Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Read the attached popular science article. Pop Science Article 3: Kohn, A. (2015). The perils of ‘growth mindset’ education. Salon. Download Pop Science Article 3: Kohn, A. (2015). The peril -

Read the attached popular science article. Pop Science Article 3: Kohn, A. (2015). The perils of ‘growth mindset’ education. Salon. Download Pop Science Article 3: Kohn, A. (2015). The peril

1. Read the attached popular science article.

Pop Science Article 3: Kohn, A. (2015). The perils of "growth mindset" education. Salon. Download Pop Science Article 3: Kohn, A. (2015). The perils of "growth mindset" education. Salon.

2. Write a 1-2 paragraph response (350 words).

Responses should describe at least one of the following:

(1) Describe how the article builds on the weekly reading or other course material.

(2) Describe what the reading implies about development, broadly speaking (for example, what it tells us about human nature, education/social policy, or how we should raise children).

(3) Describe an important question or concern the reading raises for you about developmental psychology.


SUNDAY, AUG 16, 2015 02:59 AM PDT

The perils of “Growth Mindset” education: Why we’re trying to fix our kids when we should be fixing the system How a promising but oversimplified idea caught fire, then got coopted by conservative ideology





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(Credit: AP/Jose F. Moreno)

One of the most popular ideas in education these days can be summarized in a single sentence (a fact that may help to account for its popularity).

Here’s the sentence:

Kids tend to fare better when they regard intelligence and other abilities not as fixed traits

that they either have or lack, but as attributes that can be improved through effort.

In a series of monographs over many years and in a book published in 2000, psychologist Carol Dweck used the label “incremental theory” to describe the self-fulfilling belief that one can become smarter. Rebranding it more catchily as the “growth mindset” allowed her to recycle the idea a few years later in a best-selling book for general readers.

By now, the growth mindset has approached the status of a cultural meme. The premise is repeated with uncritical enthusiasm by educators and a growing number of parents, managers, and journalists — to the point that one half expects supporters to start referring to their smartphones as “effortphones.” But, like the buzz over the related concept known as “grit” (a form of self-discipline involving long-term persistence), there’s something disconcerting about how the idea has been used — and about the broader assumption that what students most need is a “mindset” adjustment.

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Unlike grit — which, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is driven more by conservative ideology than by solid research — Dweck’s basic thesis is supported by decades’ worth of good data. It’s not just the habit of attributing your failure to being stupid that holds you back, but also the habit of attributing your success to being smart. Regardless of their track record, kids tend to do better in the future if they believe that how well they did in the past was primarily a result of effort.

But “how well they did” at what?

The problem with sweeping, generic claims about the power of attitudes or beliefs isn’t just a risk of overstating the benefits but also a tendency to divert attention from the nature of the tasks themselves: How valuable are they, and who gets to decide whether they must be done? Dweck is a research psychologist, not an educator, so her inattention to the particulars of classroom assignments is understandable. Unfortunately, even some people who are educators would rather convince students they need to adopt a more positive attitude than address the quality of the curriculum (what the students are being taught) or the pedagogy (how they’re being taught it).

An awful lot of schooling still consists of making kids cram forgettable facts into short-term memory. And the kids themselves are seldom consulted about what they’re doing, even though genuine excitement about (and proficiency at) learning rises when

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they’re brought into the process, invited to search for answers to their own questions and to engage in extended projects. Outstanding classrooms and schools — with a rich documentary record of their successes — show that the quality of education itself can be improved. But books, articles, TED talks, and teacher-training sessions devoted to the wonders of adopting a growth mindset rarely bother to ask whether the curriculum is meaningful, whether the pedagogy is thoughtful, or whether the assessment of students’ learning is authentic (as opposed to defining success merely as higher scores on dreadful standardized tests).

Small wonder that this idea goes down so easily. All we have to do is get kids to adopt the right attitude, to think optimistically about their ability to handle whatever they’ve been given to do. Even if, quite frankly, it’s not worth doing.

* * *

The most common bit of concrete advice offered by Dweck and others enamored of the growth mindset is to praise kids for their effort (“You tried really hard”) rather than for their ability (“You’re really smart”) in order to get them to persevere. (Google the words “praise” and “effort” together: more than 70 million hits.) But the first problem with this seductively simple script change is that praising children for their effort carries problems of its own, as several studies have confirmed: It can communicate that they’re really not very capable and therefore unlikely to succeed at future tasks. (“If you’re complimenting me just for trying hard, I must really be a loser.”)

