"Smart" is a quantifiable hard limit. The problem with smart people is that as soon as they run up against a challenge/concept/issue they cannot immediately overcome, they get frustrated, because they "should be smarter than this!" Which often results in avoidable frustration/anxiety/depression.
You see this a lot. "Gifted" "smart" kids who coast through school for years, until one day they finally run up against something they cannot do and run away from it screaming. Simply because they're not "smart enough."
Where is the school program that let's the bullshit pseudo concept of "smarts" fall by the wayside and instead replaces it with an atmosphere where failure IS acceptable, and that you just have to work through the hard parts?
I have a kid. My wife's side is second generation "gifted." These people are absolutely obsessed with how smart they are/sound/come across, and get incredibly upset/frustrated/annoyed when they feel "dumb" (i.e. things are hard, they don't get it right away, or they make a mistake).
Unfortunately when I raise the issue of "hey, focusing on an intangible level of intelligence could be damaging [here look at this child research]" I just get eye rolls, because they're so deeply into the concept of how innately intelligent they are, they cannot see a less damaging way of living one's life.
this is why you put the kid into a school with other "smart" kids so the kid gets the chance to experience that s/he isn't the smartest one, that there are much more smart kids out there.
Speaking from personal experience - without much special effort 8th grade city's first place in physics, mathematics and chemistry, regional second in physics, yet once i got into the high school for advanced studies of math and physics (where students were collected from multiple regions of the USSR (45-y anybody ?:)) i was just an average, and any time getting above it took significant effort and on many occasions i was just trounced by other students, the really smart ones.
Or you could homeschool them.
We don't say one way or another how "well" our kids are doing, or how "smart" they are. We just teach them. When they learn one thing, we teach them the next. There's no "scores", there's no comparing them with other kids. There's just learning. If they need more time or practice to learn something, we give them more time or practice.
The goal of education is to get them to know as much as we know and then some. (And there's the learning social skills aspect. But we take care of that in a different way.) It's not a competition. We're all in this together.
And yes, some people will be better at some things, and worse at others. That shouldn't affect self-esteem. If everyone was good at the same things, the world wouldn't be able to function. And nobody's good at everything.
Like the author's kid, I was put off by the competitiveness of my fellow students and sometimes afraid of trying at all when faced with the idea of failing publicly. It was stressful at times, and I definitely didn't do as well as I could have because of it (though I still enjoyed high school overall).
Now that I look back on it, however, I think that my experience in high school was formative. Being among all of those high achieving, highly motivated people raised my subconscious bar for success, and while I didn't outright fail, I grew quite a lot by having my limits pushed and persevering through some near failures along the way.
Class was boring, but I got straight As. It was excruciating listening to other kids try to ask and answer questions because every goddamned thing they struggled with was so fucking easy. It was fucking horrible. It didn't change, all the way through high school.
Then I went to university, and I had a lifetime first: kids who knew things I didn't. Kids who corrected me on mistakes... and they were right. Kids who were as smart, or smarter than me.
For the first time in my life, getting graded on a curve meant I had to fucking work instead of just doing nothing and then blowing the curve for everyone else.
I desperately wish I'd had that experience at a younger age. It would've been awesome. But I didn't.
Gifted classes would've been great, but my school didn't have much of that.
The thing you're failing to understand is that the problem isn't that the kids are told they're smart. It's that they're actually smart. Not telling them doesn't change shit.
But the problem here wasn't that I thought I was gifted, it was that I didn't compare myself to my peers at all. Getting an A was easy, so it meant nothing to me. The other students who did well were not people I aspired to be like. I spent all my time working on things I enjoyed for myself, and those challenged me to work independently. I failed Algebra because I spent the whole semester reading a statistics book. I failed an English class because I spent the whole time programming on my calculator. (I had run out of classes to fail, and had to take classes at college to make up the credits.) But once I started studying physics, math, and computers, I've been happily over-performing ever since.
I remember moments where I turned away from challenges, but I always turned toward something that mattered more to me. And there are challenges there, too. You will be challenged no matter what you choose to do, so long as you aren't doing only what has already been done.
