Monday, April 21, 2014

Stop on a dime

Consider the juxtaposition of three recent articles.  The most recent is Thomas Friedman's column from yesterday, How to Get a Job At Google, Part 2.  It was written presumably as a result of the outpouring of interest in Part 1, which at the time was meant at a one and done piece.  Its contents were snips from an interview with the head of Google's HR department, Lazlo Bock, getting his take on what applicants for a job should be bringing to the table to have a decent chance of getting hired.

The next is a piece from the Tomorrow's Professor blog called Mindsets Toward Learning.  It argues that there are two views of intelligence.  The more common view, promulgated by the widespread administration of IQ tests in early childhood, is that IQ is fixed, the luck of the draw determined by the kid's genetic makeup, and as such a prime determinant of how much the kid will learn later in life.  The newer, alternative view is that anybody can learn and intelligence can grow with the learning.  What is needed is commitment to personal growth and an awful lot of effort to buttress that commitment.  Students with a fixed view of intelligence often block their own learning.  They fear they are not smart enough to "get it." That's becomes self-fulfilling prophecy as they then don't put in nearly enough effort to master the subject matter.

The last piece is an essay by Hanna Rosin from The Atlantic, The Overprotected Kid. Parenting for Rosin's generation (and prior generations) meant that kids were often left on their own with other kids.  They got their bumps and bruises that way, sure, but that way they learned to engage in their play, to take risks and all that is attendant with doing so, and to develop a sense of confidence from the accomplishments they achieved.  Nowadays children are always in the presence of adults because good parenting has come to mean keeping kids harmless from the threats of the playground (or elsewhere).   The adults initiate on behalf of the children, with a benevolent goal in mind.  The adults want to ensure safe choices are made.  But the consequence is children don't learn from their mistakes, because they are not allowed to make any.  They lose a sense of agency that childhood should provide, which is the fundamental message of the Rosin piece.  Add to this the ultimate in irony - childhood is not actually safer (in aggregate) in spite of all these parental efforts.

Take these three articles themselves as a whole and envision a letter written to rising high school seniors and their families based on the triumvirate. It might go something like this.

Dear Student -

Please don't be too upset with your parents.  They meant well, with the organized games, the constant encouragement, the insistence that you get good grades whether you understood what you were studying or not, and the making of so many rules for you not to break that you hardly did anything on your own.  It's time for all of that to stop on a dime.  You must chart a new course, one of your own making.  You must really go for it.  Accept that you will struggle from time to time.  But persevere.  With perseverance will eventually come accomplishment.  That's what you should build on.  It's getting to the point where you won't be able to reverse course.  You need to do this now. 

We have confidence in you.

Very truly yours,

Authors of the Triumvirate

It used to be that college was about a search for the meaning of life, the age-old questions.  The study of the liberal arts gave the right academic counterpart to that search.  That hasn't gone away, of course, but now it is coupled with developing expertise in a field that will have value in the job market post-graduation.  Further, the entering college freshman is expected to show prescience, both on the meaning of life questions and on finding the field that best matches the student's inclinations. Only with prescience can the student integrate the two.  Thus, one might imagine the student responding:

Dear Authors of the Triumvirate -

Thank you very much for your timely letter.  I understand.  But if you were looking at this from my angle you'd know a letter alone will not suffice.  I'm not sure what will.

I had angst about college before receiving your letter.  Now it is overwhelming. 

Respectfully yours,

Anxious Student

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