In this extract from The Republic, Socrates, having argued Polemarchus into valuing art, then pushes for the kill:
I don’t know… it’s unfair – it was Jade’s fault and we didn’t get told that, anyway.
Except, ‘I don’t know’ is a useless response. If we aim to become intelligent people, then we’d better be aware of our impulses.
We know awkward learners. Nothing is their fault.
Look at these examples from students I’ve taught so far this term:
Revision is ‘too easy’.
This is fixed-mindset at work. The entire purpose of revision work is to create fluidity. It is similar content and is often a grind. Revision is actually hard – requiring concentration and extensive knowledge. The process of revision undermines the fixed-mindset’s sense of intelligence. By choosing not to acknowledge the weaknesses that revision reveals, the sense of the intelligent self is maintained.
Difficult concepts – the blame lies with the past teacher.
This is fixed thinking once more. Students can’t believe that they will have to work hard to make it to the expected standards. Many students have coasted on past glories: they have the potential but not the work ethic of the growth mindset. It is easier for the student to blame their current weaknesses on someone else, than admit that they aren’t yet as intelligent as they believe.
Other students in the country will do better. This is ‘unfair’.
One of the hardest truths is that there are circumstantial advantages for many – wealth, opportunity or just good luck. The idea of others being rewarded better grades just for working harder is unwelcome to fixed thinkers. This is especially as true learning is paved with frequent failure – proving that you are not perfect. It’s easier to brand the system as ‘unfair’ than take responsibility and give yourself a fighting chance.
When asked to justify your actions, the response is ‘I don’t know’.
It’s easier to pretend not to know than to think and realise the possible truths – you value peer opinion over learning; you’re not yet as intelligent as you believe; the world is unfair; you might have to be accountable for your actions and their consequences…
Which behaviours are missing? Let me know.