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Our Students Are Not Supermen & Superwomen

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Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Gioia De Antoniis via Compfight

A few minutes ago I published a post that repeated my admiration for Carol Dweck’s work, one of numerous posts I’ve written sharing that perspective.

However, I did publish one a couple of years ago that was critical of an op ed piece she did in The New York Times questioning extensive research that found self-control to be a limited resource that needed to be replenished. Dr. Dweck suggested that operating under that belief was contrary to her rightfully admired perspective on having a growth-mindset. In other words, it only needs to be replenished if you believe it can be depleted.

As I wrote in that post:

I’m all for having a “growth mindset,” which is another concept that Professor Dweck is known for and which I use with my students. However, especially with adolescents, it seems to me that we need to recognize that our students are not Supermen or Superwomen, and it’s unlikely that many — if any — have an unlimited level of self-control. My students and I have found Professor Baumeister’s research very useful and I have often seen it work effectively.  The key, of course, is that we need to help our students develop effective strategies to replenish their capacity for self-control.

So why am I bringing this up now? Well, another researcher whom I admire, Heidi Grant Halvorson, has just written a widely-seen article with the title How You Can Benefit from All Your Stress. She makes an argument for stress similar to Dr. Dweck’s on self-control.

Comments on that piece make many of the same points I would make in a critique, though more eloquently than I would.

I believe that there are much more effective coping ways I can help students at our 100% free lunch (who also receive free breakfast and dinner) school to deal with stress than encouraging them to look at it as a way to grow (and an extensive lesson plan in my new book provides even more details).

I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that:

your mindset about stress may be the most important predictor of how it affects you.

We’re all familiar with the saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, than every problem looks like a nail.”

Photo Credit: Matthew via Compfight

Helping our students develop a growth mindset can be one of the most important life skills lessons we can teach. But let’s also recognize that it’s not the solution to everything.

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. Hi Larry, I absolutely agree with you, both on the growth mindset, and that students need time to replenish, not just from experience, but from my personal reading. I subscribe to Scientific American Mind, and they’ve recently published a few pieces on how self control and executive function (the ability to make decisions at all) can be depleted when one is tired. Psychologists performed experiments by having adults answer questionnaires to tire out their brains, then they measured their self control. Even after fifteen minutes or so of brain-exercise, their self-control was depleted! A positive attitude and positive modelling is essential, but we must pay attention to the science behind what we do when it is available. To ignore it is irresponsible.


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