The more serious concern, however, is that what’s really problematic is praise itself. It’s a verbal reward, an extrinsic inducement, and, like other rewards, is often construed by the recipient as manipulation. A substantial research literature has shown that the kids typically end up less interested in whatever they were rewarded or praised for doing, because now their goal is just to get the reward or praise. As I’ve explained in books and articles, the most salient feature of a positive judgment is not that it’s positive but that it’s a judgment; it’s more about controlling than encouraging. Moreover, praise communicates that our acceptance of a child comes with strings attached: Our approval is conditional on the child’s continuing to impress us or do what we say. What kids actually need from us, along with nonjudgmental feedback and guidance, is unconditional support — the antithesis of a patronizing pat on the head for having jumped through our hoops.

The solution, therefore, goes well beyond a focus on what’s being praised — that is, merely switching from commending ability to commending effort. Praise for the latter is likely to be experienced as every bit as controlling and conditional as praise for the

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former. Tellingly, the series of Dweck’s studies on which she still relies to support the idea of praising effort, which she conducted with Claudia Mueller in the 1990s, included no condition in which students received nonevaluative feedback. Other researchers have found that just such a response — information about how they’ve done without a judgment attached — is preferable to any sort of praise.

Thus, the challenge for a teacher, parent, or manager is to consider a moratorium on offering verbal doggie biscuits, period. We need to attend to deeper differences: between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, and between “doing to” and “working with” strategies. Unfortunately, we’re discouraged from thinking about these more meaningful distinctions — and from questioning the whole carrot-and-stick model (of which praise is an example) — when we’re assured that it’s sufficient just to offer a different kind of carrot.

* * *

Here’s another part of the bigger picture that’s eclipsed when we get too caught up in the “growth vs. fixed” (or “incremental vs. entity”) dichotomy: If students are preoccupied with how well they’re doing in school, then their interest in what they’re doing may suffer. A 2010 study found that when students whose self-worth hinges on their performance face the prospect of failure, it doesn’t help for them to adopt a growth mindset. In fact, those who did so were even more likely to give themselves an excuse for screwing up — a strategy known as “self-handicapping” — as compared to those with the dreaded fixed mindset.

Even when a growth mindset doesn’t make things worse, it can help only so much if students have been led — by things like grades, tests, and, worst of all, competition —


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to become more focused on achievement than on the learning itself. Training them to think about effort more than ability does nothing to address the fact, confirmed by several educational psychologists, that too much emphasis on performance undermines intellectual engagement. Just as with praise, betting everything on a shift from ability to effort may miss what matters most.

And this brings us to the biggest blind spot of all — the whole idea of focusing on the mindsets of individuals. Dweck’s work nestles comfortably in a long self-help tradition, the American can-do, just-adopt-a-positive-attitude spirit.(“I think I can, I think I can…”) The message of that tradition has always been to adjust yourself to conditions as you find them because those conditions are immutable; all you can do is decide on the spirit in which to approach them. Ironically, the more we occupy ourselves with getting kids to attribute outcomes to their own effort, the more we communicate that the conditions they face are, well, fixed.

Social psychologists use the term “fundamental attribution error” to mean paying so much attention to personality and attitudes that we overlook how profoundly the social environment affects what we do and who we are.  Their point is that it’s simply inaccurate to make too much of a fuss about things like mindsets, but there are also political implications to doing so.

Why, for example, do relatively few young women choose to study or work in the fields of math and science? Is it because of entrenched sexism and “the way the science career structure works”?  Well, to someone sold on Dweck’s formula, the answer is no: It’s “all a matter of mindset.” We need only “shift widespread perceptions over to the ‘growth mindset’” — that is, to the perceptions of girls and women who are just trapped by their own faulty thinking. This is similar to the perspective that encourages us to blame a “culture of poverty” in the inner city rather than examine economic and political barriers — a very appealing explanation to those who benefit from those barriers and would rather fault their victims for failing to pull themselves up by their mindset.

* * *

Having spent a few decades watching one idea after another light up the night sky and then flame out — in the field of education and in the culture at large — I realize this pattern often has less to do with the original (promising) idea than with the way it has been oversimplified and poorly implemented. Thus, I initially thought it was unfair to blame Dweck for wince-worthy attempts to sell her growth mindset as a panacea and to give it a conservative spin. Perhaps her message had been distorted by the sort of people who love to complain about grade inflation, trophies for showing up, and the

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inflated self-esteem of “these kids today.” In the late 1990s, for example, right-wing media personality John Stossel snapped up a paper of Dweck’s about praise, portraying it as an overdue endorsement of the value of old-fashioned toil — just what was needed in an era of “protecting kids from failure.” Their scores stink but they feel good about themselves anyway — and here’s a study that proves “excellence comes from effort”!


