Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Work in Progress

How many times have you heard stories of successful people who just wanted to let that teacher who told them they'd never amount to anything know that he or she was wrong? They'd made it. They were successful, and even happy, but the hurt from the put down all those years before still lingered.

I wonder what E is thinking tonight, after I laid into him today after school, but from an opposite perspective: "You have skills and insight. You've demonstrated you can think deeply and critically. But you're not respecting your ability. From what I've seen, you can do or be anything you want to do or be - if you polish those skills and talent while the doors are open to you."

This kid is a work in progress. He has done well on any low-stakes assignment, but has frozen on high-stakes assignments like timed writing prompts. Why? Ever read Stanford professor Carol Dweck's book Mindset? I had, and made E read the first four chapters, about the fixed and growth mindsets. Growth mindset people are cool with "failure" because they know that they will learn and grow from their mistakes. Fixed mindset people are terrified of failure because they think that others will discover that they are really not "smart." They'd rather not try at all than risk trying and failing.That's E.

So I've called his bluff. Nothing he can do will make me think he's not smart, so he has no choice but to live up to his potential in my class. "When you complete this class, I want you to still hear my voice in your head telling you that yes, you are smart enough. No more excuses." I'm putting a request out to the universe to run into him in about 10 years, and keeping my fingers crossed.

Post Script: About two months after I wrote this, E was jumped by some gangbangers one night and beaten within an inch of his life. After several weeks of being kept in an induced coma to help reduce brain swelling, he was gradually brought back to consciousness, but the loss in cognition did not become fully evident for a few months. He no longer knows how to read or write, and will never function normally. Some will blame him for being out at night. He will be a burden on his family and/or society for the rest of his life, his potential shattered.

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