“It hasn’t made the difference it should have in the world, and that’s very disappointing.” Eden’s frustration, shared by many other researchers who have tried to replicate Rosenthal’s stunning findings, stems from an important caveat to the apparent promise of Rosenthal’s discovery at the Spruce School.
In that experiment and hundreds of similar subsequent ones, the expectations Cantello and her fellow teachers had for their students were fruitful only when their behaviors were subconsciously driven, suggesting that they might not have been able to so earnestly alter their behavior if they had known the truth about their students from the beginning.
Rosenthal, who was certain the experiment revealed a powerful and mostly subconscious dynamic, wrote about this discovery in a 1963 article in .
In the article, he speculated that “if rats became brighter when expected to, then it should not be farfetched to think that children could become brighter when expected to by their teachers.” This prompted a letter from Lenore Jacobson, the Spruce School principal.
The discovery embodied the American dream — writ small enough to fit inside a classroom — and appeared to hold the promise to transform our educational system.
Any student had the potential to “bloom,” it would seem, under the right circumstances.
” wrote Columbia University’s Robert Thorndike, an expert in educational and psychological testing and one of several prestigious scholars who lambasted Rosenthal’s project.Moreover, Rosenthal says, the design for the experiment Thorndike found so flawed had previously won an award from the American Psychological Association.Some of the critics were plainly politically motivated.Beverly Cantello didn’t appreciate being misled — at least, not at first. Cantello was 23 years old and just starting out in her teaching career when a Harvard psychologist named Robert Rosenthal came to her elementary school.The principal announced that she’d given Rosenthal permission to administer a fancy-sounding new IQ test to the school’s students that spring.