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The Trouble with Bright Kids (hbr.org)
202 points by gatsby on Nov 28, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 153 comments

The general idea here, "praise effort, not smartness", is pretty well backed by the research, I came across a similar study some years ago and they keep popping up. (Maybe it was the same one?) It's definitely made it into my mental catalog of parenting techniques should I ever have kids.

It also reflects my own personal experiences I think a lot of above-average-in-something people go through: at some point in their academic or professional lives, they hit a wall where their ability isn't enough and they don't have the mental discipline and other habits to put in the needed effort. Some things stop being fun and look suspiciously like busywork even if it will help. (And sometimes it actually is unhelpful busywork.) I know some people eat up busywork, they just grind through it, personally I can't stand it and avoid it as long as I can. Nor have I found anyone suggesting a general solution to gaining a hard-worker attitude if you didn't develop one in your childhood, and it seems like a hard problem to solve since it's part of the wider motivation and procrastination problem.

Unfortunately the conclusion of the post is a bit too strong:

"No matter the ability — whether it's intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism — studies show them to be profoundly malleable. When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot. So if you were a bright kid, it's time to toss out your (mistaken) belief about how ability works, embrace the fact that you can always improve, and reclaim the confidence to tackle any challenge that you lost so long ago."

Effort is insufficient, and great effort is not always necessary as those of us, who breezed through anything others struggled with, know. Ability is necessary though not sufficient. A 3-and-a-half foot tall person has no chance of being an NBA All Star, and I've witnessed not-very-smart students pour hours and hours into things like studying and still fail. Work smarter, not harder (though that requires you to be smart enough).

I remember Feynman reflecting on his art saying he didn't think it was very good, that he'd never in a hundred years rival a Renaissance master. Yet he still did it, probably because it was fun or interesting. Cultivating a spirit of playfulness and curiosity that produces effort in disguise seems more important to me than cultivating a spirit of effort for effort's sake.

Same story here. I was always the "bright kid" in school (and I got beat up quite often because of this : ) My environment (aunts, grand mothers, parents, teachers, friends, other pupils), always made sure that I knew this in some form or another. I was "smart" and excelled in all school classes, without effort.

One teacher once found personal gratification by grilling me for 1 hour in front of the class room: He set up an advanced math problem 4 years my senior and ridiculed me until I started to cry. "See, even you don't know everything". This happened when I was 11 years old. Yay for education professionals!

Now, as you said, there is always going to be a wall ahead. My parents have no college background so I was pretty much left alone after I finished high school. I enrolled with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Computer Science and bombed HARD. I was shy, I didn't know how to make friends, I failed at simnple administrative tasks required when growing up, couldn't support myself financially and on top of that the course material obviously wasn't going to be a walk in the park.

To this day I struggle with "boring" work and procrastination.

I'm fairly sure it was the same (or a similar) study done by Carol Dweck. She's the mastermind behind the effort/fixed mindset theory.

Concerning Feynman -- that is very interesting. My belief is that although the brain is massively flexible/plastic later in life, how your time is spent during the "formative" years does have a massive influence on what your brain will be particularly skilled at as you get older (though again, it can be changed to a good degree, it just takes a lot of effort). And, how your time is spent during the formative years is largely guided by your own natural inclinations/interests and hence what you naturally focus on, both in the external world and internally. If it was possible to significantly influence/alter what a child tends to care about, what they tend to focus on or spend their time on, and what they tend to think about throughout the days -- their brain will develop in a significantly different way and the child will end up with different core abilities. I don't know how much one can affect a child's natural instincts however.


Could it be that the problem is not, the way we provide feedback to children, but that the expectations we place upon children has more to do with our own expectations than the child's innate ability?

Take a class of 30 children, they will have a wide range of intellectual abilities, ranging from borderline intellectually disabled to the highly gifted. Give them all the same task. Some will achieve well, and have no difficulty, one or two may not be able to complete the task without assistance. Take the same class the next day and have them perform the same task. Those who struggled will may perform better, those who completed the task the first time, will achieve the same result. Perform that same task for the next week or so, until the ones who struggled can perform the task. Now you will find that those children who initially had no problems with the task, have not even bothered to start it, and may well indeed be causing disruption in the class.

What I've described is what happens for most classes of children in most schools. The focus on ensuring all children reach some minimum performance in key areas has resulted in those children in the normal to high ability range are being shown that there is no value in being smart, as you are just going to have to do the same as everybody else anyway... so why bother?

The problem with Bright Kids is not that they never learn how to work hard on difficult tasks. It is that because they meet the minimum safety net requirements, they never are never even exposed to the difficult tasks, so is it any wonder that they grow to doubt the value of their abilities?

What I would love to see is every child in primary school be tested every year, for both potential and ability. This would allow Parents, Teachers and the students themselves to get an understanding of how hard the student is actually working. Are they really "smart" and bored out of their brains and therefore not meeting the academic requirements, or are they intellectually challenged, but through a lot of hard work, are achieving a reasonable standard?

Children do not all come from the same mould, why is it that we try to have them fit the same mould when it comes to education?

Anecdotes here and elsewhere (e.g. my own bright children) show they actually shy away from tasks they are not immediately good at! Because it contradicts what they've been told (Wow! you sure are smart!) they develop a 'sour grapes' attitude toward anything novel.

This has been a primary problem in education, and what you've said is quite true. And as said in PG's what you'll wish you'd known essay, the bright kids should seek hard problems so that they don't lose their abilities by thinking that there's no value in being smart.

I'd recommend watching Sir Ken Robinson's iconic talk with respect to what you said: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ken_robinson_says_schools_k...

Maybe we just set the bar too low. By doing so, not only do we hurt the bright kids by boring them to tears, but we presume based on test scores(?) that certain children could through sheer effort never exceed what level we presume they are capable of reaching- we lower our expectations of them. We deny the "bright" kids a reasonably stimulating education and the other kids the chance to prove what they can do.

Standardised testing does not test for ability to improve.

It's one thing if a kid fails because he didn't try hard enough. That can be explained to him. And it's a good lesson. But it's another thing to give him a standardised test and decide a priori what's he capable of. That just creates a strange value system where all kids, bright or not, may be denied an opportunity to show what they can do and they learn to think of ability as fixed. And it creates a lot of fascination with "innate" ability.

