Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Rosenthal Effect: The case for an intellectual stimuli

I met up with one of my ex-colleague a few days ago, and we had a rather engaging discussion on a few issues that pertains to our professional areas of expertise. We really had a good intellectual discourse throughout the entire hour, and it was perhaps one of the most refreshing and intellectually stimulating discussions that I had ever had, so far this year!

Which perhaps brings me forth to one of the ideas that I had kept in mind for a while now, but nevertheless was suddenly brought to my attention in the midst of that discussion. The study of the self-fulfilling prophecy, also better known as the Pygmalion or the Rosenthal effect, in a nutshell, is a famous study that was conducted to support the long-held belief and perception that one can indeed 'control' the perceived actions, behaviours and even results of a particular group under study through some initial preconceived, 'brainwashed' notions into that group that they are either good or bad, while at the same time, hiding the fact that there this notion is not true at all! What I like to bring up attention to is the fact that after all this while in the service, teaching design to my bunch of high school students, never had I had any opportunity to teach students of a calibre that perhaps I can even classify as above average in their academic and intellectual capacity and potential. Which leads me to a few questions:

1) Is the high school education in Singapore of such a nature and to such an extent that a subject that is deemed to require a greater degree of rigour and in fact, requires an even deeper and more intellectual capacity to handle, be only good enough to be made to be taken by an average or even below-average students
2) Is the focus of the schools that assigns design education to these 'lower rung' students so deeply ingrained in getting that 'value-addedness' awards and others as such, so much so that the basic core business of teaching, which is in fact educating the child to be ready for the 'test of life' forgotten?
3) And as such, are the teachers teaching these particular subject so deserving of only being able or capable of teaching these 'lot of students', and I don't mean this as an insult at all to any of those who are taking this subject currently in the first place.

I do wish to point out even though I do understand sometimes, the rationale for having students to be more focused on their 'core' subjects, but at times I do feel that if this case of 'coring' and 'UN-coring' the various subjects is not being addressed over time, we would have a Rosenthal effect taking place, and I am not talking about the students in this instance! What I can perhaps forsee is teachers of this particular subject area being demoralised and being made to believe, that their subject area, and perhaps, maybe just with some hint of subtlety, even their capacity and capability, that they are ONLY good enough for the particular students of THAT particular calibre and potential. Well alarm bells might go off now to say that yes, there are indeed reasons as to why these students are being given or allocated only this subject area, but as one examines this a little further, I am convinced that all those arguments being put forth doesn't really hold that much water now. Amongst them are:

1) Design education is a hands-on subject matter, and hence, students who are not academically inclined would then be better able to handle a more practical-oriented slant in their lessons!
And to this I say RUBBISH, because if their views of a design education in Singapore is only about picking up a hammer or a saw and being told to hammer or saw away, respectively, at a piece of wood, then I think, no let me rephrase, I am convinced of my dissappointment with that particular comment! Obviously the comment can only come from someone who still lives in the Middle Ages, and is perhaps using flint-stones to light up fires and chopping down wood to put into the hearth to warm the water for their daily morning baths

2) The students would be better able to handle this subject area as they are not as capable of handling the more academic and 'heavier' subject matter like Mathematics, Sciences, and Humanities.
Rubbish again! Excuse me, but since when is Design not a 'heavy' subject? In fact, this in the ONLY subject area that offers the opportunity to de-silo'ing the rather conservative view that subject matter comes in discretised forms, and hence having 'cross-flavours' are a no-no! In fact, design work is in itself the final manifestation of what somebody would need to do when they study mathematics, science and/or humanities as an integrative discipline!

3) Design education is not necessary at a high school level, and a grounding of all the 'core' subjects at the high school level would be a better outcome.
Hmmm, rubbish again! If we are going to be a value-added nation in any area that we are going to delve into, doesn't the processes involved in design thinking and problem solving, that is sooo pervasive in our design education, be good enough for it to stand side-by-side, in its importance, rigours, and even its social stature of sorts, to make it a subject that at least warrants a little bit more respect, or at least of a similar level with these other 'core' subjects?

And that my dear reader, is perhaps why I am still looking...!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting observations indeed. :)