The headline of this post refers to the famous experiment on self-control that tested which children could resist eating a marshmallow for five minutes. If they did, they would get a second one, and those who resisted were documented to have long-term benefits. I’ve written about how I’ve used this experiment as a lesson in my classes — see “I Like This Lesson Because It Make Me Have a Longer Temper” (Part One).
I wonder how Arne Duncan and so many other school “reformers” would have done in this test because they so often insist on quick solutions to the challenges facing many schools. They’re searching for the magic bullet, as Larry Cuban writes today in his blog.
This lack of patience has most recently been shown by the demand that principals be replaced within two years if they have not successfully “turned around” a school. Superintendents and School Boards have challenged that kind of a short time-frame.
Also, a study came out today concluding that “When faced with a choice that could yield either short-term satisfaction or longer-term benefits, people with complete information about the options generally go for the quick reward.” It may feel good to the “shaker” to quickly shake things up, but that does not necessarily mean it will result in effective long-term improvement.
Yesterday’s death of Jaime Escalante also brings to mind the numerous miracle teachers who are portrayed in the movies as quickly changing things around in their schools. However, you can read a more accurate story about the length of time it took Mr. Escalante to make those changes happen (thanks to Alice Mercer for the tip).
Yes, sometimes a situation calls for immediate change.
More often than not, however, I’m reminded of my own actions years ago:
My wife would rightly push me to clean-up the small area of dirt between the street and sidewalk in front of our house. I didn’t have the patience to plant grass there. Instead, I bought some wood chips and poured them on top of the dirt. I got immediate satisfaction from seeing how nice it looked.
However, our house was at the end of a road with a slight downward tilt, and had a storm drain in front. Every time a big rain would come, debris would float down the road and block the drain. Water would then flow over the curb and take all the nice wood chips away. The dirt space would remain.
And then I would pour some more chips there.
I knew what would eventually happen, but I liked that immediate gratification more.
I hope that Arne Duncan eventually decides to plant some grass instead of pour wood chips.