, Educator, Innovator