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

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
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
Leading Systemic Redesign: Strategies from the Field
Learn how your school community can work together to redesign the school system, reengineer instruction, & co-author personalized learning.
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
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

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 Students Have Ideas to Address Mental Health Challenges. They Want to Be Heard
Students have solutions that can help teachers and school leaders support youth dealing with stress, anxiety, and other issues.
8 min read
Group of diverse people (aerial view) in a circle holding hands. Cooperation and teamwork. Community of friends, students, or volunteers committed to social issues for peace and the environment.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being After a Rash of Student Suicides, This School District Stepped Up
Hopeless at first over a student mental health crisis, Colorado's Cherry Creek school leaders decided to build a day-treatment program.
13 min read
Image of a bridge made of puzzle pieces with the middle piece moving to connect the two sides.
Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock/Getty
Student Well-Being What Schools Can Do to Ease Students' Anxiety
Educators and researchers offer three tips on how schools can ease anxiety and mental health burdens for their students.
4 min read
Black students using laptop in the lab with white female teacher- including a female student with special needs.
E+/Getty
Student Well-Being Does SEL Make Students Ready for Work? We Asked Educators
Most educators say SEL has a positive impact on students, but teacher buy-in is still needed.
2 min read
A diverse group of students wearing book bags and climbing ladders and books to assemble a large puzzle
iStock/Getty Images Plus