“My Poor Babies” Syndrome

The power of expectations is unquestioned. Every season we see new coaches take over struggling athletic programs with few wins, and in short order, win with the same players who were losing before. We wonder, what changed? Likely, a lot of things. Perhaps strategy. Perhaps, practice routines. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

The list of “perhaps” is almost endless. However, I know that one thing absolutely changed – the coach’s expectations of the players. Change strategy and practice routines. Change offense and defense, but leave expectations alone, and I can predict with 100% accuracy what will happen. NOTHING.

High expectations will not necessarily result in long-term and sustained improvement by itself, but without them, NOTHING happens.

So often, I see this in schools’ expectations for children of poverty or minority birth. I call this the “my poor babies” syndrome. Frequently, I have observed schools treat some children, for whom the learning gap is large the moment they enter school as if that gap cannot be filled

Here is how the mantra of low expectations goes: Because my children have so many strikes against them before they come to school, it would be wrong for me to hold them to the same high expectations as I hold my other students. It just would not be fair.

Sounds reasonable. It even sounds kindly. Unfortunately, it is perhaps the most insidious form of discrimination because it is cloaked in seeming goodness. One straightforward question exposes the fallacy of this logic: What happens to “my poor babies” when they get to the next level of school and must compete against other children held to higher expectations?

The gap grows larger, and that is morally, ethically, and professionally wrong. That every teacher believes in every child – no matter that child’s past or current conditions – is the first indication of a professional teacher and the prerequisite of an effective school


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