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Education Science

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids 614

Hugh Pickens writes "Scientific American has an interesting article on the secret to raising smart kids that says that more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings. In particular, attributing poor performance to a lack of ability depresses motivation more than does the belief that lack of effort is to blame. One theory of what separates the two general classes of learners, helpless versus mastery-oriented, is that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different "theories" of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount. Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. Mastery-oriented children think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating offering opportunities to learn."
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The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

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  • scool (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:00AM (#21516675)
    so duz this meen i cin git more smartz or will i allays be like dis ? i don unnerstand.
  • Chemicals (Score:5, Funny)

    by cthulu_mt ( 1124113 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:01AM (#21516689)
    The early intake of PCB's seems to have made me [NO CARRIER]
  • by yada21 ( 1042762 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:02AM (#21516697)
    People are different. film at 11.
  • by CmdrGravy ( 645153 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:03AM (#21516709) Homepage
    Keep young children in the walled garden, those that survive and escape can be schooled those that don't are no longer a drain on my resources.
    • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:12AM (#21516771) Homepage Journal
      Yeah - make it like the Truman show, but with more gorillas and crocodiles!
    • Re:Tried & Tested (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @10:28AM (#21517531)
      Here is a tried and tested way to almost gaurantee you have a smart child:

      - Start reading to them VERY YOUNG.
      I was reading on my own before the age of three and have had a life long adoration for literature. How did I learn to read? Simple. My mom read a book to me EVERY NIGHT as far back as I can remember (and then even before that) and let me follow along with her as she pointed to each word she read. Eventually, I didn't need her to do that anymore and I would toddle off into a corner with a stack of books on my own.

      - Read books yourself. If your child sees you reading books for enjoyment and paying attention to the newspaper, your child is more likely to do the same.

      - Allow your children to engage you in intellectual conversations. The worst thing you can do is, when your child starts a conversation or asks questions or wants to give you their thoughts on a topic, is slough it off or reply with only the vaguest of attention. No, you can't give your child constant un-divided attention. Your child needs to know that talking and debating and sharing thoughts and opinions and information is valued, encouraged and important. If all you engage each other in is conversations about last night's episode of your favorite sit-com, your kid is going to learn that consuming entertainment and keeping your mouth shut is what matters.

      - Give your child freedom. I was able to bicycle and walk around the neighborhood (and beyond) when I was seven and eight years old. I was able to take the bus about fifteen miles into downtown Portland to explore the city, hang out at Powell's City of Books and practically live at the central library. I has a yard bigger than a postage stamp that you could almost get lost in. I built tree forts with my friends, invented games, dug giant holes and tunnels under ground. Played with my grandfathers carpentry tools to make stuff. Had a chemistry set. Had a library card. Had time to myself. Today, kids have their whole life planned and structured, are often restricted to a small area of freedom, can't roam anywhere on their own, and can't play with anything sharper than a spoon. As a kid, I smashed my fingers, sprained my hand and foot, cut my finger to the bone (and would have needed stitches, if we weren't camping 200 miles from the closest city at the time), hammered my finger, burned myself, cut myself with a handsaw and lots of other stuff. At twelve, I went down to the local car body shop and they let me have a chunk of steel. A simple rectangular block of it that I ground, sanded and shaped into an actual knife all on my own. Then I learned how to make a handle and rivet it all together, including using an expensive (and maybe dangerous) heavy duty drill press. Did I do lots of dumb stuff? Did I probably avoid serious harm many times, just by the skin of my teeth? Probably. But god damned, if I didn't learn a lot in the process and develop a lot of character through my inquisitiveness.

      • Re:Tried & Tested (Score:5, Insightful)

        by iocat ( 572367 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:33AM (#21518399) Homepage Journal
        There's no way to *guarentee* a smart child, and what worked for you anecdotally may not work for others, who may learn differently, be motiveated differently, etc.

        But, what you can do to increase the chances that someone will be SUCCESSFUL in life is to encourage and reward effort and work. For instance, if you kid gets an A, say "wow, you WORKED REALLY HARD to earn that A, great," and don't say "Wow, you're so smart!" Because if the kid later fucks something up, you want their mental arithmatic to be "I need to work harder" -- which anyone can do -- and not "I am a dumbass, which can't be changed." -- which doesn't encourage success. Ditto if they're failing: "you need to work harder at math" is what you should say, according to the latest research (which TFA is about, although I didn't read TFA, but rather another about the same study).

