Although I don’t have much time for recreational reading, last summer I picked up the book Mindset – the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. While it looked like a fast read, it was quite thought-provoking and has made me re-examine how we interact with students.
Dr. Dweck presents the opinion that there are two mindsets – fixed mindset and growth mindset. The fixed mindset requires individuals to prove themselves over and over. Each of life’s experiences pressures themselves to prove their intelligence and ability or be viewed a failure and risk rejection. The need to prove themselves in each new situation never ends.
The growth mindset is based on the assumption that we grow and develop through our experiences and there is no limit to one’s potential given focus, passion and determination. She cites many of the world’s most accomplished people were once considered just plain average. Charles Darwin, Leo Tolstoy, Geraldine Page and even Binghamton’s own, Rod Serling were once considered only average.
I heard that the infamous, Helen Foley, after whom the Binghamton High School theatre was named, once told Rod Serling that he’d better start putting forth some effort or he wasn’t going to amount to anything! She recognized his talent and wanted to motivate him to use it.
Benjamin Barber, a noted sociologist, divides the world into learners and non-learners. We see this in an early age. For example, in one of his experiments, pre-school children could choose a puzzle that they could easily do or a harder puzzle. Children with a fixed mindset chose the one they could easily do as opposed to children with a growth mindset who believed the challenge was more exciting. Some children are motivated by the learning while others don’t want to risk making a mistake.
As parents and teachers, I wonder the messages were are sending our children? Are we stretching them to develop a growth mindset where they actually enjoy the challenge and stretch their learning or do we convey it’s better to play it safe lest they risk not feeling smart?
Marion H. Martinez, Ed.D.
Binghamton City Schools Superintendent