While the Growth Mindset (as a capitalized noun with a ™ after it) was new to me last semester when I took Indian Epics, it is now fairly familiar to me after that class’ assignments about it. So, this time around, I chose to look more at some of the more recent articles about it linked in the assignment page; in particular, I enjoyed reading Alfie Kohn’s article, “The ‘Mindset’ Mindset.”
I agree wholeheartedly with Kohn that “mindsets” have taken over and that the obsession with supposedly rigorous and infallible psychological results precludes asking a number of far, far simpler and much more important questions: Is the material worthwhile? Are any of the tasks relevant to the material? Is the teacher even familiar with the material, let alone sufficiently adept with it to explain it from the many different angles that the many different students may need?
Of course, Dweck’s concept is itself useful and interesting, but it, and indeed a great deal of social psychology and education research, ends up serving as empty hype for budget expansions and an endless cycle of trendy and ultimately meaningless reform.
Teaching is not rocket science. It is difficult, very difficult, but it is not a science because people are not cogs in a machine. At the end of the day, a teacher is a person dealing with people, and thus their foremost priority must always be the development of relationships with their students and their understanding of the subject. Research and theory can guide them, but they risk becoming scripts and futile exercises in social engineering that stifle the simple reality of people interacting with each other.
Incidentally, that’s one of the things I love about this class: Laura, like anyone who teaches must, has a clear philosophy about teaching. But she shares it with us, asks us to engage it and discuss its merits with her, and in the end, it is a part of the content of the course itself. It is not a script for our interactions with her or each other. The centerpiece of the course remains the content: writing, reading (whether about these philosophies or the stories), and interacting as people with her and each other.