        Some of the most successful people (CEOs, high achieving and famous game designers, etc.) I know are not super smart, they are just very motivated and work very hard. Some of the biggest failures I know (suicides, guys actually living in their parents' basement, etc.) are incredibly smart. As I get older, it seems that motivation, effort, and the skills needed to apply effort are way more important than raw IQ.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Belial6 ( 794905 )
          The current culture of 'trying is what matters' is just as bad as the culture of 'you have what your born with'. When you tell a kid that is failing at algebra that "you need to work harder at math", and they are already working their ass off, you are doing just as much harm as if they think that they just don't have the brains for it. It reminds me of the 80's anti-cocaine commercial with the guy walking in circles. He was repeating over and over. "I do more cocaine so that I can work harder. I work ha
      • Re:Tried & Tested (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kelbear ( 870538 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:57AM (#21518733)
        My parents did the first for me.

        My sister had accomplished the second. She was 10 years my senior, I was in 4th or 5th. I still remember that moment seeing my sister(sitting on the sofa and reading the third book from the Belgariad series from David Eddings. My attention was captured when she laughed and I looked up to find a huge grin running across her face. Naturally, my curiosity was piqued and I just had to know what was so entertaining, but she said there was no way I could understand without reading the book. Sure enough, I ended up reading my way through her shelves, starting with that series. This probably contributed to my growing up into a nerd given her particular areas of interest.

        Thanks to their influences there was a stark distinction between my reading comprehension and vocabulary compared to my K-12 peers who had never discovered the joys of extracurricular reading. They instead found reading to be an annoying and stressful exercise since every association they had with reading stemmed from either a boring textbook or assigned reading forced upon them. Furthermore, both forms of reading involved deadlines, followed by tests. They couldn't understand why I found reading to be enjoyable, but given their only encounters with reading, I could hardly blame them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      "Keep young children in the walled garden, those that survive and escape can be schooled those that don't are no longer a drain on my resources."

      Don't we already do that?

      It's called "religion".

      Except the ones still inside the garden are now a valuable resource we call "consumer".

      Don't leave the gate open!

      http://www.rlt.com/ [rlt.com] -- for Reason, Logic and Truth in your kid's education.

  • Implicit Critique (Score:5, Interesting)

    by epistemiclife ( 1101021 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:04AM (#21516711)
    This is unsurprising, and should probably be patently obvious to anyone who has ever worked with children. This is why it's destructive to classify people based on some perceived innate intelligence or lack thereof. Certainly, there are some people who are especially gifted in one or many areas, for whatever reason, and some who are predisposed to be remedial in those same areas. However, it is irresponsible to draw conclusions based on fleeting performance statistics. This actually reminds me of another study which showed that girls who took an exam after having read an article about how women are supposedly intellectually inferior scored worse on the exam.

    This is also an implicit critique for those in certain fields of biology, who, unwilling to question their genetic reductionistic assumptions, continuously attempt to explain everything about humanity in terms of genetics or selection pressure, as though their particular field exists within an epistemological vacuum.

    • Re:Implicit Critique (Score:4, Interesting)

      by somersault ( 912633 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:16AM (#21516815) Homepage Journal
      Yep, most psychological studies just seem to state the obvious. And again this is just rehashing the nature vs nurture debate. As you have correctly pointed out, both have a part to play. Yes, some people really are 'smarter' or more naturally apt when it comes to some things, but all humans have the ability to learn, if they make the effort. I was trying to classify myself in one of these 2 groups - I know I suck at some things, like football (of the soccer variety), but when it comes to intellectual pursuits, I'm well aware that I can do anything I want to do (though strangely I regard that as because I think I have good natural abilities for learning, rather than because I put a lot of effort in.. doesn't really conform to the views in the summary..)
      • Re:Implicit Critique (Score:5, Interesting)

        by porcupine8 ( 816071 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @10:07AM (#21517303) Journal
        Yep, most psychological studies just seem to state the obvious.

        There have actually been studies showing that when shown the results of a psychological experiment, most people think the results were obvious. And yet - when people are asked to predict the results of those same experiments, they're no better at it than chance. Hindsight is 20/20.

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:05AM (#21516717) Homepage
    Smart parents that take the time to educate their kids as well as spending time with them.

    example? sure. My daughter can code html very well. I sat down for a few months and showed her how to get going and now she sells myspace templates for $15.00 each to kids at school. She also understands how a car works because I made her come out and help when I was working on the car or my project hotrod. Explaining things to her and answering all her questions. She also can use a GPS (real one not these fluffy naigation toys) as we are always geocacheing every sunday. One year we went geocacheing without a GPS, only topo maps and a compass. she loved the "low tech" approach. She is one of these Abercrombie wearing socks and flipflops in the winter stylish cheerleader types. yet she get's her hands dirty, can change a distributor as good as any certified mechanic and knows when to set aside prissy for fun and work.