Is it true there's growing evidence that ability is perhaps not as "fixed" as we think?

Many commenters here mention that they were/are really bright but also undisciplined and miserable. This underlines something I've been thinking about a lot: that cognitive style accounts for a big chunk of life's success.

Think of the dumb-as-pigshit ladies' man or the happy-as-a-clam soccer mom who has life all figured out or the salesman who pulls in a ton of cash because he's really driven and doesn't give a fuck about rejection. Then think of the miserable yet brilliant nerd languishing in some dank cave of an apartment because he can't figure life out. Forever Alone...

Then again, if the bright people could learn to adopt better cognitive styles, then they would be unstoppable. Smart people should be winning at life, not dwelling in the shadows as a kind of misunderstood race who push society's technological progress along yet never reap the benefits in terms of happiness.

What are some cognitive styles you wish you had?

> Then think of the miserable yet brilliant nerd languishing in some dank cave of an apartment because he can't figure life out. Forever Alone...

As one of those nerds in his early 30s living all alone by himself in a 5x5m studio, what's so wrong with "not figuring life out" and instead only caring about what interests you most? :)

Mind you, I used to have a social life until not long ago (when I was still happily married to my soon to be ex-wife), but at some point along the road I read Seneca's "De Brevitate Vitae " (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Brevitate_Vitae_%28Seneca%29) and I realized that much of what I was doing at the time was really meaningless and not what I really wanted to spend my time on. And then my wife did me a ton of good and left me :), but it was for the best, cause as Seneca was saying you cannot buy back time wasted on meaningless pursuits (acquiring riches, high political honors etc.).

"""As one of those nerds in his early 30s living all alone by himself in a 5x5m studio, what's so wrong with "not figuring life out" and instead only caring about what interests you most? :)"""

Dude, that totally counts as "figuring it out" :)

What this article neglects is the ability of 'bright kids' to excuse themselves for giving up. Precisely because they're so bright, they can convince themselves very effectively that what is required of them for completing a certain task is too mundane for their 'smartness' or it is not worth the time.

More often than not, this ends up with a lot of lost potential, which is why startups are such good options, because any work involving them, is definitely not boring,and it HAS to be worth the kids' time because they set out to work on it, and it wasn't mandated by any external authority like parents or schools.

It's interesting because throughout history nearly all tasks have been mundane, and it's only recently that this has changed. But smart kids often feel entitled to not do the mundane stuff.

At my school, we have a bit of a "culture of genius" problem. Many, if not most, of my classmates grew up being one of the smartest people they knew. This lead to the widespread (and maybe not untrue) belief that we can do things that other people simply cannot. This leads to a lot of students setting themselves up to fail (epic procrastination, expecting to do well on finals after never going to a class or studying) and most students eventually fail hard at least once, but there are enough success stories to keep the "culture of genius" alive.

This article addresses what happens when the students fail. As the article states, many of us seem to blame failure on not being smart enough rather than just not working hard enough. Personally, I hope I've made away from the genius fallacy. Interning at a startup (as well as competing in athletics growing up) have made it pretty clear that success is more a function of effort and persistence than innate ability.

As bane offered some advice at the end of his post, I guess my mantra could be "Being smart makes things possible, actually working hard makes things happen".

Right. IQ is only a measure of capacity to learn, not what you've spent time filling your brain with.

I know someone who earned an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry without attending a single lecture. He finished in the top 1/3 of the graduating class for that department.

But I know that during the time that we were in class suffering through boring lectures that often made no sense, he was dissecting each and every handout, combing through mutliple textbooks he got from the library and downloading and reading every journal reference in the class notes.

The crazy thing is, I think he learned more than any of us who had perfect attendance at lectures.

I know he wasn't the "smartest" guy in our classes but he often knew more about certain areas than even the MS and PhD candidates who were assisting us in labs. He was just getting much more out of the things we did because he had some background going in.

The guy was just super curious and did his homework like nobody's business. Sheer effort. It was impressive.

Like others who have posted here, I have s story similar to this. By the sounds of it, I wouldn't call myself as "gifted" as some who have posted here but, relative to the environment I was in, I was "gifted".

I grew up in three small towns. For the first 9 years, in a town of less than 1,000 where the 3rd and 4th grades (for example) were in the same class.

When I was 8 I was doing the same work as the 7th graders without any real trouble. It's all this small school could really do for me. This was actually mostly OK. Sure I was largely around (much) older kids but it really wasn't as isolating as some other experiences posted here.

Next was a slightly larger town (5-10,000) for 4 years. In the 4th grade my spelling tested at the 10th grade+ (I ran out of "test"). In the 5th grade I was doing algebra and trigonometry. By the 7th grade I was doing calculus. Honestly, maths was really the only thing that interested me. Until that is my family got a computer we couldn't really afford (a VIC 20), which turned out to be fairly limited (much less so than the C64 that came after it).

I can distinctly remember at age 10 reasoning out that God didn't exist (I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic primary school with nuns and everything).

It's in this period where I think it became first apparent just how socially well-adjusted I wasn't. I think it's fair to say I didn't particularly know how to relate to others. Honestly, I'm not sure that still isn't true.

By 9 or so I could beat anyone I knew at Chess. Actually I think this was true at 7-8. Not that I knew anyone particularly good (not even remotely). Attempts to find a challenge from, say, chess AIs were pointless. They were pretty weak back then and tended to be defeated by going "off book".

Then came a move to a mining community of ~15-20,000, which I basically hated for the 5 years that constituted high school. The awkwardness and isolation from primary (elementary) school was compounded. It's always seemed to be that when it comes to social interactions and relationships, I somehow "missed out" on the instruction manual, or at least the training wheels, and the people around me were always speaking some language I just never understood.

I understood numbers and computers.

One of the problems was that I was bored. I found school so insanely easy. Nothing was really a challenge. I'd get told how smart I was. Only many years later did I fully appreciate just how much damage it does to be told you're smart. It demotivates you and isolates you.

I would fail assignments and classes because I didn't do them. Not because I couldn't do something but something was never good enough. Or I'd fear the embarrassment and "humiliation" of not knowing something and having that pointed out to me.

