Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Excelling

I woke up this morning hoping--as I do on so many, many mornings-- that I would be at least moderately productive today.

I was extremely productive today.  This doesn't bode well for tomorrow, of course, but I'll take it.

I think I was helped by a small bit of luck: I called to make an appointment for later this week, only to be asked, "Wanna come in this afternoon?"

So I did.  That meant that I not only got a task out of the way, but that I was able to structure the remainder of my day around this unexpected appointment/task.  And doing so enabled me to get a whole bunch of other things done.

For instance, I swam a mile.  I did a bunch of grading.  I cleaned up some branches and leaves that had been waiting for me for quite a while now.  I read a bit of Ondaatje's The English Patient (while waiting for my appointment).

I've also been trying to read Scott Barry Kaufmann's Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.  I wanted to like this book-- I really did.  I wanted to find out all kinds of new insights.

But the fact is, I'm skipping and skimming like mad, and I've pretty much given up on it.  Don't get me wrong: the research is solid, the writing is clear.  I'm sure a lot of people do--and will--like this book.

But for me, it falls kind of flat.  Kaufmann's point is that, by labeling children "learning disabled" and/or "gifted," we drastically shape their potential success, both as students and as adults.  Children and adults will perform to expectations: if you adopt the attitude that they "can't" do it, they probably won't.

Kaufmann himself was labeled "learning disabled," and suffered the consequences of it for quite some time.

As he points out, when he was 17 years old, guidance counselors were still referencing an IQ test he took when he was 11.  To my mind, that just means he had to deal with a self-important nitwit.  (Don't we all, on occasion?)

Kaufmann had an obviously supportive family, one`that clearly didn't subscribe to the edicts of IQ testing, and in the end, he persevered and succeeded.  Brilliantly. 

And probably a whole lot of people could have told him that he would, and yes, it's unfortunate that none of them were to be found in the education system he was subjected to prior to college. 

And it's true: I think quite a few of us have had a very similar experience, labels or no.

But my question is, does anyone really care all that much about IQ tests?  Except for the good people of MENSA or the label-happy among us?  

I suppose they must, but I kind of felt like Kaufmann belabored his personal experience a bit more than he needed to, in an effort to drive home the effects of using IQ tests as a faulty measure of intelligence.

That said, of course, it's easy for me to sit here and think this, knowing that I'm never going to have to take an SAT, LSAT, GRE, MCAT or whatever anytime in the near future.  But I'd like to think that most colleges are a bit more aware of the drawbacks of that kind of testing, and that they look to other things as well, when considering applications.

Kaufman did have interesting points to make about mindset and persistence, and I liked his discussion of the difference between people with "learning goals" versus people with "performance goals."  The latter love to win; the former love to learn.  For people with "performance goals," it's all about "looking smart." 

For people with "learning goals," it's all about acquiring new skills.

I hope I'm the latter kind of person: I think evidence suggests that I am.  Because by some strange twist of fate, I ended up with 2 projects this semester that required a better-than-basic knowledge of Excel.

I had to learn how to create spreadsheets and set up formulas to run calculations across the data I input on said spreadsheets. 

Remember, I teach LITERATURE.  We don't do spreadsheets and formulas.

Except that now, I can and I do.  I embraced the fact that I was going to look like a total idiot at least a dozen times, and watched and listened and looked things up month after month and tried and tried and tried again.

And then lo and behold, yesterday, there I was, sipping my coffee and trying to decide whether I wanted to include calculations of average deviation.

Say, WHA?  Yeah, that's right.  You heard me. 

I'm sure I was a sight to behold, squealing with delight after I input cryptic lettering in that little fx-thingy (remember: literature) and calculations resulted time and time again.  (I may have called my cats in to "come and see!") 

And the really scary part is, it all started to make sense.  I didn't think Excel could ever make sense to me.

Granted, I still can't do all kinds of things in Excel that all kinds of other people can do easily, but I really don't care too much about that, because I know how to do a few things that I didn't know how to do at ALL 6 months ago, and that's good enough for me.

I don't have to win.  I just want to learn.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post, and I couldn’t agree more with your last sentence. I haven’t read Kaufmann’s book, but your post reminds me that learning (free learning anyway) is on the side of play, playspace, the releasing and development of interests –– while performance is on the side of duty and a good but possibly uncreative fit with the world. Top performers may or may not develop as persons as a result of their goal-seeking, may or may not have more to them if and when they win. Whereas free learners take pleasure in noodling out new parts of self, and there is certainly more to them as a result of their noodling.

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