    She can do things that 99% of her friends can't. she has a higher automotive education than most girls, etc...

    THAT is the solution. School will not teach your kids, you have to. Sadly most parents today do not want to bother with teaching their kids.
    • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:15AM (#21516799) Journal
      I think you may have missed the point of the article. It's quite possible to take the time to teach your kids, but have it blow up in your face because the methods of teaching are not optimal.

      You seem to have done a great job making sure your daughter is open to traditionally gender-inappropriate areas of interest, and to have challenged her and stimulated her in positive ways. Often, though, parents will say, "C'mon, you're smarter than that" or something similar when their child fails. As failures mount (and they will, learning is a process that requires failure), the child begins to believe that they really aren't that smart, and that a lack of intelligence is why they fail.

      What I've taken from the article is that a better way to handle that would be to say, "C'mon, let's figure out how you can be smarter about that problem next time." This implies that intelligence is malleable and trainable.

      How have you handled your daughter's failures?

      /For the record, I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject lately, as I'm a fairly new father of a girl -- and I'm always looking for insight.
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:36AM (#21517023) Homepage
        How? ok I have a great example....

        I asked her to change the manual transmission oil on my Sidekick sport, no instruction at all just a command and acted like I was doing something.

        when she opened the book and crawled under the car with a breaker bar to remove the oil drain plug I almost snickered... I let her get covered in old 90 weight oil, I then quietly slid the oil pan under for her and said, "need this?" she cleaned up the mess and finished the job and I said " good job! Mistakes make you better at what you do."

        Expect kids to make mistakes and praise them for making them.
        • by sukotto ( 122876 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @10:22AM (#21517487)
          I recall reading about a Nobel prize winner's acceptance speech that included this anecdote.

          Once, when he was very young, he spilled a pitcher of juice (milk?) all over the kitchen while trying to serve himself a drink. Instead of yelling at him, his mother helped him clean it up. She then filled the pitcher with water and took him outside and told him "The way you did it before didn't work very well, how else can you hold and pour so you don't spill?" ... encouraging him to experiment.

          In the speech, he thanked his mother for helping him win the science prize by teaching him to try new approaches when his attempts failed... and not to fear mistakes.

          I really liked that story when I first heard it (and try hard to practice the same type of teaching with my own children). I wish I knew which prize winner it was so I could read or listen to his entire acceptance speech (and see if I'm remembering that story correctly)
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sm62704 ( 957197 )
        /For the record, I've been doing a lot of reading on the subject lately, as I'm a fairly new father of a girl -- and I'm always looking for insight.

        As the father of two grown daughters (one 20 and one 22) the first lesson I'll impart to new parents is that the experts are wrong. Throw those parenting books away! If your grandparents are still alive, ask them. They've been through it, twice. And follow your own instincts; millions of years ov evolution are on your side.

        Nothing imparts insight like experience
      • My sister is 16 years younger than me, and when she was about 8 I started taking her whitewater kayaking (a sport that I love). She got incredibly frustrated when she couldn't get the boat to go where she wanted it to (a common problem when learning to whitewater kayak). This mirrored other experiences where she would get extremely frustrated when accomplishment didn't come easily.

        Rather than refer to intelligence or smarts or ability, my tack was always to emphasize that it is difficult to learn things. I
    • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:32AM (#21516973)
      Problem with most kids is, who is going to be their teacher?

      My parents did pass on most life skills to me: cooking, cleaning, leatherworking (Dad's hobby), writing a check (my mom would let me fill out her checks when I was young), sewing, etc. But most parents can't even do this right now. One weekend I went back home I heard that the Home Ec teacher's daughter was Paying people to do her laundry at college because she didn't know how.

      There is a good deal I picked up on my own or in Boy Scouts. Auto repair is a huge one. My parents didn't touch cars, even for oil changes. It took me my first car and my first oil change to replacing turbos and heads.

      I'm with you. I can't wait to be a parent because in my mind, I get to duplicate all my knowledge that took me years to compile to someone who can pick it up in a short time.

      I hate to say it but look around you. Look at your peers. I'm not talking about slashdot. I'm talking about a majority of America (from what I've seen). Do they really care what their kids know? Heck I can think of a dozen kids that their parents didn't plan on them (in Highschool). These people don't even have the life skills themselves, some barely passed highschool (if they ever did). What are they supposed to pass on to their kids? Plus most think it's the school's job. Heck most think that parenting is the school's job.

