By Wan A. Hulaimi | firstname.lastname@example.org
A COUPLE of thoughtful emails come in response to last week’s conversation (“Power of Words Will Move People to Action”), one from a young lady who declares that in this momentous year she has reached the age of thirteen. She writes so very well that I can say that she has found a way of learning, which is what education is about, to teach people how to learn.
But who and what do you teach in the first place? Do we teach people who are clever and praise them when they score high marks? That sounds like a very good idea, and then what? What about those who have fallen by the way side? And what if those intelligent ones lose their gleam and start to think unthinkable thoughts?
Well, as they say, give a person a fish and he’ll be fed and teach him how to fish and he’ll be good. And this brings us to the smart school: is it a congregation of clever birds or is it a place where learning is taught? How many schools nowadays teach children how to learn rather than just praise them for clever marks?
We saw motivation last week and how it could mean little if taught in the abstract. Give them the oomph to learn and then praise them once they’ve scored dazzling marks and this will put the smart school in good stead, especially if the children enrolled are already smart by the definition at the school’s entry gate. But how often do we see smart children fall by the wayside, from boredom, maybe, from a loss of direction as they wander and continue to deteriorate on the playing fields of the educationally abject?
What a waste of potentially good lasses and lads, and what further waste in those who could not make the grade and are just peering in from the outside. Can’t the smart ones continue to be smart, can’t those outsiders be taught to throw away their dunces’ caps?
And hey, why can’t we turn this on its head? Why don’t we teach them all how to be smart?
We are, in our society, always in the process of weeding out: the wheat from the chaff, the floppy caps from the top hats. But ask any number of people who have made it to the top and a considerable number will tell you that at school they were sub-standard. So what is it they have found that has pushed them to the top, or at least to the road that takes them away from the crowd?
Let’s presume now for our purpose that they have found this thing called motivation (which last week I tried to sell to you as a tool-box of words). But now, now, what is this if not just a word? Well, yes, it is is, and no it’s not.
Carol S Dweck is at Stanford University in the United States and she has been looking into the self-conceptions or mindsets people use to structure themselves and guide their behaviour. She says in a published interview that the most intriguing thing she has found in her thirty years of research is the power of motivation. “Motivation is often more important than your initial ability in determining whether you succeed in the long run… many creative geniuses were not born that way. They were often fairly ordinary people who became extraordinarily motivated,” she concludes.
There is a story that she often tells to illustrate her point: that of a Nobel-prize winner who later in life got hold of his high school records where he discovered that his IQ score was not very high.
His response to that was if he had known about his poor IQ he would not have tried to become a scientist. And then there would not have been those path-breaking discoveries, says Dweck, and what a loss that would have been for the world.
As we move from our cradles to the long road, we will start by discovering our sense of self and what we are worth. And it is this that shapes us. We are what we teach ourselves and schools are where we are taught to be – a wise guy or a dumb ass, a failure or one who strives to achieve.
So there is something else that Professor Dweck has found in her work: students should be taught how to learn and not praised blindly for being smart. This means that they should be commended for having found a method to success and not put on a pedestal for simply being gifted, or brainy or right.
Clever children will be demoralised the next time they fail to achieve a result, or they will stop trying (be motivated) because of their fear of failure that will stop them being smart, whilst pupils who are praised for their keenness to learn will continue to strive to learn. Performance oriented versus learning oriented, in other words.
It is this desire to learn that motivates them; and that certainly opens the door to a lot of us.
Wan A. Hulaimi is based in the UK