I can remember having conversations with my parents where I'd bring home a 90% in a test and I'd get asked "what about the other 10%?" I don't think this was asked in a way to be mean. In a strange way, I think it was a weird way of showing pride because all you can "complain" about is a missing 10%. Whatever the case and in spite of well-meaning intentions, the message that was hammered in was that nothing ever seemed good enough.

My father was a fitter and turner in the British merchant navy. His father and grandfather were likewise tradesmen. My mother dropped out of high school (although her father was a school teacher and principal for much of his life).

Basically I don't think they knew what to do with me. Academic pursuits weren't something they were equipped to deal with. My two sisters were cut from the same cloth, neither being remotely academic and neither finishing high school.

I took notes in class but never looked at them again. Either I didn't need to (particularly for maths) or I didn't care to (eg human biology). I never really learned how to study. I can remember scoring 85% in multiple choice exams for subjects I knew nothing about just by figuring out the skills to pass such exams.

So after finally finishing high school I went to university.

It may sound strange but I don't think it ever occurred to me in high school that I might do computer programming for a living. It's not like thought about it and either wanted to or didn't. I never even pondered the question.

I ended up applying to do a science/engineering double degree because it looked hard. A bunch of other people in my class also ended up applying for engineering because they didn't know what to do either but, as I learned years later, I seemed (to them) to know what I was doing. I have to wonder what they would've become had I gone to school elsewhere.

Whereas high school was structured, university was not. Nobody checked your attendance. Painful shyness quickly caused me to avoid going to lectures altogether. I was completely unequipped for university.

I barely skated through first year and bombed out in second year (when you actually had to work). Some years later, work finally cured me of many of the aspects of painful shyness (eg standing up in front of people and giving presentations).

At one point my parents thought to send me to boarding school (in a 1 million+ city). I fought this and deeply regret it. It was an unknown. I wonder how much better I could've done if I'd been put in an environment where academic excellence wasn't a recipe for instantly being ostracized (as it was in my shitty state high school).

Likewise I wish I'd stuck with university long enough to find some guidance and mentoring. All in all it feels like I drifted through the system and eventually fell through the cracks.

At no point did I ever really find people like me either. Through primary and high school, the towns seemed too small for that. The university had a computer club but I found that lot, as a whole, to be a pretentious lot with whom I had precious little in common. It seemed like university just had a different cookie-cutter mold for the "in" group.

Largely I was left alone (something I realize I quite clearly contributed to). To me though that seemed to be an improvement from high school so I just went with it.

Now my sisters both have children and I see them both laud their children by telling them "you're so smart". I try to tell them how damaging this is and they shouldn't but they just don't get it. Old habits kick in.

I envy those people who grew up in households where at least one parent had gotten a college degree (a friend I later made had a PhD in lithography stuff, 3 members of his immediate family had PhDs and a great uncle or something won the Nobel Prize for Physics a number of years ago).

I really don't have a solution here other than to hammer in the point: stop telling children they're smart. I don't think I'm any kind of genius but it certainly did me absolutely no good at all.

Thanks for sharing this. I have a bright five year-old and, having read articles like this one, my partner and I try praise effort as much as we can.

Here's the problem. For nearly all of the tasks she's set in school, she doesn't need to expend much effort at all. We say, "nice work, you must have tried really hard!" and she replies, a little confused at us, "no".

It sounds like you found everything too easy as well. What kind of feedback would have worked for you?

Just my two cents - as long as the grade is what's being praised, the kid won't be fooled- its attainment that's being rewarded, not effort. Find a way to teach them that achievement is hollow (and not true achievement) unless they really worked for it.

My parents were relentless in assessing my effort, not the grade I got - the grade itself was treated as an irrelevance (of course it wasn't to them, but the pretence was enough to fool me). Yes yes you got full marks - but the questions teacher said you needed a calculator to do, can you do them by hand? It's great you're keeping up with classwork - but if you flick ahead a few pages in the textbook you'll find extension exercises, have you done them too?

At the time, I did not appreciate this approach - I could outperform any of my friends and not receive the praise I felt was due me. In fact at 18 I got the highest grades in the UK - and still my parents expressed disappointment because they knew I was capable of higher (I got 100% in one subject, but a second was also attainable with more effort). I'm not saying this was a perfect strategy - it did go a little too far the other way and make me feel I wasn't capable of anything truly impressive.

However this article made me realise how important this was. By moving the emphasis away from the grades, you can define standards that are relevant for you; that genuinely do represent an achievement because they require great effort. For me that meant aiming for things other people said couldn't be done. I did an entire maths A-level from self-study alongside my other qualifications; I switched course at Uni and taught myself the entire first year Cambridge engineering course over the summer, so I could join in second year. However smart you are, there are always goals that require effort, as well as achievement, and you do someone a disservice if you encourage them to settle for less.

I can't speak for your child of course, but I can give you a little story. My wife and I went to the same schools since kindergarden (not same class) to university, so the topics and difficulty were about the same. She always had fantastic grades (90%+) and she got the encouragement that parents usually do ("You're so smart!", "Ohhh yes, she is very smart, she had a 100% on X"). I on the other hand, was an above average but didn't care much so my grades were just a bit better than average (70-80%) but something my father said always stuck with me "I don't want/need you to be a genius, just work hard." That's about what I remember of my parents parenting technique: "Just work hard".

Now, I'm 29, and never excelled at school, dropped out of University after one year, travel across Europe working as a programmer in many interesting projects and can say I live a normal balanced life. I don't dwell much on problems, and accept that things change and I can change.

My wife on the other hand, she has very low self esteem mostly because she believes that what she does is what she is. She can't change it. If she forgets about something she says she is dumb. If she breaks a glass, she says she is clumsy, and has a very hard time believing these things can change. She is stuck at a miserable job because she is too afraid to move and fail at the new one (even though she had better offers). She can't really separate what she 'is' from what she can become. For her, mostly due to the way her parents praised as a child, she came to believe we are born a certain way and can't really change.

Long story to mostly tell you (though, I'm not a parent yet so I can't say I know what the hell I'm talking about) that as long as you can teach your kid that what we become is product of what we do, and not who we are born, she will probably be ok. Try to find thing you can point to hard work. She does her homework? Nice, then tell her next time she gets a good grade "Good thing you did all you homework, see how it payed up". She may still think it was easy, but she her subconscious will link hard work and results.

