Saturday, October 25, 2014


I started reading the book Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck because I really want to encourage a growth mindset in my children.

I think I tend to already have it when it comes to most things, although I know there are situations in which I don't.

Life has proven to me that intelligence is not fixed.  Just the fact that at age 41 I understand The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock when it made zero sense to me at age 19 is evidence of this (and I haven't been studying the poem these 22 years).  I think life experience, reading, effort and practice can change a person's ability in most everything.  I try to instill this in my children as well as my students.

One of my students, a senior, sent me an email in which she was concerned that she wasn't seeing symbols and a lot of things I bring up in class to discuss with them.  I had to talk her down, encouraging her to jot down what she thinks she sees and what she feels about a text because students have often shown me things that I didn't see.  I also had to remind her that she is 18, and time and practice tend to make one better at analyzing novels.

I do think people have innate abilities and gifts which are easier to hone and sharpen.  Mine is writing.  The desire to write, the words, come naturally.  This doesn't mean I set the world on fire with my writing, but I am content to perhaps warm a little snippet of the world up with the candle that is my writing (my local freelancing and blog writing, as it were).

I will never entertain the masses with my piano playing, but I am proud of what I have learned in just under 3 years, from not being able to read music at all to practicing a version of Scott Joplin's The Entertainer.

I worry that my children have more of a fixed mindset.  Every time N starts a new piano lesson, she frets that it is too hard!  I'll never get it!  And yet, after two weeks of practice, she not only has it, but has it well.  Plays without error, plays with dynamics and has fun.

I try to stress to them that no one gets better at anything without practicing, without putting effort into it.  You read more to become a better reader.  If math is difficult, you keep practicing, doing problems and in time it will become easier.  You may never love to do it, but you will understand it better.

The book talks about depression and how that plays into people who have a fixed or a growth mindset.  Even during my worst bout of anxiety, I didn't think it couldn't be made better.  I knew I needed help and I took steps to get it.  To do whatever it took to try to make myself better.

Sometimes my anxiety seems to want to reel me into a fixed mindset.  Health/germs/disease are my biggest issues, so whenever a bout of anything comes upon me or my family I tend to think the situation is fixed and there is nothing I can do about it.  That it is the worst thing ever and cannot ever be resolved.

Despite this, though, I still somehow tend to fight against this thinking.  To seek out help, answers to questions, do whatever minor little things I think I can do to resolve the situation.  So even if my mind worries that there is nothing that can be done, I sorta disregard it and plow ahead.  So even in my pessimism, there seems to be an optimist in my depths that spurs me on to at least try.

Reading this book also reinforces my strongly held feelings that education and its focus on tests to determine so much about children and where they need to be is really so very narrow.  I know there has to be a litmus test of some kind, but we (and I sometimes) get so hung up on one little measure.

We lose sight of the importance of the process, of trying, of struggle.  God, we hate to struggle.  But to me, struggle is a lot like change. Change, taxes and struggle are three things one can count on with anything resembling reliability.

When I think of some of my favorite novels, A Room with a View being one, I am reminded how much of a character's struggle is deeply troubling to them but also the thing that ultimately brings them a sense of purpose, a sense of identity, a sense of peace.

We could learn so very much from the characters that inform our imaginations.

No comments: