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The golem effect and public services

Any decent teacher will be aware of the research and work on the pygmalion effect. It’s sometimes seen as a special case of observer expectancy effect. Broadly speaking, children who are identified to teachers as likely to make significant improvement do so. The crux of the experiment is that there doesn’t need to be any evidence for the improvement, so long as the teacher believes it to be true.

It’s an interesting experiment for any teacher, and it’s one that should be discussed any time we have a discussion of selection in education. It’s something I’ve had filed in my head under self fulfilling prophecies, since I encountered it in a  debate with sports coaches about why you shouldn’t have selection on merit in junior sports teams.

The corollary of the pygmalion effect is the golem effect. Tell teachers that certain children won’t achieve, and they won’t. To buck the trend requires an act of will.

What have we been doing for the last twenty years, except telling our public services that they can’t achieve, and that private provision will always be better? We have turned public servants into golems.

This isn’t going to be a long piece about the Hawthorne effect, or Japanese working practices, or the humanization of the workplace.

It’s just an observation. We tell public servants that the market is always preferable, tat they never can be the best, then wonder why public services don’t improve. I’m just a bloke on his sofa, and I can think about this. The question is whether those who wish public services to be monetized for the benefit of a minority have knowingly engaged in a careful, intricate game of lowering expectations and lowering the potential of public services in order to make their alternative, which is more expensive, more rationed and less equal, seem the only game in town.


One comment on “The golem effect and public services

  1. Wickedjulia
    March 19, 2015

    That is an interesting point. Who can be passionate about their job if they are constantly being told that they are failing simply because they are public servants?


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This entry was posted on March 15, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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