This reminds me very much of the Carol Dweck's theory on the Fixed and Growth Mindset[1].

I too, was raised on a Fixed Mindset; "You're not good at math/physics/chemistry? That's ok, I'm sure you have other skills.". This caused me some level of discomfort in trying new things (which are necessary for any sort of growth) because at some point I could just reach 'the end of the road' and the limit of 'talent'. This has often caused me to avoid new and challenging things altogether.

Since a year or so I've been trying to adapt the Growth Mindset by interrupting my thought process when I feel this discomfort and (often literally) say to myself that it is not the outcome that matters, but the chance to improve your skills and extend your abilities. Failure is not about you and it should just be a trigger to try harder; the road does not end. I still fall in the same traps I used to, but I've said Yes to more (challenging) things this year than any other year and I haven't 'failed' nearly as much as I thought I would, nor did the failures have the impact I feared them to have. Growth really is a marvelous (and endless) thing.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindset_(book)

Glad to see it is working for you! Just bought the book you mentioned for her. Maybe it will help her. Thanks!

This reminds me very much of the Carol Dweck's theory on the Fixed and Growth Mindset[1].

As it should, since that was the point of the posted article...

You don't need to change your feedback, you need to change what she's doing. Get her into some more challenging stuff, stat.

I sailed through my cow-town high school and then got my ass handed to me in the first semester of a competitive engineering program. Academic probation, failed classes, and all the low self-esteem that came with it.

Yes, I eventually figured out how to succeed by working hard, but it would've been better to have known this going in. Plus I had the capacity to learn a lot more as a child than I actually did.

  Plus I had the capacity to learn a lot more as a child than I actually did.
I feel like this is true of the majority of people. I, for one, know that when I was doing math in grade school I usually grasped the concept on the day it was introduced, yet was forced to repetitively solve quiz-like problems for weeks afterwards. This only served to make me absolutely hate the idea of math. And I don't believe my ability to understand the concepts was far beyond most of the others in my class. In my classes at least, the pace of instruction was always slowed to the level of the slowest students. I consider it a tragedy that most of my fellow students and I could've been hammering through calculus by eighth grade and instead were barely scratching the surface of algebra.

My story was similar though not nearly as dramatic as your parents'.

I would suggest shifting your parenting focus away from school. If she's truly smart, she is going to be top of her class without any effort for at least another 6-8 years. So, what I would suggest is to first try and cultivate an ethic of going above and beyond, and always doing work you "can take pride in" (when the work is too easy, without established values it can get very hard to keep caring and avoid turning in B- after B-) and second turning her on to more outside of school. When I was a little kid this manifest as a voracious appetite for books and Legos, which fed my imagination and logical thinking. Magic (the card game) was my replacement for chess.

Different kids will be interested in different things, but in general they are hungry to learn, so if school is easy you just have to find that extra interest outside of school and they will go crazy. Science, especially life sciences, geology, and such are usually solid choices because a sharp child is going to be inquisitive about the world around them.

(Don't ignore school, of course)

I would have loved for someone to point the numerous events going on for kids all over the world, like NASA summer schools and the like. Your kid is probably a bit young, but if you keep your eyes open, you can find the good stuff in time. As others said, focus away from school sounds good. The nice thing about these activities is that you meet other kids like you (giving you a better frame of reference and tons of awesome friends) and that it's the topic that counts, not how you perform in comparison to the rest of the student body.

This. I agree completely. Get a bright kid to know other, possibly brighter kids in an environment that values them.

This is exactly the reason I have been drawn to HN. Being around people that are smarter than you is great motivation to increase your own knowledge. I only wish I could've been exposed to groups of similarly well-read and knowledgable people at an earlier age.

This is also the reason why good universities seem so attractive to a special kind of people -- they gather people with similar traits to theirs, and makes them focus on their common goal, that is, advancing their knowledge.

Nowadays, there are some really excellent textbooks, so that with enough effort, everyone can learn CS or Math himself, and with some funds also Physics, Chemistry etc. Unfortunately you cannot talk and share ideas with books.

I might respond to that as follows, which has the benefit of both encouraging effort, and being what is most likely the truth:

"It may not seem like a lot of effort now, but that is because you have worked so hard on so many similar tasks in the past; long practice makes for easy work."

Instead of trying to find a way to praise her schoolwork, you could acknowledge that so far she's been finding it really easy, and instead she could take all the extra time she has to explore difficult problems that she finds really interesting.

> We say, "nice work, you must have tried really hard!" and she replies, a little confused at us, "no".

Yeah, in my case that was confusing up until it became insulting, probably somewhere around 7 or 8. Into the teens and adulthood, it might end up encouraging someone to reducing their efforts until they just squeak by, depends on the personality. I'd focus more on figuring out what she actually finds hard or easy, boring or interesting.

Positive reinforcement isn't bad, per se, but that particular statement acts like everything should be hard, which can be just as damaging, albeit in different ways, than acting like everything is easy.

(By the way, if you haven't already, read up on Asperger's syndrome now. A lot of gifted kids have it and go undiagnosed into adulthood. Some end up fine, some end up junkies, almost all have a very confused adolescence and even more confused parents. If your daughter shows any signs, now is the time to start paying attention and trying to compensate. Notably, it can totally screw with how reward works. A lot of us place essentially no value on verbal praise, we require tangible rewards.)

that particular statement acts like everything should be hard

If it wasn't hard, why should you be praised at all?

Look up "positive reinforcement", it's a critical piece of context for the discussion at hand. The point is to make sure it's actually reinforcing the desired behavior without undesirable side effects.

But that's my point. You want to reinforce desired behavior, which in this case is effort. If you do something without effort, then what is there to warrant praise?

Whether the task would have required effort by some other hypothetical person isn't really relevant to the point. It would be appropriate to praise me for completing a marathon, but not Haile Gebrselassie.

I think the disconnect here is that you're starting from the premise that effort is the only thing that should be praised.

To start with, that fails to account for things like moral and ethical choices that don't require significant effort, but should still be praised when the correct choice is made.

More seriously, it distorts self-esteem and worldview. Results become unimportant, it is effort alone that matters. A child raised in such an environment will get its ass kicked in the real world where nobody cares about effort, only results.

Effort must be encouraged as a means to an end, not the end itself.

