Monthly Archives: August 2015

Alfie Kohn on “Growth Mindset”

As I sat down to participate in #sunchat on Twitter this morning, I discovered the Connected Educator world was abuzz with reactions to Alfie Kohn’s new article for Salon, The education fad that’s hurting our kids: What you need to know about “Growth Mindset” theory — and the harmful lessons it imparts.

Kohn went after the “grit” fad last year, and now he is taking on an even more entrenched, but still recent, educational fad: Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset,” which is official doctrine in many schools (including mine). I love Kohn’s iconoclastic willingness to tackle the school orthodoxy, but I’m a little surprised that he took on the mindset devotees. I would think that he would see this as support for his intrinsic motivation focus, but he distinguishes between the two in his piece in Salon.

The common thread that unites Kohn’s take-downs of both grit and the growth mindset is his concern that the focus on these non-cognitive skills is distracting attention away from the real enemy: soul-crushingly dull classroom instruction that forces kids to sit still and march through tedious, mindless exercises and drills. He worries that teachers who are lecturing at their students each and every class, and then assigning hours of useless homework (busywork?), are using the grit and growth-mindset trends as excuses to avoid having to confront their contribution to their students’ lack of interest or engagement. It isn’t their fault that they are doing nothing to find more interesting ways to hold their students’ attention; it is the students’ fault for not having grit or for having a fixed mindset.

On a different note, Twitter is also alive this morning with tributes to Julian Bond, who just passed away at age 75. An alumnus of George School, Bond was a frequent presence on campus in the last few years, and it was a privilege to have met him. The number of GS alums who have taken to social media this morning to pay their respects is moving. We have many alums who do us proud, but none like Julian Bond.

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