How to be Smarter
Than We Think We Are

Of all the classes that I have taught over the years, starting while still in college, art history is by far the one I most love. When Jack, my grandson, wanted to know what I was doing on my laptop while babysitting for him in Indy, I told him that I was teaching art history. At the time, he was three.

Al and Jack discussing art

Today, two plus years later, he can identify four or five dozen paintings and the artist responsible for that work. Owen, Jack's younger brother, is also into art history. Owen is pointing out van Gogh's Drawbridge at Arles, which is his favorite painting.

Al looking at art with Jack and Owen

Paintings reflect the society in which the artist paints. Therefore, the painter tells a story of what he or she deems important within that culture. The Drawbridge at Arles expresses van Gogh's understanding of life and light in southern France.

That is the backstory. Now, let us jump to our time. Robert Rosenthal did an interesting psychological study while he taught at Harvard.

Robert Rosenthal

Rosenthal went to the Spruce Elementary School in San Francisco and told the school that he wanted to test the IQ of the school's students with the Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition. After studying the results, he returned to the school and told the various teachers that small groups of their students were about to "bloom" intellectually.

Rosenthal returned to the school the following year and tested those students' IQs. He discovered that those whom were on the verge of blooming intellectually had increased their IQ by an average of 27 points.

Those results were interesting at multiple levels. Rosenthal's Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition was not some new and novel test; it was an ordinary IQ test...with a new name. Another issue was that those small groups of student that were about to bloom, they randomly picked those students. The only factually correct data was that those students did improve their IQ's by an average of 27 points.

The improvement in the students' IQ stunned the teachers and the larger educational community. How was that possible? The explanation was that the teachers related differently to those small groups believing that they were gifted students. Interestingly, Rosenthal's results were called the self-fulfilling prophecy.

The self-fulfilling prophecy

The self-fulfilling prophecy is known better by another name, the Pygmalion Effect. In Greek mythology, Pygmalion sculpted a beautiful ivory statue of Galatea. It looked so lifelike that he kisses her lips. That single act began the process of the ivory statue turning into a real person, which he desired.

Pygmalion and the transformation of Galatea

We now return to the present-day and education. I love teaching. You ought to be asking why? I have written about my father's desire to go to college, but WWII was raging. He was drafted and returned as a major from the South Pacific. I was born just before he shipped out and my next brother was born soon after his return. He couldn't raise a family and go to school at the same time. When he was transferred to Pittsburgh, PA, he asked a realtor, which area had the best schools. Therefore, we moved to the 19th best system in the nation and the wealthiest community in Western Pennsylvania. He wanted to provide the best schooling for his children.

We moved into a community that was a real stretch for the family economically. However, I was an above average student in an average school system in NJ, and found myself feeling dumb in Mt. Lebanon. It took me a couple decades to realize that I was not nearly as dumb as I thought. However, years of feeling inadequate seared a lasting impression upon my feeling of self-worth. When I realized that I had miscalculated, I did not want other students forced to feel the way I did. Hence, that is one of the reasons that I am still teaching at 73.

Teachers need to grasp the Pygmalion Effect. We can teach the students loads of numbers, ideas, science, and history, but if the students do not believe in themselves, all their stored data is worthless. We must start off with the assumption that all of our students are far smarter than they think they are...all of them. We need to relate to them at that level.

However, what is true in the classroom is equally true in life in general. We need to apply the Pygmalion Effect within our families, friends, and jobs. Rosenthal said, "The bottom line is that if we expect certain behaviors from people, we treat them differently - and that treatment is likely to affect their behavior."

Owen's Christmas Gifts thumbnail Owen's Christmas Gifts From Around the World

Jack's Christmas Gifts thumbnail Jack's Christmas Gifts From Around the World

Darwin, Chagall, and Lindbergh's Gifts thumbnail Darwin, Chagall, and Lindbergh's Gifts For Jack on His Fifth Birthday

Darwin, van Gogh, and Lindbergh's Gifts thumbnail Darwin, van Gogh, and Lindbergh's Gifts For Owen on His Third Birthday

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