Well, moral and ethical choices aren't really the topic of the article, development of skills is, so that seems like a separate subject.

However, it doesn't seem to me that praising someone for not stealing every day is a good idea either. You should not steal because it's wrong, not because you get praised for it.

I don't know how you interpret the Dweck research as implying that results are unimportant. Why would you expend effort trying to accomplish something that is unimportant? Besides, the research shows that results improve when you encourage a growth mindset, regardless of your philosophical feelings about this.

Sorry, I was wrong. The disconnect is that you're not having anything like the conversation I'm having. I'm not interpreting any particular research done by any particular person, I'm speaking with regard to a particular action and child based on real-world personal experience and general informal psychological education.

Comment threads frequently run far away from the specifics of the originally linked article. You're imbuing the conversation with a context that isn't entirely there.

Ah, ok. I think we're on the same page now. Sorry to impart thoughts to you that weren't there.

I can distinctly remember at age 10 reasoning out that God didn't exist

Your logic was faulty. A God which does not interact with the universe is indistinguishable from a lack of God. (cf. Higgs Boson)

It's reasonable to assume he reasoned out the existence of God as taught to him by his Catholic parents because he realized some of the typical actions taken by this God don't jive with his understanding of Physics.

Sure. But that doesn't distinguish between the cases of "there is no God" and "there is a God, but He doesn't behave according to Catholic doctrine".

I think this exactly the problem with most arguments about God. People rarely state a definition of what constitutes a God. As far as I am personally concerned, a God who is not omniscient and omnipotent is no God at all; it's just a much more powerful being.

People sometimes choose to associate the Universe itself with God in the way Carl Sagan occasionally suggested (whether Mr. Sagan believes this entirely, I do not know) but I think at that point it's a question of naming. I call it Universe, someone else calls it God.

And you may not agree, but I posit that there's also a difference between "God is all-powerful and thus can overrule the laws of physics when so inclined" and "God can't exist because the laws of physics disprove him."

I'm not too solidly decided on faith myself, but if God created the universe, then you can't use the properties of that universe to disprove Him. It's like proving a theorem, finding it conflicts with some common axiom, and then saying you've disproved the axiom.

In your analogy, you assume that god exists. I could argue that if all unicorns are pink, then you can't disprove all unicorns are pink by showing me a blue one. That's like proving a theorem, finding it conflicts with your axiom, and saying you've disproved the axiom.


You're quite right, and I'm a little off. The point I'm trying to articulate, if not too well, is that in the case that God doesn't exist (at least as an omnipotent being), these questions hardly matter, and in the case that he does, it doesn't make sense to use the system we're in to prove the non-existence of something outside of it.

This is quite off-topic now, so if you want to reply, please send it to the address in my public profile. :)

There is a lot of hand waving and unintelligible “simplifications” of the Higgs Boson. It is very difficult to explain this without math, but some of the important points are:

IF the Higgs Boson exists, it interacts with the “usual” matter. The main part of the interaction is the (apparent) mass.

The Higgs field is not constant, we can think about the irregularities in the field are particles, this particles are the Higgs’ Bosons.

The experiments in the LHC are trying to measure how this Higgs’ Bosons bounce with the “usual” particles, how the Higgs’ Bosons are created from “usual” particles and how the Higgs’ Bosons splits in a few “usual” particles.

The experiments try to get an isolated Higgs Bosons for a very small time, because they are not stable (perhaps 10^-20 seconds?). It is impossible to see it during that small time, so the experiments analyze the particles that are created after the Higgs Boson splits.

All the process is very difficult and noisy, so the experiments have to run for a few years. The equipments is new and they have to tweak them. So for a few years, the will be no interesting new, like “Higgs Boson tot found above 180GeV.”. It is a good sign, it is what is expected to happen.

But in about four years, IF the Higgs Boson exists, they will find it, we only have to wait.

Something that doesn't interact with the universe doesn't exist. By definition.

I, like many "atheists," am not actually anti-God; I am anti-"having faith in particular answers to questions of fact". I believe OP (and most people who call themselves atheists) hold the same sentiment. This is technically agnosticism, but that carries an inaccurate connotation:

God is possible; that doesn't make it acceptable to accept with all your soul that he most certainly exists and is a good reason to allocate funding, make curriculum decisions, raise your children a certain way, etc. Whereas "agnostics" tend to say any religious belief/practice is acceptable.

Yes, scientists have theories, but these are tentative, with certainty increasing as warranted by evidence, and they're replaced (or expanded upon) when they break down. This is not at all the same thing as faith.

Given the use of the capital-G God, he probably means a specific one, not a deity in general.

Apparently this needs addressing.

Up until 10-12 I was relatively religious I guess as that was how I'd been raised... sort of. Well, my mother and her side of the family were religious. My dad wasn't. When we drive 30+ miles on Sunday to go to church (before we moved when I was 9) my dad would sit in the car while the rest of us went in.

The first revelation (excuse the pun) I had was that these religious people around me (teachers, nuns, priests and so on) didn't had some direct line to God. They were flawed as any of the rest of us. This came at about age 10 largely due to being blamed for something I didn't do.

Of course the mantra is that "people are flawed", "God works in mysterious ways" and other such platitudes but in my case the foundations were already crumbling. I basically rejected organized religion by age 11-12 and never looked back.

At this time and for awhile afterwards I took the "sitting on the fence" approach and described myself as agnostic (as many do I think). Basically this is a cop out though. It's simply not taking a position. But I guess not everyone needs to take a position but agnostic is basically saying "I don't care (one way or the other)" (although some would phrase this more along the lines of simply not knowing).

But some time later I eventually gave this up and essentially became a hardline atheist. Personally, I find the notion of a divine being--any divine being--to be ridiculous and simply the byproduct of the human fallacy to see patterns in randomness ("I prayed for rain today and it rained therefore there is a God. Last month I prayed for rain and there was no rain so I guess God Has A Plan [tm].").

Not that I don't think religion is useful. It's really a form of community and moral enforcement. Some people need to be told what to do. Others simply need to fit in somewhere (we all do in different ways). Yet others find comfort in the idea that when you die you simply cease to exist (which is something we're not well-equipped to comprehend). I get all that.

Take that as you will.

FWIW, I agree with you: There's no logical reason to believe that there is a god, and Occam's razor argues in favour of believing the contrary.

