Another Take on Pretty Good

Another Take on Pretty Good April 4, 2012

As I wrote on “pretty good” being the new standard for me and my kids, I couldn’t help thinking “This is contextualized for my uptight, Northeast, performance addicted, grim and driven culture.”  Add the Chinese-American layer, and pretty good looks. . . pretty good.

Yet for other cultures, and other peoples, pretty good might not be good enough.

For example, I talked to an African American friend at church, commiserating about our middle-school boys who need both motivation and executive functioning skills.  She tells her dark-skinned son that he has to excel because in our culture, folks will stereotype him as a low-achiever even though he’s not.  Therefore he must surpass expectations in every way.  Although she didn’t say it, the sense I got was he needs to be twice as good to be seen as equal.   The way she talks, excelling is a survival skill in her community.

There’s all sorts of research about expectations and school performance–if teachers expect low performance, they’ll get it.   If they expect high performance, they’ll get that too.

When I was writing my dissertation, Dr. Claude Steele’s research fascinated me.  He wrote about “stereotype threat,” how students’ performances can be hindered solely because of how they think they’re being perceived (ie. Black students told before taking a test “measuring” intelligence that White students did well, or White students told before the test that Asian students did well–both Blacks and Whites did more poorly than when not told anything at all, or when told the test was just a puzzle).   Click here to read an interesting article on his research.

And for another perspective on the standard of “pretty good,” here’s a poem by Charles Osgood:

Pretty Good

There once was a pretty good student
Who sat in a pretty good class
And was taught by a pretty good teacher
Who always let pretty good pass.

He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whiz-bang at math,
But for him, education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.
He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well,
And he did have some trouble with writing
Since nobody taught him to spell.
When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine.
5+5 needn’t always add up to be 10;
A pretty good answer was 9.
The pretty good class that he sat in 
Was part of a pretty good school,
And the student was not an exception:
On the contrary, he was the rule.
The pretty good school that he went to
Was there in a pretty good town,
And nobody there seemed to notice
He could not tell a verb from a noun.
The pretty good student in fact was
Part of a pretty good mob.
And the first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.
It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough,
And he soon had a sneaking suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.
The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state
Which had pretty good aspirations
And prayed for a pretty good fate.
There once was a pretty good nation
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned much too late,
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad. 

What do you think?  Is pretty good the right standard for your culture and people?

Or is it pretty bad?

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