Weasel Words In Education Part 6: Growth Mindset

It’s taken me a while to realise this, but “Growth Mindset” is essentially the repackaging of that perennial teacher favourite: “Must Try Harder”.

Suppose that the difference in “people who talk up innate ability” and “people who talk up hard work” maps onto a bigger distinction. Some people really want to succeed at a task; other people just care about about clocking in, going through the motions, and saying “I did what I could”.

Put the first group in front of an authoritative-looking scientist, tell them to solve a problem, and make sure they can’t. They’re going to view this as a major humiliation – they were supposed to get a result, and couldn’t. They’ll get very anxious, and of course anxiety impedes performance.

Put the second group in front of an authoritative-looking scientist, and they’ll notice that if they write some stuff that looks vaguely relevant for a few minutes until the scientist calls time, then whatever, they can say they tried and no one can bother them about it. They do exactly this, then demand an ‘A’ for effort. At no point do they experience any anxiety, so their performance isn’t impeded.

Put both groups on their own in private, and neither feels any humiliation, and they both do about equally well.

Now put them in real life. The success-oriented group will investigate how to study most effectively; the busywork-oriented group will try to figure out how many hours of studying they have to put in before other people won’t blame them if they fail, then put in exactly that amount. You’ll find the success-oriented group doing a bit better in school, even though they fail miserably in Dweck-style experiments.
[ . . . ]
So basically, you take the most vulnerable people, set them tasks you know they’ll fail at, then lecture them about how they only failed because of insufficient effort.

Imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever, saying “YOUR PROBLEM IS THAT YOU’RE JUST NOT TRYING NOT TO BE STAMPED ON HARD ENOUGH”.

— Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex, 8/4/15 [emphasis added]

Recent research shows that children do better in classes where teachers ensure that the region around their cubital ginglymus has a organic epidermal integument attached. Watch this space for more on the Organic Epidermal Integument Elbow Set, next week.

Cubital Ginglymus Organic Epidermal Integument

h/t The Learning Spy, Why The ‘False Growth Mindset’ Reveals So Much

7 thoughts on “Weasel Words In Education Part 6: Growth Mindset

  1. ijstock June 21, 2015 / 6:31 pm

    Yes, of course – good comment. We are looking here at nothing less than the latest silver bullet with which favoured people within education brand those whose faces don’t fit… as in “You have a fixed mind set so you are clearly not one of The Chosen”.

    A colleague of mine met Dweck a few months ago, and the abiding impression he got was of an ageing woman who was quite perplexed at her sudden fame over work she did quite some time ago.

    I’ve also mentioned before the work of Barbara Ehrenreich (Smile or Die) who exposed the related Positive Thinking movement for their heartless condemnation of people like her who were clearly not fighting cancer with enough determination because she was depressed about having it. The implication is, if you fail, it is all your own fault. See also the winner-takes-all mind set that ‘justifies’ vast wealth differentials.

    There is clearly useful material in the GM – but people differ in their approach over time and with respect to different activities. I think this will come to be seen as just the latest in a long line of Very Unhelpful Labels we apply to people who don’t find favour.

    • e=mc2andallthat June 21, 2015 / 6:47 pm

      Very true! I was taken with Scott Alexander’s image of a boot stamping in a human face forever whilst saying “Smith, Winston! You’re not trying hard enough!” In reality, of course, it is more sheep and goats time . . .an update of https://youtu.be/K2k1iRD2f-c should come next.

  2. julietgreen June 21, 2015 / 8:07 pm

    Yes, I think you make an excellent point. I was also reminded of the notion that a patient just wasn’t trying hard enough to get better. But I am also reminded of, and do believe I have seen in my pupils, what Eric Berne calls the game of wooden leg. I have most noticeably encountered this recently in a pupil who considers themselves to be dyslexic and uses that as an excuse for all manner of things.

    • e=mc2andallthat June 21, 2015 / 8:38 pm

      Yes! Wasn’t it Samuel Butler’s Erewhon where criminality was handled with compassion, sympathy and treatment but physical illness was punished severely by prison? About the self-diagnosed dyslexic, it seems that there are always people who are able to work the system…

    • e=mc2andallthat June 26, 2015 / 6:56 am

      Many thanks, OA. I messed up the reblogging process when I posted this. Thanks for sorting it out.

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