So I can't say I'd agree with you. People are often just awful at measuring success.
At some point, I learned that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was. That was a valuable lesson, and one that I learned as a child.
It probably also didn't help that I lived a very sheltered life as an upper-class Mexican and everything that I wanted I could get by just asking. That has been another obstacle that has been difficult to overcome: learning how to do hard work and fend for myself.
 As long as the problem doesn't involve people, though, since people are not really a problem to be solved
Other thing schools are doing is stopping children putting their hand up to answer a question. They just ask a child at random to try to answer. (In theory) wrong answers are fine, they're looking for the child to try to explain the answer they have.
Praise effort, not achievement is useful and is something that parents should be doing.
I think it's a very bad way to learn anything. The actual method is sound when used outside of a lecture in one-on-one or small groups where everyone is involved, but fails terribly with large groups.
Ultimately, education is about competing for progressively smaller numbers of seats in progressively better lives. High school has nothing to do with "learning" - it's a test, a very long one, to find out who belongs in selective colleges and who doesn't. Colleges are, in turn, a test to find out who gets to stay in the middle class. School before HS is about learning the discipline and technique for approaching that test. But the content of both is entirely irrelevant. Its only purpose is to be difficult, so that some people can hack and and others can't, because there isn't room for everyone at the next stage. Some kids have to be weeded out. If you think this is a strange attitude, ask yourself why people complain so much about grade inflation.
There cannot be a situation where "failure is acceptable." If you give a rational high school student an assignment that they can fail without consequences, they'll spend their limited budget of energy and attention on one that gatekeepers care about. The only way around this in a world where comfortable livings are a scarce resource is to allocate them on some axis other than intellectual merit. For a long time we did more or less that: as long as you were white, male, and born to a "good family" you didn't have to work too hard in school. Well, those days are ending, and the world is a more just place for it.
In a non-grade-inflated environment, "failure" is okay as long as you fail less than your peers. This is perhaps a better environment for the cultivation of resilience - you're used to tests you can only make a 30% on. But then the operative kind of failure is performing worse than your peers. A lot of people on HN complain that kids these days can't deal with being average. But I've never seen someone say "we hire the middle 50% of developers." No. We hire the top 5.
> Ultimately, the predominant educational system and it's preeminent methodology, have become about competing for progressively smaller numbers of seats in progressively better lives...
One of many reasons I have put off having a child, the financial burden of giving a child a 'good' education, is considerable. From the purely academic component of quality teachers, to the social component of creating an environment where their interaction with other children is beneficial, neither of these comes cheap.
I'm not after much, just well paid teachers who stay passionate while they teach, a class size where they can give each student enough attention, curriculum that allows the child to 'surge forward' when driven by curiosity and be rewarded for their work not punished for not doing 'this weeks assignment', and enough other children to interact with so they can develop social skills. The last one is the tough bit, all the others can be provided by home school with or without using private tutors or paying for a 'personal teacher'.
As long as things are going your way, confidence is good. When they are not, fake confidence leaves you completely blind to your own problems. And it kind of amplifies a negative feed back loop.
Almost every person I meet this days talks of 'optimism', 'hope' and 'confidence', often confusing that with laziness and inaction.
Reality doesn't care about our feelings. Taking a true stock of the situation and performing per it, will help us a lot more than textbook contextless confidence lessons personality development books teach us.
But you can't push them to be smarter. If that's the goal then something bad is going to come out of it. Recognizing this as fairly obvious would be a good first step.
This isn't as much better as you might think. For a lot of people, this just leaves them with "It's OK to fail". Full stop.
I just had a child. If they are "smart" (given my wife and I we can only hope!) I want to try to press them more and not just let them not try beyond a minimal amount of effort. Sure, it'll be time-intensive on my part, but I want to see them pushed. My issues come from hitting a problem I should be "smart enough" to solve but can't do it in an instant and get frustrated.
Especially b/c the really smart ones know without being told.