Avoiding a Society of “Passionate Failure”

Mike Rowe via Legal Insurrection 6/16

Are children born with fixed passions and interests so that all they need to do is to find them — or do they need to build and develop their passions with the application of effort? How a child approaches this question will make all the difference in his future.

Fixed Interest Mindset vs. Growth/Evolved Interest Mindset

Across North America, children and youth are being taught to “find their passion.” It is presumed “the passions” are fixed and built in, and that after one’s passion is found that everything meaningful will come effortlessly in an endless stream of motivation and fulfillment.

Researchers at Stanford and Yale recently looked at the different consequences for children when they believed that their interests are “fixed” and only needed to be discovered, and when the child believed that he must work to develop his passions and put in continuous effort to follow them meaningfully.

In a paper that is forthcoming in Psychological Science, the authors delineate the difference between the two mind-sets. One is a “fixed theory of interests”—the idea that core interests are there from birth, just waiting to be discovered—and the other is a “growth theory,” the idea that interests are something anyone can cultivate over time.

… “If passions are things found fully formed, and your job is to look around the world for your passion—it’s a crazy thought,” Walton told me. “It doesn’t reflect the way I or my students experience school, where you go to a class and have a lecture or a conversation, and you think, That’s interesting. It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”

Another reason not to buy into the fixed theory is that it can cause people to give up too easily. If something becomes difficult, it’s easy to assume that it simply must not have been your passion, after all. In one portion of this study, the students who thought interests were fixed were also less likely to think that pursuing a passion would be difficult at times. Instead, they thought it would provide “endless motivation.” __ The Atlantic

Modern educators like to believe that once a child’s passions are found and engaged, that he will subsequently benefit from an endless stream of insight and energy that will allow him to follow the passions to their proper rewards.

This belief in “the fixed passions” is compatible with modern theories of “self esteem” and the abolition of grades, competence hierarchies, and meaningful competition. In this brave new world there is no need to stratify ideas and theories by how well they work in the real world. Every culture is perfect just as it is, everybody gets a trophy, and if science finds differences in aptitudes and achievements between different groups, then by popular proclamation science must be wrong about that.

The “follow your fixed passion” is also compatible with $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in US colleges — much of which will never be repaid. It is also compatible with a rapidly expanding skills shortage in North America and Europe which — like it or not — will result in having to choose between importing skilled workers from abroad, or a gradual scaling back of local skilled services and industries, leading to increased imports of products from abroad.

How to cultivate a “growth” mind-set in the young, future-psychology-experiment subjects of America? If you’re a parent, you can avoid dropping new hobbies as soon as they become difficult. (Your kids might take note if you do, O’Keefe said.) __ Atlantic

The author of the Atlantic piece excerpted above makes a great point: Your example teaches your child far more about how to approach life than anything you may say to him.

And stop telling your child “you’re so smart!” Children who are told how smart they are will tend to begin avoiding difficult challenges so as not to threaten their “so smart!” self-concept. Instead, praise the child’s effort and work ethic.

The underlying idea here is to teach the child — by example, through story/myth, and by reinforced advice — how to embrace and overcome difficult challenges. This is necessary in order for the child to reach levels of accomplishment that will allow him to both build and discover meaningful and purposeful “passions.”

Without this built-in love of overcoming challenge and solving difficult problems, life becomes one series of dumbed down “educational experiences” after another.

And that is exactly the opposite of what you want for your Dangerous Child.

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