      IMHO most of it's come from treating kids like people that must be protected instead of little learning machines. I've spent a fair amount of time around kids (cousins) and nothing is more annoying than when adults talk to them like kids. I've held fairly decent conversations with 4-5 year olds and they full understand what I'm saying without a cute voice and broken English. 200 years ago these kids were helping to hunt and garden. Most people would flip a lid if you wanted to put a gun in a 5 year olds hands. I bet that if you took a 15 year old from 1850 and a 15 year old from 2007 and dropped them alone *in their own environment* the 1850er could probably find his own food, cook his own meal, etc. Unless it was made out of plastic the 15 year old probably wouldn't know how to use money. Unless there was a microwave I bet most wouldn't even know how to make food. I had a friend in college whose stay at home mom always did everything for her. She burned Macaroni, who knew you needed water. You can't just dump it in a pot and turn on the heat.

      Except my daughters are going to learn PHP9 none of that HTML Fluff. But thanks again for being the parent you are and I only wish that we had more people like you out there. Proof again that we shouldn't need a license to drive, but a license to have kids.
      • by Luyseyal ( 3154 ) <swaters@ l u y . info> on Thursday November 29, 2007 @10:48AM (#21517785) Homepage

        I'm with you. I can't wait to be a parent because in my mind, I get to duplicate all my knowledge that took me years to compile to someone who can pick it up in a short time.

        It's great if it works out, but keep in mind your children may not have the same interests. I've run into that numerous times with my son. I should also say, as a rather patient person, that your child may not be nearly as patient as you are. :)

        So, try not to go into it with too many expectations, that's all I'm saying.


    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      More to the point, you've nurtured her inquisitiveness.
      Inquisitiveness is the derivative of "figuring stuff out".
      Guess that's why I hate GUIs so much; looking at icons all day sometimes seems like the antithesis of grasping the fundamental ideas and letting them dynamically unfold within the mind.
  • by techpawn ( 969834 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:05AM (#21516719) Journal
    But you can over encourage your children and get them to not apply themselves. I've seen it happen...

    If you allow your awareness to lapse and fade, you will become a victim of your own overconfidence. - the book of five rings
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:06AM (#21516729)
    Small mammals are scurrying for cover,
    All the birds have taken wing.

    The hordes of self-proclaimed geniuses who wander the halls of Slashdot approach.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)


      Nothing brings out the people proclaiming themselves 'smart' like a story about education or child-raising. There's seems to be no way that anyone can have a conversation on this topic that doesn't just slide off into self-praise.

      Thank God I went to a selective public high school that nutured our great modesty as well as our astounding intellects, so I'll never fall into that trap.
      It must have been the way that I was raised to be both patient, hard-working and experimental, as well as my excelle
  • This is a secret? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:07AM (#21516733)
    Sure, having innate gifts helps, but it doesn't do any good if you don't show up and get things done. That's why doing homework is part of my kids' nightly routine. It's also why being borderline obsessive/compulsive tends to get you ahead academically and in many work environments. Of course, it means tearing my kids away from their current project for dinner time is occasionally an epic battle. I tell my son that our ability to intensely focus on things is our family's superpower, and should be used for good and not evil.

    The other thing I've seen research on is that praising kids in general ways such as "you're smart" isn't very helpful. Being specific with your praise, such as "you've got a good memory and learn spelling words well" is more effectively motivating.
  • by Tsu Dho Nimh ( 663417 ) <abacaxiNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:13AM (#21516781)
    An engineer I knew had a stock reply to "can you do ___?" questions. He would say, "I have never tried it."

    It could be scuba diving, or building a house, making cookies, or solving fractal matthematics, but the answer was always "I've never tried it."

  • by raddan ( 519638 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:15AM (#21516797)
    The danger is not that your children will fail, and have permanently damaged egos-- the danger is that your child will never experience failure, and thus learn the important skill of picking up the pieces and moving on. Parents naturally want to save their children from the suffering that comes from defeat (e.g., the track race on field day, the art competition, spelling bee, science fair, etc.), but this is an important experience, and one that they will eventually have, regardless of how much parents shelter them. I would much rather have my child feel crushed because he lost the Boy Scout knot-tying competition than have his first failure be at that new job out of college. The young adult who knows ego management will be in a much better position to dust himself off and carry on than the college grad who takes failure as a sign of permanent inability.

    Last night's On Point [onpointradio.org] featured Tom Perkins, the venture capitalist who funded Netscape, Google, AOL, and so on, and he said something that struck me-- he said that he has failed often, but that his successes outnumber his failures. He also said that his firm has a reputation of betting on the entrepeneur who has failed once before. The entrepeneur who fails, learns from it, and tries again is the kind of guy he wants to invest in.
    • That's why the trend towards things like "noncompetetive sports" for kids drives me up a wall.

      The theory, apparently, is that if you don't keep score, the little snowflakes won't get their feelings hurt by losing.

