The shallowness of judging by appearances

I make a point of not watching talent shows for all the obvious reasons. However, Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent has got so much attention it’s hard to ignore.

Why is she grabbing the headlines?  Why has there been 4,750,992 views of her youtube vid?

Answer – because she doesn’t look the part that such talent shows expect. When she walked on stage there was tittering and rolled eyes from the audience and the judges. Merely because she looked more of a middle-aged unsophisticated housewife than a wannabe west-end stage singer, people assumed she would not be able to pull the song off.  She had to prove her talents to be taken seriously.  Yet, every rational person knows that how you look has no logical relation to singing ability. When did society become so shallow?

Yet, the question must be asked. Do we do that in our classrooms?

Typically, by Christmas of the academic year, I can make a strong prediction as to the students final grades for the subject for the year. But, I remind myself that it is merely a prediction and I’m bound to get at least one or two students wrong.  There is always someone who performs above and below expectations that I have built up. Exam nerves and other on-the-day factors can cause a student to perform badly on an end-of-year exam (the value of exams is a whole other post). But what about the student who does better than expected.

Why do I get this student wrong. The apperance is mis-leading, that is why.  How this student has presented in my class is not necessarily representative of the skills and talents s/he possesses. For whatever reason, those skills lay hidden, dormant or undeveloped throughout the year and give lecturers a poor and false impression of such a student.

The learning point for us instructors is how to nurture this talent through the academic year and let it shine for all to see.  This is difficult. There are a huge variety of reasons why a student might maintain a low profile academically, including reasons that are so private to the student that they never emerge into the full light of day.

Students develop and grow into their abilities and talents at different points. Some take longer than others. Some require more help and gentle pushes than others. Ultimately we all have something to offer, regardless of what our projected appearance to the world might suggest.

Let’s not be so shallow.


Posted on April 18, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree with your comment about society’s shallowness when it comes to judging others. Tanya Gold writing last week in the Guardian newspaper, asks the question “Is Susan Boyle ugly? Or are we?”. She echoes your sentiments when she writes of ”This lust for homogeneity in female beauty means that when someone who doesn’t resemble a diagram in a plastic surgeon’s office steps up to the microphone, people fall about and treat us to despicable sub-John Gielgud gestures of amazement”.

  2. Hi Countrywife, nice to hear from you. Yes, this narrow definition of what equates to beauty is a strange one. It’s formed by society and reinforced by society. On the plus side, this means that it is open to change, at least in the long term.

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