Student Well-Being Opinion

Is Growth Mindset Now a Bad Thing?

By Patrick Larkin — August 25, 2015 1 min read
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I’ve been struggling with Alfie Kohn’s take on Growth Mindset that was published about a week ago. I am still trying to decide whether Kohn’s real problem is with the education system itself or with the research of Carol Dweck. The title of the article, The perils of “Growth Mindset” education: Why we’re trying to fix our kids when we should be fixing the system, leads me to believe that it is more about the system.

Let’s look at a few excerpts from Kohn’s Slate Article below to see if you agree:

Unfortunately, even some people who are educators would rather convince students they need to adopt a more positive attitude than address the quality of the curriculum (what the students are being taught) or the pedagogy (how they're being taught it)." "But books, articles, TED talks, and teacher-training sessions devoted to the wonders of adopting a growth mindset rarely bother to ask whether the curriculum is meaningful, whether the pedagogy is thoughtful, or whether the assessment of students' learning is authentic (as opposed to defining success merely as higher scores on dreadful standardized tests)."

And last but not least, the conclusion:

I'm not suggesting we go back to promoting an innate, fixed, "entity" theory of intelligence and talent, which, as Dweck points out, can leave people feeling helpless and inclined to give up. But the real alternative to that isn't a different attitude about oneself; it's a willingness to go beyond individual attitudes, to realize that no mindset is a magic elixir that can dissolve the toxicity of structural arrangements. Until those arrangements have been changed, mindset will get you only so far. And too much focus on mindset discourages us from making such changes."

Maybe I oversimplify complex things? However, I can’t help thinking that we could criticize many of the initiatives that schools undertake due to the fact that they are being implemented in an outdated educational system. Professional Learning Communities, technology integration, team teaching, and many other initiatives that we implement in our schools are misguided without first looking deeply at the structure within which we do so.

As a product of the system and someone who has worked within it for quite sometime, I have to admit that I have a fondness for the Growth Mindset. I wonder whether we can really make the changes that we need to within our schools without a growth mindset? Then again, part of me thinks that’s Kohn’s whole point is that Dweck and others who espouse the value of a growth mindset have not made this connection.

In the end, my concern is that people will throw the Growth Mindset baby out with the bathwater. I have heard more than one colleague jump to the conclusion that the idea of Growth Mindset now has to be moved immediately and forever to the other long list of failed educational philosophies. My biggest hope here is that people will read a bit deeper than the headline and look more at how they are supporting a growth mindset in their schools and classrooms. In my opinion, we can’t get where we need to go without it.

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