      That's not to say that winning is everything; in fact I think kids can learn more about hard work and perseverance from losing.

      Just wait until these kids start applying for colleges and jobs, unaware that reality deals harshly with those unprepared to earn their place in the world.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rpillala ( 583965 )

        I think the lesson you learn from competitive sports is that losing isn't failure if it's an honorable loss. When my kids at school tell me about games they won or lost I always ask them what they did (or the other team did) better in order to win. The answers get better and better as the year progresses, which is a good sign.

    • by porpnorber ( 851345 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @01:46PM (#21520591)
      This point is perhaps particularly relevant to the extremely gifted. Lack of challenge and lack of feedback can easily produce the 'helpless' personality type even in people with an IQ of 200. Going to a school where there is no possible way of failing prepares you for real life in no way at all. Speaking from my own experience, here in Quebec, school grades of 98% are eminently attainable without real effort, and there is no higher grade (god help those in places with letter grades!). If you are one of the students who can do this (and the exams are structured so that you can usually do well simply on the basis of internal evidence; I think it possible that a sufficiently cynical teacher could teach average students to ace them cold), no one will believe you when you say you are having trouble understanding the material, and no one will provide you with any motivation to do any better—or frankly, any guidance about anything. When you get into the real world and people start asking you to do the impossible, guaranteed failure scenarios being a genuine part of reality, it all falls apart. It's a big shock, and many of the most valuable people are lost, I think.
  • by Notquitecajun ( 1073646 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:21AM (#21516851)
    My brother and I are both smart in different ways. I'm more able to apply myself to jobs I don't enjoy doing, and accomplish them, but he's got more IQ and is better at what he enjoys. I did better in high school and college because of it (and I don't have his personal issues), but he's at his dream job and is very good at what he does. I still haven't quite figured it out yet.

    Both of our parents pressed us to be smart and good at our studies when we were younger, read to us and with us early, and did their best to help us do what we wanted to do.
  • by wrigglywrollypolary ( 1190483 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:22AM (#21516863)

    Scientific American ran some articles last year on child prodigies and expert minds (eg, Expert Mind [sciam.com]). The general idea was that child prodigies are not necessarily ``smarter'' than their peers. Instead, they are so passionate about a particular task that they practice significantly more than their peers. That is, hard work accounts for a lot. Being slightly gifted at some task and doing well can be more encouraging than failing, but that just gets the ball rolling. For example, Tiger Woods played hours of golf--he would practically beg his parents to take him out to play.

    People aren't born knowing chess openings or golf swings. Helping children find activities that really interest them can be hugely rewarding-- not because they should become child prodigies, but because then the process itself is satisfying, too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The general idea was that child prodigies are not necessarily ``smarter'' than their peers. Instead, they are so passionate about a particular task that they practice significantly more than their peers.

      Let's not go crazy and bring back the flat-out-wrong notion that everyone is the same, the only differences are environmental. Tiger Woods shot a 48 over nine holes at the age of three. You simply can't explain a gift like that with "he worked hard". Same with someone like Einstein. There are plenty of r

  • by Tsu Dho Nimh ( 663417 ) <abacaxiNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:23AM (#21516871)

    It doesn't help those who are fast learners to sail through anything, yet the American educational system ignores the so-called "gifted", or just piles on more homework instead of making things challenging.

    The result, children like the Jonathan of the article. They crumple at the first difficulty and never recover.

    I don't think the bulldozer parents, those who shove all obstacles out of their children's way, help either.

  • by Selanit ( 192811 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:30AM (#21516941)
    The basic point of the article is:

    1) Intelligence is not a fixed, immutable property.
    2) People who believe it IS fixed and immutable tend to avoid intellectual challenges.
    3) People who avoid intellectual challenges learn less, and more slowly than people who seek them out.

    Therefore, in order to raise smart children, we should:

    1) Teach them that intelligence can be increased. (E.g., "Einstein was a great mathematician because he worked really hard at it for a long time" rather than "Einstein was a born genius.")
    2) Assign responsibility to effort rather than innate ability. (This works both ways; if the child does well on an assignment, you can say "That's a good job." But if they do poorly, you can say "You didn't put in enough effort." Either way, the problem is with the child's actions, not with the child's identity.)

