Friday, July 8, 2016

It’s not smart to be bright

This week I had to console my nephew Garret who did not pass for a prestige school after writing the SEA exam. “Uncle Darryn, does God hate me?”, he asked, on the verge of tears. “Oh Garret, God doesn’t hate you, you’re just duncey, that’s all,” I said. I then tried to get him excited about all the new and wonderful experiences that awaited him at his new mediocre Government secondary school. Like dealing with his first bullies, his first rejection by a girl and making his first viral video of a classroom fight. But nothing I said seemed to cheer him up.

Last year Government Secondary schools accounted for just 5 % of scholarships and 100 % of news stories about students 'calling hits' on teachers. So I understand why my nephew is upset. Government secondary schools are like the licensing office. People only go there if they can’t bribe their way out of it. Education Minister Anthony Garcia has promised to investigate why both Government run Primary and Secondary schools are failing compared to denominational run schools. After all, there must be a common link between the Government run Education Ministry, and failing Government run Primary and Secondary schools. But so far it’s a puzzle no Government ministry official seems to be able to solve. Possibly due to their Government education.

Despite my nephew’s pessimism about his future, I actually think he will be successful in life. That’s because he has a few things going for him that so called “bright” children may not have. Firstly, his parents have always praised his accomplishments as a product of hard work rather than an innate ability of him being “bright”. According to Columbia University researchers Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller, children who are routinely praised on their “smartness” struggle when confronted with difficult challenges. That’s because they unconsciously learn to wrongly view “smartness” as an innate ability they possess and which they can summon at any time needed.

Reviewing Dweck’s and Mueller’s research for the Harvard Review, Hedi Grant Halvorson, writes “Smart praised kids were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence, and to become less effective performers” when faced with challenging problem solving tests. "Effort" praised kids on the other hand unconsciously learn to view problem solving as a product of hard work and application rather than an innate ability. Consequently “effort praised” kids outperformed the “smart praised” kids on Dweck’s and Mueller’s tests. This might explain the problem solving performance of our politicians who all at one time were "bright" students attending prestige schools.

Human intelligence is far more malleable than people think it is. According to the American Psychological Association, studies on children who were simply encouraged to think of intelligence as being changeable rather than fixed saw marked improvements in their grades. Which means it is possible to help improve the academic performance of children, by simply NOT telling them they are complete failures for not passing for a prestige school.

My nephew already understands that his SEA result does not describe some finite amount of ability he has, that his school, however lame it may be, doesn’t have to affect his ability to develop his talents. And that he doesn’t need to resign himself from now to a career as the doorman at Dad’s Dan.

The second thing my nephew knows is that being "bright" is vastly overrated, in fact being bright in Trinidad and Tobago is positively useless. Of all the key qualities of highly successful people identified by researchers, being bright ranks nowhere near such important attributes as: grit, focus, the ability to delay gratification and confidence. In fact, being bright might actually be a hindrance in life as research also shows bright people routinely make stupid decisions.

According to psychologists Richard West and Keith Stanovich, brighter people are more vulnerable to faulty thinking because they are unaware of their own blind spots. West and Stanovich performed tests on people and compared the accuracy of their answers to their levels of intelligence. They found that bright people were more likely to have more wrong answers and make more mental mistakes when problem solving; saying “a larger bias blind spot was associated with higher cognitive ability”.

This might actually explain the poor performance of government schools; they are being run by too many bright people.


NomisTT said...

Good food for thought.

Mark said...

Wasn't that a calypso though?

Kish said...

Never thought about it from this perspective. Come to think of it. Hmm

Anonymous said...

Well researched and written.