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Fixed vs Growth: The two basic mindsets that shape our lives

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The importance of education remains undisputed as it gives us knowledge and helps us build opinions of the world around us. Its tremendous importance has convinced the government to pass laws requiring children to attend a public or state-accredited private school. Despite the severe importance, there exist several problems in our current education system. Presently, students compete with each other to receive good grades. Although competition and grades do not inherently harm students, the current mindset of U.S. citizens coupled with the negative effects of the zero-sum game, fixed mindset, and extrinsic motivation require an immediate reformation in our current education system.

The U.S. education system exists as a zero-sum game such that someone’s gain results in another person’s loss. This game begins from the day you enter school and lasts your whole life: one must compete against others to earn the best grades for admission into the best schools and jobs. For numerous reasons, the competition driven educational system remains utilized in the U.S. According to “debate: is competition good for kids?”, competition can force students to work independently and learn self-discipline. When student are focused on winning, it may give them the motivation to do better. Competition can also force students to work together, resulting in valuable skills including cooperation, communication, trust, and acceptance of others. Unfortunately, our culture’s overemphasis on results turns competition dangerous. After a sports match, players receive questions regarding whether they won or not before anything else. This focus on achievement influences students to develop a win-at-all-costs mentality. The danger lies in the shift from a “what can I learn” to a “how can I win with the least amount of effort” mindset. In addition, our culture’s overemphasis on results generates children with fragile self-esteems that solely depend on the outcome. As a result, students may start to believe they must compete in order to gain love or status. If we are incapable of shifting the result oriented attitude of the United States, we must eliminate competition in our current education system.

According to Carol Dweck, there exist two basic mindsets that shape the lives of students. The first mindset called growth-mindset suggests that our talents and abilities can be improved and developed. As a result, the person views failure only as feedback about their performance and not as a judgment of their personality, potential or value. This positive mindset fosters students that are eager to learn and students that enjoy exploring, experimenting and stretching themselves. The other mindset named fixed mindset states that people’s attributes and abilities remain inherently fixed and unchanging. People with fixed mindset aim to achieve validation in multiple forms including praise, grades, and test scores. Failure in this mindset brings students doubt, demeans their character, and destroys their confidence. Unlike students with a growth mindset, students with fixed mindset view risks and effort as potential giveaways of their inadequacies. Consequently, it generates a hunger for approval rather than a passion for learning. Although the U.S. education system strives to promote growth mindset, the evident difficulty arises from the countless sources of validation existing in schools. If we wish to reduce students that develop a fixed mindset, we must reduce these sources of validation. In addition, multiple studies including Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller’s 1998 research have shown that students develop growth mindset when they are praised for effort instead of achievement. If the U.S. education system desires to promote students that are increasingly willing to challenge themselves unafraid of failure, the education system must begin to praise effort and reduce the sources of external and materialistic validation.

Grades are tremendously emphasised in the U.S. education system. Students with superior grades appear smarter and enjoys a higher likelihood to acquire admission into prestigious universities and job occupations. Unfortunately, an overemphasis on grades can undermine the pursuit of excellence. In addition, it can decrease students’ quality and effort. “Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation: What’s the Difference?” suggests that grades result in these negative consequences since they exist as a form of extrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivation occurs when students perform a behavior or engage in an activity to earn a reward or avoid punishment. Student with extrinsic motivation process information superficially, and are often interested in performing only easy tasks and meeting minimal classroom requirements.

Extrinsic motivation may kill creativity in children if it does not help achieve the reward. For example, a student may choose to draw realistically instead of creatively in an attempt to receive a higher grade. This type of motivation may result in the inability to achieve independent goals and the belief that self-worth is based off of external validation. As mentioned before, this belief produces several problems in schools including risk-averse behavior. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation involves engaging in a behavior because of its personally rewarding quality; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward. Students with intrinsic motivation tackle assigned tasks willingly, and they eagerly learn classroom material. These students have a greater likelihood to process information in effective ways and achieve at high levels. Grades remove this indispensable intrinsic motivation. By focusing and stressing on grades, we force our children to believe that the destination is more important than the journey. The implementation of qualitative feedback easily resolves this issue. Receiving qualitative summaries of their progress will facilitate children more eager to learn and challenge themselves.

How could students develop skills to shape their future lives? John Dewey believed in learning through experience; he argued that students becaome much more likely to embrace mathematics if they could see how it applied to their daily lives. The responsibilities of teachers included their ability to present real-life problems to children and guide the students to solve the problem by providing them with a hands-on activity. Although science labs provide an excellent example to his hands-on learning, we are still far from what he had envisioned. Our current education system is still based on rewards and punishment. Detention and praise fill current American schools. As mentioned before, rewards are negative due to its form as an extrinsic motivator. Fear of punishments also exhibits a negative response in students because the fear may cause a student to work simply to get by rather than operate at the student’s full potential. For instance, a student may behave only to avoid punishment, without listening to the lesson. Students will perform better if they are taught how to recognize the natural consequences and rewards of their actions. According to “classroom management and teachers: the effect of rewards and punishment on behavior and learning,” natural rewards and consequences provide an environment in which the student accepts responsibility, not only for the chosen behavior but also for the resulting reward or consequence. Students learn better if they can recognize real-life consequences to their behaviors.

If the U.S. has such an unhealthy education system, does there exist any good ones? Finland routinely tops rankings of global education systems. It consistently ranks as one of the highest performing developed countries on the Program for International Student Assessment. Known for its absence of a banding system, Finland’s education system teaches all pupils, regardless of ability, in the same classes. As a result, the gap between the weakest and the strongest pupils persists as the smallest in the world. Finnish schools also give relatively little homework and have only one mandatory test at age 16. Consequently, students have more time to play and explore their interests. The lack of rankings and competition coupled with its high performing students make it evident that schools that do not have a high emphasis on achievement provide a better educational environment.

Competition and grades do not inherently result in a dangerous learning environment, but the tremendous emphasis on achievements in our culture makes it almost impossible to maintain a healthy environment. Consequently, competition and grades must be eliminated in our current educational systems. Instead, we should create an education system that praises effort and provides qualitative feedback. We must also incorporate a hands-on approach where students can experience their own consequences as a result of their actions.

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