Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Ghetto Education

In 1970, Ray Rist published Social Class and Teacher Expectations: The Self-fulfilling Prophecy in Ghetto Education. Through an analysis of an all-black school, he observed that a kindergarten teacher, also black, assigned her students to three tables within the classroom only a few days after the beginning of the year. The most promising group was placed at the front, and the least promising group at the rear of the classroom. Interestingly, Rist found that placement of these groups was based not on cognitive abilities, but on appearance. Using class-related characteristics (darkness of skin color, dress style, hair style, and even smell), the teacher made judgments of academic promise. Those in the front of the classroom received more praise and had more interaction with the teacher, while those labeled as 'slow-learners' had less opportunity to participate in learning experiences and were reprimanded more often. This created a caste-like classroom, in which there was not only little mobility at the end of the kindergarten year, but also the gap between the groups increased as they progressed to elementary school. In sum, Rist showed that students in the same classroom received differential treatment, that teacher expectations of student performance were largely shaped by class-related features, and hence that school reinforced existing socio-economic inequalities.


Rist, Ray (1970). "Student Social Class and Teacher Expectations: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Ghetto Education. Harvard Educational Review 40, 3, 411-451.


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