My point was just that in a strict logical sense you can't prove that this belief is correct -- or put another way, I'm more militantly logical than I am militantly atheist.

Do you apply that to other areas? Do you avoid saying that e.g. invisible pink unicorns do not exist?

I think it is reasonable to take everyday speech saying "does not exist" as meaning "appears not to exist, and if it does exist this is indistinguishable from not existing".

Do you avoid saying that e.g. invisible pink unicorns do not exist?

Come to think if it, I'm pretty sure I've never stated "invisible pink unicorns do not exist". On the other hand, I've never had to avoid saying it either; oddly enough, I've never felt any urge to comment on the possible existence of invisible pink unicorns until now.

But this is immaterial to the issue at hand, which is one of logical arguments, not mere validity of statements. I don't believe that invisible pink unicorns exist, but I would never state that I had logically proven that invisible pink unicorns do not exist.

He didn't say that it was logically proven, just that he "reason[ed it] out". That's pretty informal and I think does not need any caveats along the line of "it could exist in such a way that is indistinguishable from not existing". After all, if I reason out that there's no such thing as ghosts, that doesn't mean I'm claiming to have a perfect logical proof that shows that they're impossible, just that according to the evidence it doesn't look like they're real.

Have you considered that God doesn't fall into the same category as an invisible unicorn?

The IPU is a poor analogy for disproving the existence of God because it gives up too much ground.

God is in the same category as a square circle. Something that is self-contradictory and therefore cannot exist.

I'd hope we don't have to be held to our convictions as conceived at age ten.

One of my older sisters tried to get my parents to send me to a boarding school in Aberdeen - quite a way from where I grew up. At the age of 10 or so when this suggested it utterly terrified me!

Now that we send our son to a private school (not boarding - 5 minutes walk from where we live) I'm now acutely aware of how good private schools can be, so I do tend to wonder how things might have turned out. [And I'm pretty sure I would have loved playing rugby as much as my son does].

That's interesting. So what you're saying is basically that if a kid is smart then he will be smart even without verbal acknowledgement of it. So it's better to keep hammering "you're really disciplined!" because then the kid will be smart AND disciplined. The latter of which is a learned trait, as opposed to raw smarts.

  > So what you're saying is basically that if a kid is
  > smart then he will be smart even without verbal
  > acknowledgement of it
You basically want to pour all of the positive feedback into the tools that will help the child in the future. No matter how 'smart' the child is, they will need to learn discipline, study skills, etc.

Even if the child has a natural knack for picking things up quickly, that won't always be the case. Those sort of abilities tend to plateau after high school, which can make university a challenge.

It's possible that you could get away with calling your child smart, so long as you worked to instill the idea that the only way to 'stay smart' is through hard work and discipline.

'Raw Smarts' is a slightly odd concept. I'm no psychologist, but I think that the majority of current research points towards the idea that ability in almost anything is essentially a consequence of practice and experience.

I think the real issue is telling kids that they have an innate gift for anything. If you tell them they're smart, there's a natural assumption not to bother working. If you tell them they're disciplined, they won't look for ways to keep themselves motivated.

I'd be more inclined towards saying something more along the lines of "you're doing really well at X" - providing useful, motivational feedback, without implying that no work is necessary.

Personally, as someone who coasted through a lot of school but ran into trouble later (effectively because I'd forgotten how to 'pedal') the two things I would have been most grateful for:

1. Balance. If someone has a facile grasp of e.g. science and maths, don't (from a young age) overly steer them towards specialising in it. Instead, say "for the rest of this academic year, you only need to do a 'maintenance' level of work on science, so we're going to take that time and spend it on areas you're less good at". Of course, this level of personal attention is expensive, because it implies stuff like small classes and high-quality teachers who care - but OTOH I was lucky enough to have those things, but not with this strategy.

2. Challenge. Science and maths were always easy for me, so I never had to work. This is damaging. So there would also have been value in doing the the converse of point (1) - saying "for the rest of this academic year, you only need to do a 'maintenance' level of work on the standard science curriculum, so we're going to use that as an opportunity for you to do harder, more independent work in those areas" and develop a better work ethic and an ability do do things independently. Again, needs lots of personal attention and even better teachers.

We sometimes do OK-ish at (2) - in a fairly haphazard kind of way, and partly because kids tend to do it for themselves - but I can't think of any examples of anyone really pursuing (1) (may be different in different cultures). This is an opportunity, because (1) requires a lot less deep subject knowledge, so is much more feasible for parents to pursue.

Ultimately though, optimising for the top end becomes expensive quite fast, and while it's important to keep pushing the boundaries, I'd much rather the investment was put into improving the state of education for everyone, rather than fine-tuning the path for those who will be at least OK regardless.

'Raw Smarts' is a slightly odd concept. I'm no psychologist, but I think that the majority of current research points towards the idea that ability in almost anything is essentially a consequence of practice and experience.

As far as I'm aware, ability is generally considered to be something along the lines of practice x innate talent. So while it's true that ability scales with practice, it's not true that talent doesn't matter.

Here is a rather famous chart which illustrates this: http://www.iqcomparisonsite.com/Images/OccsX.jpg

This was very apparent when I taught college. I had plenty of students who worked hard, but it just didn't pay off. I had students working 30 hours/week on my class and still failing, but no matter how hard they worked, they just couldn't come up with proofs. Similarly, there were quite a few who just showed up, read the book once, and could do it.

(Incidentally, because I fell into the latter category, I was pretty much incapable of helping people in the former category. Just one of the many reasons why researchers often make bad teachers.)

Ultimately though, optimising for the top end becomes expensive quite fast, and while it's important to keep pushing the boundaries, I'd much rather the investment was put into improving the state of education for everyone, rather than fine-tuning the path for those who will be at least OK regardless.

What benefit do you feel will be gained by improving education for everyone, as opposed to helping those at the top? I.e., why do you believe better educated plumbers will provide more benefit than better educated scientists, engineers, artists and business leaders?

(See my other reply for more on my understanding of innate ability)

> As far as I'm aware, ability is generally considered to be something along the lines of practice x innate talent.

