Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Why the Myth of the Lazy Genius Is So Harmful

By Andrei Cimpian — March 31, 2021 2 min read
How do I help students live up to their potential?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

How do I help kids live up to their potential?
Try to avoid biases that influence how you treat students. I wrote about one pernicious gender stereotype for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:
Let’s play a game. Close your eyes and think of a young person in your life who has a lot of intellectual potential but hasn’t lived up to it because of a lackluster work ethic.
Now, think of another young person who maybe isn’t as gifted but has accomplished a lot because of sheer determination.
Got them picked out?
If I were to guess, I’d say you probably came up with a boy for the first example (the “lazy genius”) and a girl for the second (the “striver”). Just think of the Harry Potter series. Harry was born with great magical powers, which enabled him to defeat the villain even though he didn’t spend much time studying at wizard school (and had the middling grades to show for it). In contrast, his female friend Hermione was very, very studious—yet, her magic powers were only those of a sidekick.
Unwittingly, we often allow the same Harry/Hermione dynamic to color our perceptions of boys and girls at home and in the classroom. And, not surprisingly, children absorb these ideas: By the age of 6, girls are already less likely than boys to view their own gender as “really, really smart.”
These perceptions matter because many prestigious careers, including those in science and technology, are looking for Harrys—people who have that “raw” intellectual firepower that Hermiones are often unjustly assumed to lack.
What can we do about this? While we might be tempted to immediately apologize to all the capable girls we know for failing to recognize their genius, that’s probably not the way to go. When young people are praised for their smarts, they often lose motivation in the face of difficulty.
Instead, let’s glamorize striving and ambition, making students like Hermione the protagonists, not the sidekicks. And boys shouldn’t be the yardstick of gender equality: Girls don’t need to be treated more like boys—rather, many boys would be better off if adults didn’t use the “lazy genius” idea as an excuse for underachievement.
Don’t assume that girls’ hard work is somehow compensating for a lack of “natural” talent. A person can be both gritty and talented.
Do explain to the young people in your life how much talent and ability can grow. In real life—unlike in the movies—Hermiones are just as capable as Harrys, whether they are girls or boys.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being From Our Research Center How Much Time Should Schools Spend on Social-Emotional Learning?
District leaders and experts say what’s most important is integrating SEL skills into all academic subjects.
5 min read
Image of a teacher in a classroom working with students.
In a national survey of educators by the EdWeek Research Center last year, about 85 percent said one hour should be the maximum amount of time devoted to social-emotional learning per day.
xavierarnau/E+
Student Well-Being School Counselors Sound Cry for Help After Buffalo Shooting
For many schools, the May 14th shooting rampage in Buffalo prompted staff discussions on how they might respond differently.
6 min read
A Buffalo police officer talks to children at the scene of Saturday's shooting at a supermarket on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.”
A Buffalo police officer talks to children at the scene of Saturday's shooting at a supermarket on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.”
Joshua Bessex/AP
Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Mental Health
This Spotlight will help you assess the stressors affecting student mental health, explore mental well-being resources in schools, and more.

Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Healthy Schools
This Spotlight will help you discover how health and wellness can create a transformative school environment and more.