This sort of attack on spoiled kids and permissive (or excessive) parenting is nothing new — and most of its claims dissolve on close inspection. Alas, Dweck not only has failed to speak out against, or distance herself from, this tendentious use of her ideas but has put a similar spin on them herself. She has allied herself with gritmeister Angela Duckworth and made Stossel-like pronouncements about the underappreciated value of hard work and the perils of making things too easy for kids, pronouncements that wouldn’t be out of place at the Republican National Convention or in a small-town Sunday sermon. Indeed, Dweck has endorsed a larger conservative narrative, claiming that “the self-esteem movement led parents to think they could hand their children self-esteem on a silver platter by telling them how smart and talented they are.” (Of course, most purveyors of that narrative would be just as contemptuous of praising kids for how hard they’d tried, which is what Dweck recommends.)

Moreover, as far as I can tell, she has never criticized a fix-the-kid, ignore-the-structure mentality or raised concerns about the “bunch o’ facts” traditionalism in schools. Along with many other education critics, I’d argue that the appropriate student response to much of what’s assigned isn’t “By golly, with enough effort, I can do this!” but “Why the hell should anyone have to do this?” Dweck, like Duckworth, is conspicuously absent from the ranks of those critics.

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It isn’t entirely coincidental that someone who is basically telling us that attitudes matter more than structures, or that persistence is a good in itself, has also bought into a conservative social critique. But why have so many educators who don’t share that sensibility endorsed a focus on mindset (or grit) whose premises and implications they’d likely find troubling on reflection?

I’m not suggesting we go back to promoting an innate, fixed, “entity” theory of intelligence and talent, which, as Dweck points out, can leave people feeling helpless and inclined to give up. But the real alternative to that isn’t a different attitude about oneself; it’s a willingness to go beyond individual attitudes, to realize that no mindset is a magic elixir that can dissolve the toxicity of structural arrangements. Until those arrangements have been changed, mindset will get you only so far. And too much focus on mindset discourages us from making such changes.

Alfie Kohn is the author of 14 books on education, parenting, and human behavior, including,

most recently, “The Myth of the Spoiled Child” (Da Capo Press) and “Schooling Beyond

Measure” (Heinemann). He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at


Alfie Kohn is the author of "No Contest: The Case Against Competition" (1986), "The Myth of

the Spoiled Child," published in paperback this month, and a dozen books in between. 



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Mar 2, 2016

Oct 15, 2015

Sep 14, 2015

Sep 13, 2015

Newest | Oldest | Top Comments

Hermann P



Lisa K Rakestraw

Uhh… I think you're over simplifying what she says in many different places to setup a strawman you can burn down. Mindset (and her research) is not a one page piece of paper that says "just praise effort." The effort element is a part of it based on a fundamental idea that people are great primarily because of the effort they apply and not the genetic ability/god given talent they have. I never saw Dweck say "just praise effort and all is well." In this area specifically (and it's a subset of what she writes about) what I got is that if a child does something well it's better to say "wow, you must have worked hard" instead of "wow, you are so smart."

I never got the sense from her writing/speaking/research that this is simple or easy. Now, I DO agree that her ideas have been picked up and massively simplified but you can't really blame her for that… that happens to ALL ideas that become popular. Guilt by popularity or association is a common tactic of attack but just because she agrees and works with certain people does not necessarily mean she endorses ALL of their views. I think people working with lots of people who have different complex views is healthy.

Like Reply

Here is one writer who questions growth mindset theory. /2015/04/08/no-clarity-around-growth-mindset-yet/ 

Unlike the author I liked growth mindset theory but I was surprised by how thin the research is. 

Like Reply

This article is clickbait to promote a political agenda.  I would expect better from this publication.  Crap bag marketers use this technique… but you guys?  C'mon.

Like Reply

I would like to point out as a teacher who strives to be both democratic and authoritative

 + Follow+ Follow Post comment as…

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Sep 7, 2015

Aug 18, 2015



that affirming a student's work or effort is different from praising it.  I teach language arts to students in grades K-2 and this has been my observation regarding feedback of their writing and reading–that clear directions and affirmations about their progress and development are much more relevant and useful for shaping their learning than praise.

Like Reply

"Other researchers have found that just such a response — information about how they’ve done without a judgment attached — is preferable to any sort of praise."

I looked for a reference to this but haven't found one. Could anyone provide a link to that article?

