Growth Mindset

A short creative piece about learning, growth, and the problems of a “productivity-oriented” mindset.

Growth Mindset
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The classroom smells faintly antiseptic, the lights flicker ominously, and some 30 children listen to their teacher’s lesson in silence. At least, until one raises her hand.

“Mr. Roberts, why do we need to learn this?”

David Roberts groans inwardly because he’s been asking himself the same question for years. The curriculum changes never get to the heart of the problems facing his kids, and the resources provided are forever dwindling. But he loves his job, and he loves his class, and he wants them to succeed.

“Well,” Mr. Roberts says, “the lessons you learn here will help you do better when you reach college. And, if you can do well in college, you’ll be able to find a really good job.”

The children look as skeptical of this as Mr. Roberts feels. It’s a terrible way to explain the importance of history, or mathematics — or, anything, really. But what else is he to do?

Later, Mr. Roberts comes back to this issue at home when he recounts his day to his husband. Kyle, good-naturdly sits in the living-room armchair with a beer in one hand. He nods when David explains that he feels ill every time he tells the kids that education is for “getting a better job.”

“That makes sense. Education isn’t about getting a better position in the workforce, is it? It’s about becoming a better human being.”

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

David nods. “I just don’t know how to explain that to them. And especially not when the emphasis from on-high is always success-based, with no good comprehensive measure for what success even means to a growing kid! You know the worst thing? There are so many kids who think they’re not good at something just because they can’t get it right away. And I know, I just know, that I could help them if I didn’t have to teach this way. If I could only have more time!”

Kyle watches his husband and sees the exhaustion in his face, the weariness of soul that’s come over him. It hurts to see that in David, who always had the greatest passion for helping kids love learning.

“Well,” he says after a moment, “there’s something in that.”

David looks up, takes a swig of his own beer. “What do you mean?”

“We know that the system is awful. Hell, you should be getting paid three times as much as you do now, and you shouldn’t be the person who sacrifices himself for the sake of the whole community just because our society lacks any of the basic services it needs.”

David looks uncomfortable, but gives a tiny nod.

Photo by Leonardo Toshiro Okubo on Unsplash

“Well,” Kyle continues, “we’re going to keep working to change that. But for now, what about growth mindset? The kids know that the whole ‘for a job’ thing is silly, even if they don’t know why. But I think they’d appreciate understanding that the purpose of learning isn’t to be automatically good at things, it’s simply to keep trying to get good at things.”

David sighs. “Sure, I mean, that sounds fine. But the Principle doesn’t think so. She doesn’t want me teaching the kids that ‘they can be anything they want when they grow up because it simply isn’t possible.’ I tried to explain, but…”

“Right, well, she’s got it all wrong there.” Kyle is animated now. He loves this sort of thing. “Growth mindset is about reaching the heights of your own limits, of pushing your own boundaries as far as they can go. Sounds like Mrs. Brown thinks that the point is to convince every kid they can grow up to be President or something.”

David laughs. “Yeah. Maybe she does. I want to show the kids that success isn’t about jobs, or tests. It’s about learning to love learning because of who it can make you become, because of how it can make the world open up before you. The benefits just aren’t quantifiable, though, so she has a hard time seeing them.”

Photo by Billy Freeman on Unsplash

“It’s about showing them that effort is the key,” Kyle says. “Not because of what position it will get them later in life, but because of who they’re going to become if they learn to love expanding their own horizons.”

“That’s it, yeah. God, I wish I could help them understand that.”

Kyle thinks for a moment. “Well, maybe you can. You know, the kids who think they’re smart because they’re praised for doing well are just going to feel miserable when they eventually fail. It’s better to set them all up to think of failure at something as just part of the process of total improvement.”

David nods. “What about their test scores, though? Mrs. Brown won’t like it. The school needs them all to do well. She puts a lot of pressure on us teachers because, without good test scores, we lose the already poor funding we have.”

“Maybe just try this growth mindset thing out for a while anyway. Trial run it. See what happens. My guess is that your kids will do better after they get used to this, and they’re going to get a little bit of the education you’re actually excited about.” Kyle stands, stretches, then walks over and gives David a little kiss on the top of his head. “You’ve got this, hon. And, we’re not going to stop fighting for a better way of doing things. We’ll win in the end.

“Now… why don’t we order pizza and watch some of that new Witcher season?”

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