Saturday, April 30, 2011


My father was a teacher and then a principal. My brother was a special needs teacher for over thirty years. I taught high school for one year and have been teaching college students for over thirty years. And yet, it was a fellow in a locker room who relayed an anecdote about teaching that I had never heard before and consider very interesting--even if I am not sure I completely agree with it. It may be that both my father and brother told me this story as did my own teachers in college, but I have no recollection of it--the marshmallow test.

So, we are in the locker room last weekend and shooting the breeze as is typically the case. He is asking me about work and we get to speaking about his playing days as a football player at Northeastern where I am currently employed. He tells me about one player who one just knew would be a leader on fields other than athletic playing fields. And this person did in fact become a leader.

I comment about how as a teacher you sometimes can sense that someone will become unusual and a leader. (By the way I will interject here that Michael Lake, a student in one of my classes several years ago, will--I guarantee it--be a senator or congressperson or perhaps president in fifteen years. He is now in his late 20s. If Las Vegas is taking odds on this--bet the farm).

When I tell my friend that teachers can sometime detect future greatness, he says--"well sure the old marshmallow test."

I smiled but confessed that I had never heard of it.

"You, a college professor, and you never heard of the marshmallow test?"

"This is one of many things that I do not know." I say. "But I am curious, what is it?"

He tells me that the marshmallow test is a good way to discover at a very early age who will make wise decisions and who will follow a path that is more difficult to travel.

He tells me that what you do is take children, isolate them, and put a marshmallow in front of each one of them. You tell the youngsters that they can eat their marshmallow now, or what they can do is not eat the marshmallow now, but wait thirty minutes at which time they can have two marshmallows.

My exercising friend said that the kid who eats the marshmallow right there is in for trouble. Whereas those who are wise enough to wait for the two marshmallows in thirty minutes reflect, patience, intelligence, analytical skills, and the likelihood of future successes.

I have been thinking of the marshmallow test all week. While I have found it intriguing, I am not sure the conclusions are necessarily correct. I am a two marshmallows in thirty minutes guy. No way do I snort that one marshmallow if I know that two are on the horizon if I wait. But I am not sure if that has served me well. Sure, two marshmallows are, all things being equal, better than one, but some people who are impetuous can benefit from this behavior. There can be tangible evidence of joy--and I have seen it--for those who grabbed that marshmallow.

1 comment:

  1. For what its worth, I would crack almost immediatley and eat the marshmellow. I would then start strategizing how to get more. Conniving, begging, feigning ignorance of the rules, playing the pitty angle, the fairness angle(my marshmelow was smaller than the rest}. It goes on and on. As a matter of fact I'm going into my kitchen now and looking for that bag of marshmellows my wife saves for the grandsons.