In Case of Failure, Just Stop Being So Lazy

    I like science, and I’m not the worst of the bunch. But I continue to procrastinate because at the back of my mind, I think I’m just not good at it. We hear this all the time, in variations such as the old trope that girls can’t do math and boys can’t spell. We’re just not good, and this is natural, and so on. But according to Carol Dweck of Stanford University, who has spent her career studying the science of intelligence, this “fixed-mindset” mentality is just a crutch for laziness. (Guilty). 

    Dweck recently tested undergrads on whether they believed that everyone has a certain “amount” of math ability that they couldn’t change. This is the exact question to which I would answer a resounding “yes,” and use to blithely justify that less-than-stellar AP Calculus score. Those, like me, who answered positively, have a “fixed mindset” — or the common belief that we naturally have differing amounts of talent. Unsurprisingly, these people are more likely to have a fatalistic attitude when it comes to education, whether it’s attributing low grades to a lack of ability, or trying to focus on different subjects instead. 

    While it’s true that not everyone is talented at math, a follow-up experiment showed that the fixed mindset has demonstrably harmful consequences. Dweck asked students to pretend they’d done badly on a math test, and had others either comfort them with the “not everyone is good” spiel, or give mildly threatening suggestions. The comforted students became used to low expectations and became even less optimistic about their math abilities, leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

    So, in time for Mother’s Day, Dweck’s theories validate the frowned-upon methods of at least one parent: tiger mom Amy Chua. In her book, Chua tells of forcing her daughters to practice piano, despite her husband’s feeble suggestions that maybe she just isn’t “as good” at something. No, Chua said, she is just lazy, and she’ll do it over and over until she gets it right. Callous as this may seem, there’s something empowering about the idea that “natural talent” doesn’t matter. 

    That said, I still won’t be taking bio come fall. Thankfully, there’s no available lower-div classes other than the ones I tested out of. For another quarter, I’m off the hook. 

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