    This makes a great deal of sense to me. I have observed that I learn more from trying things that are hard than from repeating things I find easy. I think the same thing probably applies to other people; so in order to encourage learning, we should encourage people to believe that it's a good idea to try out things that are hard to do and see mistakes as opportunities to learn.
    • Correction (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dobeln ( 853794 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:54AM (#21517197)
      The article never really states that intelligence is terribly malleable. This is more of a general impression left with the reader - which is mostly incorrect. The article mainly states that it is preferable that children hold a more rose-tinted view of the nature of intelligence, as that tends to make them less prone to fatalism and more prone to work hard. Sort of like how a belief in Santa can make kids behave better.
      • Re:Correction (Score:4, Insightful)

        by khallow ( 566160 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:55AM (#21518719)

        The article never really states that intelligence is terribly malleable. This is more of a general impression left with the reader - which is mostly incorrect. The article mainly states that it is preferable that children hold a more rose-tinted view of the nature of intelligence, as that tends to make them less prone to fatalism and more prone to work hard. Sort of like how a belief in Santa can make kids behave better.
        Tell you what. You figure out how define intelligence to exclude the malleable part and how to measure just the rigid part of intelligence accurately. Then get back to us on your opinions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by StanS ( 31710 ) *
        I would disagree based on my reading of the article. The kids that were praised for their hard work did better on future exams (even when presented with difficult problems), then kids who were praised for their intelligence. Once they hit problems that were not trivially solvable, they determined that they simply couldn't do it and just stopped trying (what this article calls learned helplessness).

        I realize that this is totally anecdotal, but when I was quite young (1st or 2nd grade) I was told I had a lea
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        The article never really states that intelligence is terribly malleable. This is more of a general impression left with the reader - which is mostly incorrect. Intelligence may or may not be malleable but what people usually think of as intelligence (the ability to learn, understand things and solve problems) can be improved by effort and practice. That's what the article says and this is supported by the work of the researcher who wrote it. And if you accept that intelligence itself becomes unimportant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by techpawn ( 969834 )
      That's why every 4 levels you can bump your int score right?
  • True that (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:30AM (#21516953)
    As someone who failed their A-Levels (that's post school, pre uni 16 - 18yr old education for the non-Brits) miserably having been told for years I have to succeed, that I have to get top grades and so forth to go to uni and do amazingly only to not do so great and fall into a pit of "I'm stupid, I can't do this, it's too hard for me" and then giving up.

    7 years down the road, thanks for the open university (www.open.ac.uk), an establishment that gives not a shit about league tables but instead actually cares about learning, education and research you know, the things Unis are meant to be about I am now a first class honours computing and mathematical sciences graduate. Not only that but I achieved this whilst working full time and in 3 years, so around 40 - 45hrs work a week and around 32hrs studying, I also feel that what the article suggests is true, that intelligence isn't something that's entirely fixed - some take things in easier than others certainly whilst others have to work hard but I do not feel any more that there's many areas beyond my grasp if I have the time, money and inclination to learn them. This is why I'll soon be starting my second degree in Physics which I will follow up with a Masters and hopefully eventually a phd. Why you ask? Because when you're not forced to learn, and when you're learning because you want to learn, learning is fun and there's little you can't do if you have the raw motivation of wanting to learn behind you.

    Fuck the people who tell you you're stupid, it's them that make you stupid. Don't let them get away with it - defy them and learn anyway so that you can come back and gloat about how wrong they were.
    • Kudos to you (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Colin Smith ( 2679 )
      Given two people with similar degrees from Oxford and from the Open University, I'll take the OU graduate every time.

      The UK education system is seriously fucked up. It's goal based now. The purpose is to get you to pass exams, not to educate. We might be better off with the International Baccalaureate [ibo.org] outwith political control. The other thing is that education should be life long. It should just be a standard part of being a citizen.

      The brain changes shape, it takes several years, it has to modify the stre
  • by mattgreen ( 701203 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:33AM (#21516979)
    I am learning electric guitar. I see the aforementioned "nature v. nurture" debate all the time. When discussing technique, some people progress a bit faster on the instrument than others and attribute it to natural talent. But everyone hits a wall eventually and then it boils down to perseverance and dedicated practice. Neither of those things is fun, especially when you just want to rock out. Luckily there are few things I like more than a challenge, so my slow rate of progress does not always deter me.

    But I think kids have an advantage here, not because of their more malleable brains (although that helps) but because they often have fewer preconceptions that they should be immediately successful in what they do. I tend to stick to doing what I'm good at for most of the day and try to avoid being bad at things. I think our culture reinforces this point quite a bit with talent search shows and whatnot. But that is another discussion.
  • My favorite quotes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by weave ( 48069 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:51AM (#21517175) Journal

    "It is one of the essential features of such incompetence that the person so afflicted is incapable of knowing that he is incompetent. To have such knowledge would already be to remedy a good portion of the offense."