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No grit  or copyrighted miracle education program will overcome lead poisoning,segregated schools, poor diet due to lack of grocery stores ,living on fast food,stress from gunfire,fear of police , parents in jail,frequent moves due to poverty and the constant need to find a decent and affordable place to live .

Nor will it overcome changing foster homes and day care,,worry about your parents and siblings, sexual abuse,parental and child depression & mental illness,,physical  and sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse at home, lack of access to the digital world, parents who work multiple jobs to make ends meet with no time to engage with their kids.

In other words America's children are being abandoned by a racist and uncaring nation in it's quest to deliver more profits to the financial elites 

Like Reply

Sep 14, 2015DannyAaronS

@paulie What are you suggesting in your post, Paulie?  Should psychologists stop researching pertinent questions that impact society?

Dweck's research has been empirically validated for decades.  How much do you really know about her "copyrighted miracle education program"?  

The ironic thing is that a growth mindset, and it's closely related cousin "optimistic explanatory style" (see research by Marty Seligman, Karen Reivich, and others), are a couple of the most scientifically supported ways to develop the kind of resilience

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Aug 17, 2015

Aug 16, 2015


Rich Waters

necessary to deal with the very hardships you mention.

Dweck never said her research would eliminate "lead poisoning" for goodness sakes.  Honestly, Paulie, educate yourself on what you're opposing before you start shouting your political agenda.  It doesn't help your cause.

Like Reply

Self-esteem doesn't come on "a silver platter." More often, it comes in small bites, on a silver SPOON. 

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It was disconcerting to see Alfie Kahn, a scholar of high stature and a brilliant advocate for youth, embrace a political ideology in attacking the mind-set research of Carol Dweck et al. and the conservative political thinking with which it has become associated by some. Written with partisan verve, Kahn overstates his case against Dweck et al. and misses an obvious point. Conservatives are more invested in changing the structure of our schools than the left, way more. Dr. Kahn’s call for change in educational and social structures is spot on. Our nation needs to change its schools. We need to move away from the traditional notion of a school and all of the pretend, shallow, boring, game of school learning that goes on in them. What Dr. Kahn seems to have missed, and it is hard to see how, is that it is the conservatives who want to empower local communities to change school structures. It is conservatives who want to give parents and students choices in where they go to school and how they learn. This includes many innovative charters, online schools, blended schools, for profit schools, religious schools, theme schools, and home schooling. In these schools, parents and students have a much greater voice in what youth learn and how they learn it. Reality is never as simple as political ideologues like to make it. When scholars embrace partisan thinking instead of trying to understand the complexity that is real (both the left and the right have something to contribute), they betray scientific thinking in a big way.

1Like Reply

Aug 18, 2015paulie

@Rich Waters

The " choices" conservatives want to deliver to children via private schools are intent excluding many children by color,religion, disability behavior and test results. 

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Aug 16, 2015

Aug 16, 2015



Those children will not be accepted in many private schools.In other words they are accepting those who would likely have made it anyway,if their funds were not diverted to "vouchers" to enrich private school owners and investors.

1Like Reply

I have been reading a lot about education recently, especially the issues faced by the more "diverse" schools. I don't have the answers, but some big questions and my own observations. I went to a couple of majority black schools in Jr.High and High School. Here is what I saw- The class had perhaps 20 students, four of them white, the rest mainly black, often Haitian. Some of the black kids did all their work, and participated in class. The problem was that there was always several of the black kids, when they did show up for class, they mostly ignored the teacher and talked among them selves. They took no notes, did not engage in classroom discussions, and would laugh at the teacher when asked for homework. 

So my concern is those kids, Unless we can get those kids to take school seriously, get organized, do their work, and participate in class, their futures will be bleak. Some schools promote them anyway, to a grade where they are hopelessly behind , and don't care about anyway. 

What can we do to get those kids on track?

1Like Reply

Aug 18, 2015paulie


School cannot overcome poverty and racism. teachers have their hands full teaching – they are not capable of solving deep societal divides.

Like Reply

Sep 14, 2015DannyAaronS

@paulie @ShlomoGoldstien Paulie, read about Marva Collins.  Also, check out Seligman's research on something called "learned helplessness."  

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Aug 16, 2015

Aug 16, 2015



I agree that praise can be damaging. My daughter praised my grandson so much about his intelligence before he turned 4 years old. When his younger brother was born my grandson needed to be praised so much he would constantly ask, "Am I smart?"Fortunately, once he entered school this stopped. Now after reading the above article I am wondering why. 

I will be paying closer attention this school year by volunteering to be in the classroom more often.

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The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in both fluid and cryst

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