Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why “Education” Gets a Failing Grade;
Ecosystems Encourage “Growth Mindset”

Image: The Teacher from “The Wall”
We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.
Video: Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall, Part Two (Official Music Video)
Source: YouTube:

How little has changed in 35 years.

Oh, we know: the educators will cry foul at a statement like that. But the truth hurts sometimes. And that’s the point of today’s blog. To truly get better, one better get used to the idea of failure.

Real learning comes by way of trial and error, exploration, discovery and—effectively—self-learning. But our education system—and indeed culture—worships “success” and fails to recognize the immense importance failure plays not only in the learning process, but in personal growth, all manner of progress and evolution itself!

Allow us to change the dark tone to a more positive one by way of sharing a video from Khan Academy.

Video: You Can Learn Anything 
Credit: Khan Academy

Salman Khan started the not-for-profit Khan Academy on his earnest beliefs that:
  1. Anyone can learn anything—evidenced by so-called neuroplasticity of the brain.
  2. Everyone should have free access to learn anything—why his online academy is 100% free.
  3. Failure should be celebrated and efforts rewarded—in the struggle to succeed one will naturally and inevitably face failure, and that’s a good thing since failure teaches us more than success.

In a recent blog post, Salman Kahn describes a heartwarming story of his son reading a story out loud, struggling for over a minute before finally pronouncing the word “gratefully.”
“He then said, ‘Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.’ I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell¬-tale signs of a ‘growth¬ mindset.’…I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.”
~ Salman Kahn
Brilliant. Finally, decades since the release of The Wall, educators are coming around to the conclusion that their job is about teaching how to think not what to think.  To create a learning mindset: immersing children in a culture of trial and error, where failure and success receive equal billing; children are rewarded for overcoming obstacles, not for succeeding at tasks that came relatively easy to them. Can calls this the “growth mindset.”

Of course, the challenge is we live in a culture which lives in a “fixed mindset.” Not only does society tell us what to think, how to feel, what we need to be, buy and/or experience to be happy, etc. Our culture also glorifies success. We are inundated with advertising, game shows, reality TV contests, films, newscasts, sports stars, celebrities and “success stories” of all kinds proclaiming “the glory of victory” and “the agony of defeat.”

More than anything else, our culture worships “celebrity”—sports stars, actors, billionaires, royal couples, religious icons, even mobsters and famous criminals like Bonnie and Clyde. This tendency to embrace a “cult of personality” suggests our conditioned belief that talent (such as intelligence) is fixed—something we are born with, in our genes, etc.—for the masses to celebrate (and envy). 

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell turns the ideas of innate intelligence and ambition—“born talent”—on its head. He argues that environmental factors and one’s attitude to achieving success through constant struggle and effort are paramount to success.

Image: Outliers Cover 
Credit: Malcolm Gladwell, Penguin Books Australia

In said book, he coins the phrase “the 10,000 hour rule,” implying that mastery emerges only after thousands of hours of efforts, failures and renewed efforts.

In fact, one “superstar athlete” Gladwell mentions in his book would like to take a minute to go on record and apologize if he added to the mass contemporary cultural delusion which forgot the old adage, “success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”

Video: Michael Jordan 'Maybe It's My Fault' Commercial
Source: YouTube:

Controversial as Gladwell’s argument and Kahn’s “growth mindset” may be to those entrenched in their fixed mindsets and established worldviews, one cannot argue Michael Jordan’s first-hand experience, nor the fact that we are products of our environment. Even the recent science of epigenetics indicates that genetics are not “fixed”—that environmental factors can turn certain genes on and off.

Finally, we come to evolution and nature itself. In nature, nothing is fixed. We recommend watching the videos posted on PeapodLife’s Blog Article: Meditations in Motion, Living Ecosystems Give Life to see the significance of that statement.

Evolution is both success and failure. We recently coined the phrase, survival of the most fitting, in response to Darwin’s erroneous conclusion that evolution came down to survival of the fittest. The fact is that the environment of the ecosystem is an intelligent growth environment. Like the growth mindset described by Khan, it gives equal billing to success and failure.

What we know for certain is that evolution takes time. Ecosystems are patient; far more patient than individual organisms. Nature tests…nature experiments…nature explores…nature discovers and surprises itself.

Nature is not just always about ripping the throats out of prey, chasing off competitors, etc.  Evolution tries new directions with new species, and abandons species which longer serve the “superorganisms”—ecosystems, biosphere. Ecosystems function on collective harmony and symbiosis. Darwin’s model would turn nature into nothing more than a bleak free-for all and terrible chaotic anarchy.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that our world, fixated as it is on “fixed mindsets,” on success, on glorifying and rewarding winning while denouncing and punishing failure, on competitiveness and “survival of the fittest” is looking more and more like a bloody mess. And why, all too often, has degenerated and degraded into scenes right out of Pink Floyd’s legendary Rock Opera.

So here we’ve come full circle and wound up back in the dark, cold classroom of that rock and roll hell. Before we sign off, let’s do so on a positive note about the growth mentality, and receive some valuable advice and a hearty “Thumbs Up for Rock and Roll!” by a true expert on learning, and what it means to succeed.

Video: Thumbs Up for Rock and Roll! 
Source: YouTube:

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