    -- Miller, W. I. (1993).
    Humiliation. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press)

    I think it's important to teach children that they are NOT special, that they can't do everything necessarily, to be cool with that, and that they have to be aware of their areas of lack of knowledge and work further towards improving them. The more you learn and the more you understand, leads to greater appreciation of how much you still don't know. Know that there are others who have skills and knowledge you don't have and suck up to them to learn from them.

    The power of intelligence rests on understanding your own limitations and working hard to overcome them. Adults who think they know it all are most often idiots, and unfortunately many are also raising children.

    Which leads me to another fave quote:

    "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."
    -- Darwin, C. (1871). The descent of man. (London: John Murray)

    Er, no, I'm not confident I know everything about this topic! ;-)

  • Challenges (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tom ( 822 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:56AM (#21517213) Homepage Journal

    Challenges are energizing rather than intimidating offering opportunities to learn.
    That, for all I know, is the crucial point. All the unusually intelligent people I know (myself included) see the challenge as the interesting part, and the "victory" when you've overcome it much less so, in fact "winning" is the boring part.

    Most of the more down-to-earth people I know see it exactly the other way around: The struggle is what they hate, the kill is what gives them satisfaction.
  • I know the secret... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Shifuimam ( 768966 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @09:59AM (#21517235) Homepage Journal
    ...at least as far as how to make your kids smarter from the start. QUIT LETTING THEM WATCH INORDINATE AMOUNTS OF TELEVISION, MOVIES, AND VIDEO GAMES. Make them read. The more they read, the better their critical thinking skills, the better their grasp of grammar and spelling, and the more knowledge they will gain. I wasn't allowed to watch TV when I was a kid. Period. We owned an Atari 2600 (when N64 was the newest console), but that was it. While banning your children from the television entirely isn't the best idea, I read a ton, and now I'm generally more intelligent than most people my age - not just book smart; I just comprehend things better than most of the kids who were in my classes in college and whatnot. Raising your kids to never fail is bad, but raising your kids to never do any mentally-intensive work is bad, too. Playing Call of Duty for ten hours on a Saturday isn't going to do a whole lot for your cognitive development.
  • by fozzmeister ( 160968 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @10:16AM (#21517415) Homepage
    I do think intelligence is fixed, what you can do with it is not. All people are intelligent (yes some more so) but all brains are of similar size/structure. Some people have a desire to learn and achieve, some people don't for a variety of reasons (lack of confidence due to previous failures or maybe just plain lazy). The former I'll surround myself with, the latter I don't want anything to do with.
  • by rpillala ( 583965 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @10:21AM (#21517475)

    these different types of students not only explain their failures differently

    In education we call this "failure attribution" and the article misses another possibility: The Teacher Just Doesn't Like Me. My context is high school. Unfortunately I've met numerous parents who perpetuate the idea that low performance stems from personal feelings of the teacher. This is usually the result of:

    • bad experiences in school as children themselves - these parents (quite separately) identify with their children. They find it very easy to believe that teachers are still up to the same old dirty tricks they dealt with when they were in school. Bonus points if their child has the same teacher they did.
    • bad experiences with another one of their children at the same school - these parents see the school as a monolith and will bring up issues from before I even started working there to explain why I don't like her son, and why he has below 60%.
    • denial - some parents are crazy and think their children are perfect, should never be penalized when they do something wrong (not a math mistake, but wrong in the moral sense), and are being singled out.

    The point is that it's possible to attribute your failure to others, and that this behavior is learned. In fact I'd go so far as to say it's entirely learned. Parents go so far out of their way to protect their child's self esteem that it becomes completely divorced from reality. So you get kids who do bad things and feel great about themselves. Or you get very lazy children who want (and expect) you to pick up their slack. To the point, you get children who have no interest in self-improvement because they think they couldn't possibly be improved upon. Call me old fashioned, but things can always be done better.

  • Useful article (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mysticgoat ( 582871 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @10:50AM (#21517819) Homepage Journal

    I liked the article.

    I'm thinking of using it to counterbalance what I feel is an overemphasis on Myers-Briggs categorizations that are being used in some of the classes I work with. (I supply "back office" support to an adult education program that changes individuals from welfare recipients to taxpayers).

    I also like most of what I see in the slashdot comments. Though it does seem to me that several have missed the point: it isn't about spending quality time with the kids; it is about setting up a situations where they might learn how to learn.

  • by WmLGann ( 1143005 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @11:07AM (#21518055) Homepage

    You mean I'm not smart just because a bunch of people told me so? Who knew?

    New York Magazine published a pretty good article [nymag.com] about how actively boosting a child's self-esteem often has the opposite effect to what a well-meaning adult intends.

