A Pigeon Tale and a Growth Mindset

“I asked Cher what had made her think that the Pigeon story could be a kids’ book. She paused, then said, of her work at the time, ‘There were two classrooms, the same size, the same kinds of kids in terms of age, background. Every day with their lunch, the children got a cookie that came in a cellophane wrapper. In one of the classrooms, the teacher would come around with scissors and snip the cellophane off each cookie wrapper. In the other classroom, the teacher said, ‘Absolutely do not touch those wrappers, do not help the children open them. These kids are motivated, they can open these cookies themselves.’ Sometimes there was a lot of struggle. The cookies might be pulverized by the time they were opened. But they were opened, each one of them. I knew kids could desire, fail, be angry, thrive. I knew that this was territory that made sense for them. Those Pigeon emotions made sense to them—that told me something.’ ”

—Rivka Galchen, “Fail Funnier” on children’s book author Mo Willems in The New Yorker

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In the US, the Experience of Poverty is Worse

“The researchers found that the relationship between genes, socioeconomic status, and intelligence depended on which country the participants were from.

“The hypothesis that the genetic influence on intelligence depends on socioeconomic status was not supported in studies outside of the US,” says Tucker-Drob. “In the Netherlands, there was even evidence suggestive of the opposite effect.”

The researchers suggest that the stark difference between the US and other countries might be explained by differences in how low socioeconomic status in experienced in the countries. That is, the relatively robust healthcare and social-welfare programs in Western Europe and Australia may buffer some of the negative environmental effects typically associated with poverty.”

—”Poverty Dampens Genetic Influence on IQ, in the US” on the Association for Psychological Science

This is fascinating. It corresponds with the idea that mindset and perception are deeply interrelated with poverty, which we also explored as a thesis of Scarcity. In the US, the experience of being poor is often equivalent to the experience of failure.

Yet another reason for a focus on social-psychological interventions.

The Impact of Environment on Sitzfleisch

“We don’t need to be victims of our emotions,” Mr. Mischel says. “We have a prefrontal cortex that allows us to evaluate whether or not we like the emotions that are running us.” This is harder for children exposed to chronic stress, because their limbic systems go into overdrive. But crucially, if their environment changes, their self-control abilities can improve, he says. [bold added]

–Walter Mischel, the infamous Marshmallow test man, in an article by Pamela Druckerman “Learning How to Exert Self-Control” in the NY Times

Stick With It

By Kumon (Flickr) CC-BY-2.0

There’s an article on Outside magazine that explains why any diet that you may choose is largely irrelevant as to whether you lose weight or not. The most important factor?

Simple adherence. To any sort of disciplined form of exercise and diet. Sticking with it. Persistence.

I think this advice just as easily applies to education reform. On Saturday’s post, we examined takeaways from David Kirp’s Improbable Scholars on effective school systems, and we noted that there’s nothing particularly flashy about what works: it’s really just a lot of hard work. In other words, adherence and persistence.

We’ve also explored this idea before in a post titled “Coping with Complexity“. In that piece, I synthesized some advice from different fields and came up with two suggestions for making decisions when faced with a complex problem:

  • Try almost anything, because you never know exactly what will be effective. 
  • Demonstrate a willingness to push through even in the face of failure, as this can lead to a breakthrough, an emergence after crossing some unknown threshold.
Pick something. Adhere to it. Learn from your mistakes. Keep on keeping on.
I’m beginning to see that there’s a ripe opportunity here for synthesizing all these lessons on complex decision-making that I’ve been gathering on this blog. To be continued . . .