Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Myth of Easy

Having recently finished leading a (small) book group with colleagues on Mindset by Carol Dweck, I have a few thoughts--well, more than a few, but I'll just share the most useful, in my thinking.

First, I would recommend the work of Angela Duckworth and David Yeager.  This video on YouTube is a good start:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUrkU4yjZu4 

This is one of many you could find (Angela has done Ted Talks and is the "grit" lady) but I think this one combines them in a coherent way.  I heard David Yeager speak at AASCU last year and he has a lot to say to serious college teachers.  By serious college teachers I mean those who really want to attain student learning outcomes and are willing to set aside ego and biases to achieve that goal.

My major take away from Mindset: the myth of easy.

Learning is supposed to be fun, right?  And everyone can be whatever they want to be, right?  And everyone should have great self-esteem on the basis of just being, right?  Without having actually achieved anything, right?

Self-worth and self-esteem are two different things, by the way, and from a theological standpoint the first comes from the IMAGO DEI.  I mean, where else would it come from?  The other narrative is that we are biological products of natural selection anyway,  with no intelligence behind that selection other than the process itself.

Self-esteem needs a basis.  And that gets into the myth of easy.

If learning is easy, then it can't be hard.  If learning is hard, than I must not be good at something.  If I am not naturally good at something, there is no reason for me to spend time on it.

Math is hard.  Biology is hard.  Learning to write cogently is hard.  Because they are hard, I must not be good at them, because they would come easily to me if I were good at it.  So, I shouldn't have to do it.

Anyone who has taught difficult classes to freshmen (Writing, Public speaking, algebra, biology, a foreign language) has heard some variation on this.  Since I teach the first two, especially public speaking, I hear versions of it quite a bit.

The fault lies in the presupposition that LEARNING IS EASY.  It is not. It was never intended to be easy and is in fact not, not from a psychological, biological, or social standpoint.

Duckworth points out that learning comes from powering through (that's the grit) periods of confusion.  Without the confusion, there has been no learning because it's already known.  This parallels Vygotsky's zone of proximal development, which I think is an important theoretical perspective.

We need to stop portraying learning, at any age, as easy.  It is hard and it's hardness has nothing to do with one's ability to do it or its value.

I am reminded of the research about people who believe in soul mates having more divorces.  Your soul mate is not supposed to present any challenges or problems in the marriage.  If there is a problem, the person is not your soulmate; you made a mistake, so you must divorce that person and go find the real soulmate.  This is the plot of almost every Hollywood rom-com, where the protagonists are in relationships with others but break up  to be with the right ones. The "break up' partner is always clearly flawed in some way and the "right one" is always perfect, unflawed.

The point is that since love with your soulmate (a strange concept, really), see here is supposed to be easy and not hard, it's just right to jump ship than to work through relationship problems like an adult.

Years ago my husband wanted to get into snow skiing.  I learned it.  It was hard.  I did get to a minimal proficiency.  There was some enjoyment in it, but not really.  I mean seriously--it's cold, the boots are painful, the likelihood of injury is high, and it's darn expensive.  So, ultimately, despite the learning, I don't ski any more and don't plan to, especially the way my back is now (which may have gotten bad from the skiing).  Learning is not easy.

Now, in terms of the Mindset book, we decided in the group that it was too black and white, that it portrayed people as either being in a growth mindset or a fixed mindset.  This is way simplistic.  I think it's a range, and it's contextual/situational, and it's a tendency rather than an "always reaction."  I may have a growth mindset and have failure set backs but find that resiliency after a period of time.  I may be growth about somethings and fixed about others.  I may be 75% growth and 25% fixed.  Life is not as simple as this book portrays.

If I know anything, life is complicated.  And the myth of easy doesn't help.

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