    The 5000 foot view is that in 1969 a guy named Nathaniel Braden published The Psychology of Self-Esteem a wildly popular book among academicians, whose whole point was that self-esteem is the single most important personality trait. True or not, his conclusions spawned the next 38 years of effort to boost self-esteem, particularly among "low social status" (read "poor and minority") children.

    Many years later, Prof. Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve U, then a leading member of the self-esteem movement (as a CWRU alumn, I remember reading his abstracts at the time and thinking it was all ridiculous--yay me!) did a massive review of the research. He found something like 15000 research articles on the matter. His team began their review by establishing academic standards and throwing out articles that didn't meet them.

    They ended up with 200 articles out of 15,000 that could be considered academic research quality. Whoops.

    Of the 200 valid articles they soon realized that most either failed to establish the efficacy of self-esteem boosters or denied it outright. Double whoops.

    Baumeister became a convert and now preaches the evils of vacuous self-esteem bolstering.

    Then came Carol Dweck, whose 10 years of experiments in NYC public schools pretty much killed the "science" of self-esteem dead, dead, dead. FWIW, my wife, a public school teacher when she's not birthin' babies, is a huge fan of Ms. Dweck.

    That said, old habits die hard and to this day we still have identical trophies for every kid on the soccer team, and we don't tell them whether they won or not.

    Slashdotter parents, RTFA, Google all the names in it, read the research. You'll be convinced, too, and moreso than if you stuck to SciAm.

  • stupid psychologists (Score:3, Informative)

    by shimage ( 954282 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @02:01PM (#21520883)
    I remember this lecture in that psych class I took in college. I thought it was dumb then, and I think it's dumb now. Or maybe it's just semantics. I'm hoping someone can explain this to me (although, my hopes are low given my tardiness posting). I define intelligence as adaptability, and proficiency in learning; i.e., one's abilitiy to assimilate new information and then apply it. I'm a scientist, which is why it's biased in this direction; my idea of intelligence is lacking in that it does not take creativity into account. Ignoring that failing for now, I think that intelligence is fixed, and failure to complete a certain task (at least, at first) is little sign of intelligence. It turns out that task completion is skill based, and skill is the product of experience and intelligence (e.g., exp*int, although I'm not so naive as to think it's that simple). Smart people fail all the time (geniuses, tend not to, but that's because they require very little experience). When I fail, it isn't because I'm stupid, and it's not because practicing is going to make me less stupid, it's because I don't have enough experience. Practicing will give me more experience and make me better at completing that task. The idea that intelligence = skill is a corruption of those words, in my opinion.
  • by Arcaeris ( 311424 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @02:52PM (#21521755)
    I grew up always being praised for being smart, for being gifted, and the like. I was reading at 2, talking and walking really early, and my twin brother was the same. I went to a gifted elementary school and because of that acceleration I breezed through middle and high school and got into a great college.

    When I got there, I hit a wall. Many classes where "dumb" people did better than me and I managed a B-C average. Hell, sometimes I didn't care to go to class at all. I waited til the night before to study, and laughed at the kids who spent all week doing organic chemistry problems. I was always "busy" though not really doing anything but playing computer games.

    I'm sure many people can relate to this. Still, procrastination and issues related to it constantly plagued me. Anyway, I squeezed by and graduated and got a job and it was great... for a while. Until it started being challenging.

    During my last job, I finally figured out what it was, which is what the article says. A combination of an over-protective mom who couldn't let me fail and a slew of teachers who couldn't handle my ability to just devour information created a huge problem with the fear of failure. I had no idea how to deal with failure even as a kid, since I never *had* failed. I'd never been allowed to, that I can remember. If I was doing something wrong or slow, my mom would always cut in and fix it for me with a "you're smart, you can do this faster, let me do it for you". I never got to solve my own problems when I made mistakes. Since college and work can be tough, they finally presented real challenges for me and I didn't have anyone to save me. And of course, the problems there led to massive issues with avoiding potential failures: procrastination, laziness, shirking difficult projects. I've spent a lot of time reading books and in therapy to deal with it.

    Finally, after having moved away from my parents and their influence, I started figuring out what *I* want and started breaking out of these habits. I pursued a Masters degree at night while working full time, and it was surprising how I could do both of these things and manage a 3.7 GPA and good salary while as an undergrad I couldn't do either of them. I'm still dealing with them to some extent, but I know I'm on the path to eliminating it completely.

    If you can relate to these issues, check out The NOW Habit and books on the "Achilles syndrome" or fear of failure in general. It's possible to reverse the bad influences and teachings of your parents and teachers.
  • by danny ( 2658 ) on Thursday November 29, 2007 @05:27PM (#21524067) Homepage
    An excellent book on this topic is Michael Howe's Genius Explained [dannyreviews.com] (link is to my review).


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