Right, but it's not a simple multiplication (AFAIK/IMO). The research suggests that ultimately practice dominates. I can't think right now as to how to cast that as an equation, but it has more non-linear terms. As to the IQ chart, I'm not convinced that that trend is statistically significant; even if it is, IQ is a pretty funny metric for 'innate talent' in most contexts.

There's also the issue of the nature and quality of the practice. I can work arbitrarily hard at something, but unless I'm targeting that effort effectively and using appropriate feedback mechanisms, it's entirely possible for me to accomplish literally nothing. How one acquires the ability to practice effectively is the meta-problem, and one which I'm still working on.

In the particular case of math proofs (which I think you're referring to) you have the additional issue that (I think - I'm not a mathematician) proofs often require intuitive leaps. This raises additional problems, because (if you're thinking in terms of acquired ability rather than talent) intuition is typically associated with high levels of expertise - e.g. in the Dreyfus model, you expect intuitive solutions from the highest two levels ('proficient' and 'expert') which you'd expect only a fairly small proportion of individuals to reach (incidentally, the Dreyfus model also suggests that you don't really want 'proficient' or especially 'expert' individuals teaching the lower levels ('novice', 'advanced beginner' and 'competent') precisely because of this qualitative difference in problem-solving style, which validates the construct inasmuch as it reflects your experience). In this scheme, intuition is (horribly simplified) superb pattern-matching, which is almost certainly not what your hard-working students will have been practicing (in my experience, stereotyped 'hard workers' focus on the mechanical aspects of a subject). Teaching intuition/pattern-matching is of course really hard.

> What benefit do you feel will be gained by improving education for everyone, as opposed to helping those at the top? I.e., why do you believe better educated plumbers will provide more benefit than better educated scientists, engineers, artists and business leaders?

Currently, where I live (UK), it's well accepted that there are massive differences between private and public education, as well as within the public education system. From what I've written, you can probably guess that I don't really hold with the idea of innate talent, and I don't believe that you can necessarily differentiate between 'future plumbers' and 'future [scientists|artists|etc]' until late adolescence or possibly even later. Combining that with the fact that I think that equality of opportunity is really important, I'm not really comfortable with significant investment in optimising for 'gifted' individuals until we've run out of ways to add resources to bringing up weaker parts of the education system.

It's really hard to predict how altering the balance of ability will affect both the average and the top end - will improving the high achievers pull everyone else up with them? Will raising the median motivate the high achievers to do even better? - so I'd rather support the strategy which has obvious direct social benefits (improve equality of opportunity) rather than one with the potential to maybe advance the leading edge a little faster.

I didn't mean to propose an exact multiplicative relationship. I merely used it to illustrate how the two claims

a) innate talent exists and is important

b) practice is also important

are not incompatible.

As for correlation between IQ and various professions, not to mention wages, there is plenty of statistically significant data on this. See for example [1], which shows excellent correlations between AFQT (the US Army's IQ-like test) scores and post-military wage (not to mention many specific objectively graded tasks within the armed forces).

(Note that IQ test-retest scores tend to be highly correlated - it's rare that a child scoring 1 stdev below the mean will later score 1 stdev above the mean.)

In the particular case of math proofs (which I think you're referring to) you have the additional issue that (I think - I'm not a mathematician) proofs often require intuitive leaps...Teaching intuition/pattern-matching is of course really hard.

True. But nevertheless, some students pick it up immediately while others never do. The question arises, why?

Also, as for what is "well accepted", there are lots of things in the field of education that are well accepted but false. For example, people widely believe that test prep significantly improves SAT scores [2]. They also believe school quality (rather than % of Asian students) explains many of the differences in test outcomes between US schools and Asian schools [3]. See also Bryan Caplan's book [4] which shows lots of evidence that most of what is done to children before age 18 has little effect on adult outcomes.

So if you have evidence that public schools and private schools significantly affect outcomes, go ahead and post it. But most of the evidence I've seen suggests school quality is dwarfed by non-school factors. People just ignore the evidence because they don't like the conclusion.

[1] Handbook of the economics of education, by Hanushek and Welch

[2] Studies funded by parties other than Kaplan tend to disagree. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124278685697537839.html

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trends_in_International_Mathema...

[4] http://www.amazon.com/Selfish-Reasons-Have-More-Kids/dp/0465...

While I accept that IQ has some statistically significant correlations with interesting things, and is stable within individuals, I don't think there is consensus as to what that actually means. But I might just need to read more. Actually, I always need to read more.

That aside, I think the core disagreement here is that (I think) we have both taken the same data (a lot of stuff surrounding 'hard work' and education is clearly utter rubbish) and taken it in two different directions: you've gone in a more innate-ability, behavioural-genetics direction (I think), while I'm more interested in things like the effect of practice. The nature-vs-nurture debate will probably outlive both of us, and there is evidence for both arguments.

Ultimately, I don't find innate stuff that interesting, because there is nothing I can do about it. I would rather focus on a minor factor that I can change than a major factor that I can't, and the research suggests that practice et al are far more than minor factors. So I focus on those. And until the debate is resolved, I will continue to espouse education policies which reflect that attitude.

Thanks for the references; a couple there that I hadn't seen before, and it's always worth reading stuff that disagrees with you.

I don't find innate stuff that interesting, because there is nothing I can do about it.

This isn't really true. If you lack innate abilities in a field where such abilities are required, isn't it better to find a different field?

I.e., if you are a 5'4", a very obvious action you can take as a result is not to waste time pursuing a career in the NBA or NFL.

That's nuts. My sisters and brothers and I out-performed everybody at our rural school, throughout our primary/secondary education. We were being brought up on a farm. There was zero practice and experience at academic subjects - we did chores, milked cows(!), made hay.

There HAS to be some nature-component to our successes (1 VP/Intel, 2 Directors at other tech companies, 2 researchers, 1 entrepreneur :)

Again, I'm not a psychologist, so this is only my (limited) interpretation of what I've read.

I'm not saying that there is no nature-component. But, (AFAIK) there is no real evidence for something that would correspond to some idea of 'Raw Smarts' that (a) has a meaningfully large effect compared to practice and experience, and (b) generalises.

What I've read suggests that, yes, there are a whole bunch of nature-components and nurture-components which initially serve to differentiate ability in young children. But the direct effects of these get quite rapidly dominated by the feedback loop of ability->motivation->practice->ability. So there's an initial differentiation - because of a subtle difference in brain chemistry, or earlier maturation, or better access to books, or competition with high-achieving siblings :); but in the longer term, there's a pretty consistent picture that excellence and ability at a high level is dominated by deliberate practice and sustained effort over time.

