Carlos Hernanz Garcia
Disclaimer: I am no pedagogue and thus I am no expert in the matter, this is just some reflection from an observant university student’s point of view.
Research suggests that young people have a tendency to be more negative or neutral about whether or not they like their jobs. The 2008 global economic/ financial crisis created a pressure point for the youth to become financially independent and stable as early in life as possible. This is one of the many reasons why the newer generations, especially Gen-Z, have this nuanced outlook against their professional life.
The financial pressure put on students narrows down to fewer career choices and choosing momentary performance over passion. This often compels them to pursue careers in which they can predict better performance, rather than pursue one they find enjoyment in. Self-fulfilling prophecies prove that focusing on “God-given gifts” as a determinant skill to base on when picking a career instead of passion is certainly counter-productive. Here’s why:
The concept of self-fulfilling prophecy minted by the North American sociologist Robert K. Merton is used to describe how a false belief influences a person’s attitude and, therefore, performance. Michael Biggs provided a three-step way to understand how these feedback loops work:
1. Subject ‘A’ believes that subject ‘B’ is something
2. Subject ‘A’ does that something
3. Therefore, subject ‘B’ becomes that something
Merton described it as a self-hypnosis phenomenon provoked by our own propaganda that creates feedback that will either help us deteriorate or improve.
There are two main self-fulfilling prophecies. The positive self-fulfilling prophecy is called Pygmalion effect, which is a theory inspired by a Cypriot king who sculpted his “perfect” wife in ivory by projecting all his expectations of what such a woman would be like, on the sculpture. As the statue was taking shape, Pygmalion fell in love with it and named her Galatea. He prayed for the gods to bring her to life, and that is how Aphrodite granted
him his perfect wife.
The Pygmalion effect shows that when people are expected to succeed, they indeed do succeed. This expectations-meet-performance theory has been scientifically proven to work in various aspects of life including education and business. For example, if a child is expected to perform slightly better at school, it has been proven that it has a direct positive impact in their academic performance and improvement.
The flipside of the Pygmalion effect is called the Golem Effect. This self-fulfilling prophecy inspired by the Jewish mythological creature Golem, who was supposed to protect the city, but got corrupted and ended up destroying it instead proves that low, negative expectations have a negative impact on performance. It has been proven that when people are given low expectations in various shapes, such as hostile body language (head nodding in disapproval, eye rolling, lack of interest through facial expressions, etc.), stigma from belonging to a lower level class or literal words of disapproval, a loop of negative feedback and low-expectations internalization is created, demotivating them to improve and do their work with passion.
This theory manifests in the current standard educational system in distinct approaches.
The most known manifestation of it is when a teacher has lower expectations of a student’s intelligence, where they will be given easier tasks than their counterparts, entailing less knowledge acquired by the student and an unfair position regarding their classmates.
The author’s personal experience suggests that a noticeable amount of times students themselves need to be the ones to self-motivate and find the utility of the subject. Sometimes teachers will tell a student to give up or find a different academic path when their performance is not desirable. Key factors like socioeconomic factors, mental health or simply not having been taught correctly in the past are not taken into account and this stigma caused by feeling inferior leads to a golem effect that will feedback in the shape of worse marks.
This can be incredibly harmful for students with a considerable amount of potential who might find their dreams crushed from the belief of not being able and instead of improving and working hard to reach the level required, they will just give up.
The way the current higher-education system is proposed, we choose to focus on the multiple intelligences, where we stand out instead of developing all of them. It has been proven that even though people stand out in some kinds of intelligence, that does not mean we cannot develop the others. If we focused more on encouraging students to do what they enjoy instead of what they are the best at, some sort of Pygmalion effect would arise and this loop of positive feedback would help them grow and become great professionals, whereas if they focus on doing something they are good but do not enjoy, the lack of motivation will turn into a self-imposed golem effect that will make them mediocre at work. In the end an academic career is nothing but constant grinding and improvement, and for as good as someone might be at something, if they are not passionate about it, their fruition will
Besides, a considerable amount of times people make doubt themselves when regretting their choices when choosing their academic path. Repeated tags from relatives, teachers or friends and acquaintances such as “it’s the path you chose”, “you’ve always liked this”, “are you sure you’re not giving up?” or “I would have liked you better studying something else” discourage students who might just be trying to straighten their careers into something they will be enjoying. This type of academic gaslighting keeps students from taking the leap forward and makes them stick to a career they might not enjoy as much as what they are really passionate about. Society tends to forget people can indeed be wrong with their choices and it is very common to discover your real vocation once you are in the path for
So, how do we fix this? The way I would address schooling as a whole is focusing on learning rather than memorizing. While it is necessary to memorize certain data that will be useful to live in the modern-day society, most of the time education is more about gaining skills than knowing information short-term and writing it on an exam. Some skills are given for granted in students, and the stigma from not having them acquired might create a golem effect that will make the student in question give up, believing they do not have potential, and lose a possible bright, passionate student. This shame society puts on underskilled students needs to change and turn into encouragement to grow and learn.
E.G.: If instead of telling students they are bad at singing, math, learning languages and so on the system helped them get the skills and knowledge needed to pursue their passions, they would eventually get better at them and this Pygmalion effect would make them grow into excellent professionals.
In the end, nobody is born wise and skilled. Having a “God-given” gift is useless if one is not passionate about their professional future. A professional career is a path that requires a great deal of effort and time, so passion is what really matters when choosing it, and educators should focus on encouraging students to develop their full potential in what they are passionate about instead of hanging on to an ensured skill.