Thursday, November 29, 2007

Talent vs. Effort in Education

Scientific American has an absolutely fascinating article up about the differences between kids who succeed at school versus kids who fail. Their reasoning is summarized in this quote:

Praising children’s innate abilities, as Jonathan’s parents did, reinforces this mind-set, which can also prevent young athletes or people in the workforce and even marriages from living up to their potential. On the other hand, our studies show that teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, helps make them into high achievers in school and in life.
Over the years, I've seen many tech-bloggers state that upcoming developments in genetic engineering will make it easier for parent to design smarter, better behaved children. But, what if that isn't enough? If a parent specifically planned for a kid to be smart, which do you think they are more likely to say to their child? "You are very talented/special." or "You worked hard."?

Not to mention, these results sync quite well with my own experiences. My default mind-set is unfortunately in the “innate talent” category. At one point in high school, I actually tried to convince my parents to move me to a lower level “Algebra II” class. I was barely passing the honors level class and actually told them “only stupid people had to study”. Thankfully, my parents didn’t listen. They instead grounded me until my grades improved.

Even today, I’m not a self-starter in the traditional sense. I can make myself start but it requires very conscious effort. If I quit that effort, I quickly slide into a rut. That’s one of the reasons why I created my Personal Enrichment Goals at the beginning of 2007. I realized that I had created for myself a very narrowly-defined comfort zone. The PE goals were about challenging myself in ways that will help be able to accomplish my long-term goals.

Right now, I’m in the process of writing my Personal Enrichment Goals for 2008. These goals are much more demanding than the 2007 list. But this year was a trial run, proving to myself I could do more and enjoy it. My experiences with installing and learning Ubuntu are a prime example of that. Next year’s list is about really challenging myself. Hopefully, in time I can train myself to have more of a growth-mindset.

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