oh you're just the smartest bestest cleverest kid in the whole world

November 30, 2007
Yet more self-involved blather, very loud introspection. But there's a very good video after. You might want to skip to that.

Man, this Scientific American article on The Secret to Raising Smart Kids rang more than a few bells for me...
Our society worships talent, and many people assume that possessing superior intelligence or ability-- along with confidence in that ability-- is a recipe for success. In fact, however, more than 30 years of scientific investigation suggests that an overemphasis on intellect or talent leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unwilling to remedy their shortcomings.

The result plays out in children like Jonathan, who coast through the early grades under the dangerous notion that no-effort academic achievement defines them as smart or gifted. Such children hold an implicit belief that intelligence is innate and fixed, making striving to learn seem far less important than being (or looking) smart. This belief also makes them see challenges, mistakes and even the need to exert effort as threats to their ego rather than as opportunities to improve. And it causes them to lose confidence and motivation when the work is no longer easy for them.
That's similar to something I wrote a year ago.

So: It's not the self-esteem, stupid! Maybe we have too much of that, with our kids who are, internationally speaking, among the worst at math but think that they're the best.

I think almost any kid who is the smartest kid in his peer group ends up thinking they're the smartest kid, period. Even as they grow, and are smart enough to intellectually realize the absurdity of this thought, they don't feel it.

As crazy as it is, it's still a bit of a problem for me. But I managed to shake it off in a lot of ways and think I should be proud of that. I think back to my school history: skipped second grade, got put back when I changed districts... in sixth grade I started doing well on standardized tests but was always in the mid-quarter "D&F Club" after school program. I managed to get some level of a work ethic through middle and high school, though it didn't really gel 'til college, with most visible bumps in high school classes that required the work of memorization, chemistry and calculus.

But it's not like I blame my folks. I remember fiercely resisting my mom trying to get me to set specific goals during middle school... I much preferred a promise to put in a good effort, and seeing what came of that. Now I see what a defensive strategy that was. If anything, I suspect schools aren't particularly well set-up for "Gifted and Talented" programs: smart kids don't get the challenges to put their abilities in a reasonable context, and it's likely that recent standardized testing initiatives is making that problem worse, with school districts having to do more scrambling for tough cases (no matter how poorly motivated or difficult the student) as well as having the smart kids feel like frickin' geniuses when the normalized tests seem like a breeze.

Now I'm still pretty "risk adverse". I can be a good worker, but sometimes my diligence is inversely proportional to the chance of failure... if I'm not confident of it being a cakewalk (even if a long and tedious one) I'm more likely to start employing avoidance strategies.

Marching Band of the Moment

--Thinking of school days... the Cal Band rocks! Such a damn clever program! Especially the first bit, 0:40-1:30. Too bad it's shot from the Visitor's side. (There's also this right-side-up but skewed and partial view of the same show.)