Monday, December 3, 2012

How Smart Are You?

Would you be chipper and sociable if you were woken at 2am? Most likely not... I'm trying to remember this point.

My brother recently took a night shift stocking job. He graciously spent Thanksgiving II (Friday after) with my mom, my husband, our kids, and me. He was looking to pick a fight and the topic when he entered the kitchen totally hooked him.

My husband, N., was sharing an NPR: Morning Edition "Struggle for Smarts" report he'd heard about academic intelligence from Western and Eastern perspectives.
  • The West perceives success in school as intelligence and something that comes from within, a cause.
  • The East links academic excellence with hard work, with something that comes from what we do, a result.
  • Western students often have more creativity, but less tolerance for struggle... and peter out after only 30 seconds sometimes.
  • Eastern students independently drive themselves to mastery, but often cannot see multiple avenues to the answer or be willing to be the single individual 'outside the box.'
N. shared this with my mom and then tried to go on to talk about what our daughter, A., has been hard at work doing. He had just noted that we praise her action and determination, "You kept trying it different ways, and look, you got your arm into your sleeve the right way!" as opposed to praising herself, "You're so independent!" or "Good girl!"

My 26 year old brother took this as an open door to rehash my mom's parenting failures and how he never received academic help from my mom (busy with me?). He went for easy good grades alone, and never learned true challenge and perseverance, which tanked his GPA in college. My mom graciously side stepped the bait; I pushed back as a child of the same parents, and student in the same high school and university systems. Obviously, on this Thanksgiving, we're very thankful for family and all we have in our lives.

You'll be spared the sibling blow-by-blow; older extended family provides enough evidence that siblings always disagree on memories to some extent. A post will come soon to wrap up the spiritual discipline of Control of the Tongue that I've been failing at every single day.

Can't be too serious
Instead, let's think about academic success and failure in the suburbs.

See, I tutor French and German. My job exists because of teacher, parent, and student failures. The goal of my job is, to work myself out of a job. Students have some interesting ideas about how to use a tutor, some accurate, some way off base (Homework Completer is not a title in my job description).

Of the students I've tutored over the past 3 years, all but one student have improved their grades at minimum 3 percentage points. Most just needed tools to learn an unfamiliar concept and they improved half a letter grade. Most just needed someone patient enough to walk step by step with them, and firm enough to make them practice until they mastered a concept. Most are shy of failure in front of others and find a tutor a safe place to practice.

Only one student consistently failed. The biggest reason, as I saw it from talking and emailing with his mom, was lack of perseverance. At the first sign of difficulty, Kyle threw in the towel, with an "It's too hard" excuse. The second reason he consistently failed, was that Kyle had learned his parents were push-overs and would help him escape the difficulty. "None of us are gifted in languages. Kyle's teacher talks too fast. I bought [technology program or gizmo] to help him." Kyle never took notes in class or asked for a print-out of guided notes. He never approached his teacher (self-advocacy!) to ask him to slow down. He never used the technological gadgets, except to attempt multiple times to create an English word game in our tutoring sessions. Kyle's parents' best follow up was to request that his teacher and I communicate and come up with a strategy (so we could solve Kyle's problems for him?). Strangely, they paid me good money but didn't help Kyle follow-through... paying money so he could keep failing.

Kyle was a freshman at the time I tutored him; now he would be a senior in high school - hopefully waiting for acceptance letters this month for his post-graduation plans. Did Kyle have to repeat his failed French I course? Where will Kyle be in 5 or 10 years? How will he learn perseverance if struggle avoidance is okay at home?

The NPR report brings up the question, "Think about that behavior spread over a lifetime." I am. I'm thinking about it when E. at eight month old works himself into a corner trying hard to crawl. I'm thinking about struggle when A. becomes embarrassed at a real or perceived failure. It's on my mind on those 'terrible parent' days when I end up setting off my kids because I'm crabby - clearly I have lots to learn. And it's on my mind just witnessing how my in-laws live and relate, being here in the same household. When I think about struggle and perseverance over a lifetime, getting up each morning and trying again looks better already. That is smart, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Jenny, your posts always make me think :)