This past week, I focused on the concept that “belief shapes reality.” On Friday night, I was reviewing my article with my chavrusa, Mr. Pinny Berlin, and he told me about the work of Dr. Carol Douek, another Harvard professor. Dr. Douek points to similar research in her book entitled “Mindset.”
In discussing the role of students who are naturally bright and intellectually talented, Dr. Douek warns that highlighting children for their intellectual giftedness may actually prevent them from reaching their potential. Many of us praise and focus on our children’s exceptional intellectual talents. We may say, for example, “At the age of three my child was able to…” As part of her research, Dr. Douek randomly selected 400 fifth grade students and issued them a grade level test. She randomly selected two groups from the students who had scored well. She told one group that their success on the test was based on the fact that they were very smart, and she told the second group that they had excelled because they must have tried very hard. She then issued a second test and offered the two groups the option of selecting either a puzzle that was harder than the previous one or a puzzle that was equally as difficult. The results were quite astounding. Those in the “smart” group chose the equally difficult puzzle, and those in the “work hard” group selected the more challenging puzzle. She then gave the groups a third difficult puzzle that was designed for them to fail. The students in the “smart” group appeared terribly frustrated, while those in the “work hard” group were smiling and seemed to enjoying themselves. Finally, Dr. Douek presented them with another puzzle at grade level; the “smart” group scored 20% lower than they had on the original test, while their “work hard” counterparts increased their scores by 30%. Dr. Douek concluded that when one compliments children for their intellect, they become frustrated and tend to fail when presented with a task that challenges their giftedness, whereas when one compliments children for working hard, they rise to the challenge and their scores increase.
I have often felt that honor rolls that praise children for their G-d given talents are not useful and often damaging. We should reward the students who try the hardest for their efforts. Many great Torah leaders have stated that you don’t have to be brilliant to be a talmid chacham; it is actually the hard work and time on task that determine a child’s success in Torah and all learning. We look forward to recognizing our children and students for the hard work and effort that they put forth on a daily basis.
I would like to thank the many families who joined us yesterday at the school choice rally at the State House. Our student band performed well and made a tremendous kiddush Hashem through their actions. The school choice speaker was excellent and his words inspired us all to continue to help make school choice a reality in Rhode Island. As time progresses, our partners will be looking for us to be involved in various ways to promote school choice. We must be reminded that a school choice initiative will make school more affordable locally, and, based on the experiences of Jewish day schools in other states that have school choice legislation, it can actually be a tremendous boost to encourage people to move to Rhode Island. We thank all of you for your ongoing support of this initiative!
Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman