The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: A prediction that comes true by virtue of it having being made.
There are 3 steps to the self-fulfilling prophecy:
Step 1 : The teacher labels a pupil and makes predictions about him.
Step 2 : The teacher treats the pupil accordingly, as if the predicition has already came true.
Step 3 : The pupil lives up to the teacher's expectation, which becomes part the pupil's self-concept, so the pupil becomes the kind of person the teacher believed him to be.
Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) conducted a study in a primary school in California to show the self-fulfilling prophecy at work.
They told the school they had a new test to be carried out which would show the teacher's which pupils were more likely to 'spurt' ahead of the other pupils. This test was really just a standard IQ test.
The researchers tested each pupil and chose 20% of pupils randomly to tell the teachers these pupils would 'spurt' ahead of the other pupils. When the researchers returned to the school almost a year later, they had seen that about 47% of the pupils chosen had made significant progress.
This shows that the teacher's believed what the researchers had told them and treated that 20% of pupils differently so that they would live up to the expectations of 'spurting' ahead of the other pupils.
Streaming and The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
Streaming : Separating pupils into different ability groups or classes.
Once this has been done, each ability group is taught separately from the others for all subjects.
Teachers don't usually have high expectations of working-class pupils and tend to see them as lacking ability. Therefore, when pupils are being streamed, working-class pupils are usually put into lower streams.
Once pupils have been put into these streams it is hard to move up into higher streams.
Studies have shown that middle-class pupils tend to benefit from the stream groups as they get the most help from the teachers.
The pupils in the lower stream groups believe that they won't get very far in life and only live up to the teacher's expectations of them lacking ability so they don't try to exceed themselves in any subjects.
Pupil Subculture : A group of pupils who share similar values and behaviour patterns. These often emerge once pupils have been labelled.
Pupils subcultures develop because of two things:
Differentiation : The process of teachers categorising pupils according to how they perceive their ability, attitude and behaviour.
Polarisation : The process in which pupils respond to streaming by moving towards one of two opposite 'poles' or extremes.
The Anti-School Subculture
Lacey found that those who are placed in lower streams suffer a loss of self-esteem as the school has undermined their working ability. This label pushes them to search for alternative ways of gaining status, this involves inverting the school's values of hard work, obedience and punctuality.
Pupils who form and anti-school subculture groups are often cheeky to their teachers, play truant, don't do homework, smoke, drink and steal. Even though this could solve the problem of lack of status, it creates further problems for the pupils who become involved in it.
To solve this problem, pupils could form a group in which high status' went to those who flouted the school's rules.
Ball found that although polarisation was abolished, differentiation still existed. Teachers still labelled middle-class pupils as cooperative and able.
This positive labelling influenced their exam results and showed that the self-fulfilling prophecy had occured.
Variety of Pupil Responses
Other than Pro and Anti-School subcultures are two possible responses to labelling and streaming, there are four more:
Ingratiation : This is being the 'teacher's pet'.
Ritualism : Going through the motions and staying out of trouble.
Retreatism : This involves daydreaming and mucking about.
Rebellion : This is outright rejection of everything the school stands for.
Furlong found that pupils don't tend to stick to one response, but move around each of them.
Limitations of the Labelling Theory
- Under-achievement is a result of pupils being negatively labelled.
- Pupils join anti-school subcultures that guarantee their failure.
- Pupils that have been labelled only live up to the teacher's expectations of them and don't try and achieve any better.
- Marxists criticise the labelling theory for ignoring the wider structures of power within which labelling takes place.
- Labelling theory tends to blame teachers for labelling pupils, but fails to explain why they do.