The expectation that every student in the school will be successful in college – emphasis on every – makes students and the adults in their lives move mountains. I have come to believe that the so called “soft bigotry of low expectations” is the most fundamental of our challenges in education. All that we plan, do and implement is based on what we expect of our young people.
You will not implement a rigorous curriculum if you do not believe that students can master it. You will not talk about college or encourage and counsel students to apply to college if you do not believe they are “college material.” The culture change we need in many of our schools really comes down to changing what we expect from students.
And, by the way, victims of low expectations are not just low performers or the kids who always seem to get in trouble. Sometimes, expectations are based on skin color, socioeconomic status, gender or other characteristics.
In fact, I was nearly a victim of low expectations.
Despite the fact that I was an “A” student, varsity athlete and Senior Class president, my high school guidance counselor consistently tried to urge me to apply only to schools that were local and non-selective. When he learned that I had set my sights on Harvard, he expressed doubt that I would be admitted, and that even if I were admitted, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. As it turns out, not only was I admitted, but I received scholarships that covered about 80% of total costs!
Sadly, as a prospective first-generation college student whose family was totally unfamiliar with the college access and application world, I needed and deserved the encouragement, support and high expectations of my guidance counselor. Yet I was subjected to discouragement, placation and doubts about my prospects. I can only imagine how many countless others took that counselor at his word.
Harold Brown, Senior Officer for the Advancement of Underserved Learners for KnowledgeWorks, explores and develops opportunities for KnowledgeWorks to invest and partner in initiatives designed to dramatically improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged youth.