I hope I remember this when my kids are born

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, in Scientific American. Very worthwhile reading. The story of how not to handle smart kids is painfully accurate to my childhood:

“Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability—along with confidence in that ability—is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.

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.”


5 responses to “I hope I remember this when my kids are born

  1. My wife comes from a gifted family. Her brother (killed in a car accident) won the university medal and her father was dux all the way through his primary and secondary schooling plus he has 3 patents to his name. Her uncle (on her mother’s side ) also has 3 patents.

    When my wife was dux all the way through her primary school she was identified as gifted and put in a special high school (government run).

    In such “selective schools”, gifted kids don’t see themselves as gifted, but as normal because everyone else at the school is at the same level. It’s a very competitive environment and the kids have to work very hard. There’s no “resting on your laurels” at such schools.

    I think the trouble sets in when kids are praised unconditionally all the time. I think that sort thing leads to an undeserved sense of entitlement that can lead to slackness.

    As for people who went to “selective” schools socially, I’m surrounded by them. I find that not only are they high achievers in life but they also make very good friends. I just love discussing things with such people because they tend to be open to reason therefore, not so emotional and dogmatic. Plus I get to learn new things.

    As for me marrying into such a family, I’m just nature’s way of bring their gene pool back to the shallow end.

    I rember reading the physicist Freeman Dyson’s response to the question “what’s it like to be so smart?” He said something along the lines of “I don’t feel so smart but I do feel that many people aren’t”.

  2. First of all, I’m not smart enough to know what “dux” means. I assume it’s ‘stralian for something, but what exactly I can’t figure out.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the comment on unconditional praise. So damaging to a child.

    As for “selective” schools, that’s all fine and good for some, just not all. I cruised through the first six grades with nary a pause to think…it was painfully easy. And boring. And people told me how smart and gifted I was. We had a special program in grades 4, 5 and 6 for a handful of kids; we got to hang out with the eccentric art teacher and explore projects on our own. Interesting, but not challenging enough.

    My view of intelligence was of the “fixed” variety. There are dumb kids and smart kids, and I was the latter.

    In sixth grade they tested every kid in the county for entrance to an accelerated math program at the university. They took the top 60. I was #68 out of thousands, but 8 people declined the program for various regions and I was in. Three hours of specialized math, twice a week, at the university. It was hard as hell…and a complete shock to the system. I had never been used to working my brain for anything school related, and it turned out I wasn’t quite ready to do so.

    I lasted half the year before deciding it was too annoying to spend all my time trying to learn advanced logic and decryption for hours every day. Why were we learning decryption? I still don’t know…probably a government program.

    Moral of the story, I was told how gifted I was and never learned the growth mindset when it came to learning. This also contributed to my historic slide in class rank, but that’s another story…

  3. Dux is Latin for “leader”

    A “dux” of a school is the top student of their grade that year.

    The word comes from roman times and it was the term used for a high-ranking commander in the Roman army, responsible for more than one legion.

    “My view of intelligence was of the “fixed” variety. There are dumb kids and smart kids, and I was the latter.”

    I once went to a “party” with my wife thrown by some of her high school friends. Later on in the evening a game of Trivial Pursuit was brought out (I know! What a bunch of party animals).

    We played in teams. Needless to say my wife and I mopped the floor with them (we got all our pies before anyone else got more than one pie).

    All the doctors, engineers and lawyers there were amazed how I answered most of the questions. As a matter of fact they just dispensed with the game and just quizzed me for the next hour asking me questions from the cards.

    The funny thing is that many people think that good general knowledge would equate to intelligence but I know better. My wife has much, much, much better logic and problem solving skills than me.

    I often joke to my wife that together we make up a computer with her being the processor and me being the hard drive.

  4. Ahh, dux. Makes sense and I’ve learned a new word.

    I’m a bit of a trivia nerd myself. I won my company’s trivia night, my second week here, proving that you don’t have to let the boss win to keep the job.

    I should mention that my view of intelligence changed sharply in junior high, exactly when I realized that my superior retention skills and book smarts were no match for the social intelligence that I observed in the “dumb” kids. They could talk to girls…I couldn’t.

    Intelligence certainly comes in a variety of forms, and I’m still refining many of my skills as I draw closer to 30. I still have a very sharp memory, but I’ve learned to appreciate the multitude of things I will never know.

    Let me know if you’re ever in the US…we’ll have a trivia challenge.

  5. breathlessmini

    hmmm… I think I understand myself a little better now. Ick. that’s bad news.

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