Of course, psychology research is hard to separate from its social context and underlying cultural assumptions, and it may just be that our egalitarian culture is uncomfortable with the idea of innate ability dominating, and steers research accordingly. Or I may just be missing the point entirely.

The essence of my point is that, as things currently stand, the research suggests that innate ability is not a significant component of ultimate achievement, and that we should therefore not predicate our approach to education upon the idea that it is dominant (which is what the comment I was replying to seemed to suggest).

That makes sense. There's nothing more common than the high-IQ underachiever.

We didn't have books (2 in the house, gifts from older cousins), but we were fairly competitive. And our folks told us "You guys are smart; you'll all go to college". So we did.

I went to college with people who had been raised according to the "praise hard work" theory (i.e. Asians), and it's got its own set of problems, I think.

Asians aren't praised for hard work, they are praised for getting the top score (whether it required hard work or not is usually irrelevant)

Which problems?

You initial stab at college sounds strikingly like mine. After my ridiculously bad run through High School, I made the mistake of going straight on to college and bombed out within the first year.

It took me 3-4 years, working out in the world at crap jobs, to motivate me to go back. It's never too late to head back in. I worked full-time all through university and after 10 years earned up to my M.S. but I did it debt free, and getting promotions/better jobs as I slowly, agonizingly, climbed up the education ladder was a powerful motivator (I also met my wife in school, and made many great friends).

It can get rather political, but the general definition of giftedness is to be in the top 5% on a good, standardised test of cognitive ability, such as the WISC or WJ-III. If you were at the top of any representative group of just 20 children of the same age, you were clearly gifted. In some schemes, a smaller number qualify as highly, exceptionally then profoundly gifted.

It's worth nothing that there's no rule that someone can't be both gifted and dyslexic, for example.

I had two parents with post-graduate degrees, but your experience sounds quite a bit like mine. I waited until year four to really bomb in University (mainly due to painful shyness that had been dormant until that point). I stuck with it, but that was a really eye-opening experience.

I'd like to think the Internet has changed this to some extent. My guess is that I would have found it a godsend. I remember trying to learn advanced statistics and getting frustrated because all of the software was expensive. Nowadays you've got a huge amount of free software and even more importantly strong active communities around it. I am cautiously optimistic that this will help connect lonely smart kids to others in the world who share their interests.

You mention that you correct your sisters when they tell their children "you're smart"- but what would you do differently if you could get a chance to change things.

I venture that the 'not smart' and 'smart' kids both suffer from social anxiety & lack of motivation issues. Could some of your ideas be the ground for an educational startup?

I tried contacting you through your blog, however when I try and submit my message, it redirects it to a 404 page.


EDIT: And by "fixed" I mean it points to a new page. The old Contact page is essentially dead. Click on the link again.

It's still redirecting me :|

> I can remember having conversations with my parents where I'd bring home a 90% in a test and I'd get asked "what about the other 10%?" I don't think this was asked in a way to be mean. In a strange way, I think it was a weird way of showing pride because all you can "complain" about is a missing 10%. Whatever the case and in spite of well-meaning intentions, the message that was hammered in was that nothing ever seemed good enough.

THIS attitude has scarred me for life. Even if I came first in the exams, first in coursework, and got 90%, my parents would be disappointed in my failure to get the other 10%, which'd frequently result in beatings or expulsions from the household.

As a result, I now work myself to the bone, constantly abuse myself mentally, and can never get a sense of satisfaction or achievement from anything I do, as I've been trained to believe that everything I do is worthless.

Sorry to hear that. The ridiculous pressures placed on gifted kids in this regard is widespread and, IMO, not healthy for society as a whole. But usually doesn't involve beatings. However, it is possible to undo the damage. I walked away from a national merit scholarship and dropped out of college to go find out who I was other than an obnoxious brainiac. I wish I had some words of wisdom to help you. No advice comes to mind (but then I don't typically do advice anyway).

Consider this a cyberhug and meant in the best way possible. If you aren't the huggie type, then a cyberbow if that works better.


The problem with pop psychology is that it often is not quite right. A half dozen decades ago, the "new idea" was that kids should not be beaten, but encouraged (spare the rod and spoil the child). In the last decade or two, we've learned that the kind of praise you employ is important, and the advice now is to praise effort rather than innate ability.

Once you get into the real world, though, you learn that effort isn't as important as doing the right things well. School itself is teaching us the wrong thing, and this effort-praising business is compounding it. Trying really hard at History when you don't like it isn't going to make your life much better in the long run, it's just going to be hours and hours that could have been spent furthering some other ability or otherwise enjoying childhood.

In a couple more decades, we'll have a shiny new experiment that shows that praising effort has ruined a couple generations, teaching them that life is nothing but hard work, soldiering through undesirable situations without considering importance or relevance. We'll learn that we need to teach children reflection, to foster creativity, and to encourage curiosity. Then we'll learn that those kids don't work hard enough, and the parenting industry will roll on...

Rural parents have had it right for generations. Making kids play outside, giving them real responsibilities (e.g., necessary farm chores), and teaching them a variety of skills outside the classroom is practically guaranteed to result in well-rounded, well-adjusted children. You don't need to read the latest parenting mumbo-jumbo to know how to raise a kid.

I don't know if it's a sign of some neurotic behavior, but I hate it when people use the word bright. And, for whatever reason, they use it a lot. I find it patronizing if not placating--especially when my work isn't appreciated by people that rationally couldn't possibly appreciate it on a deep level without me interpreting it for them (i.e. not their fault).

It always feels like a qualifier or platitude. "I know you're bright, but". Everybody says you should sell yourself, but as a child I always tried to NOT sell myself. I just wanted to get by with minimal effort, because those endevours (e.g. school) were meaningless to me beyond a score that may aid in perusing things I care about. I always felt like the bar was set low because kids in general don't try. There was zero advantage to distinguishing one's self other than higher expectations for the same, hollow A.

There's one particular example that always sticks with me. I remember taking Spanish from a charming, eccentric Argentinian woman. The work was simple, so I began to embellish the little side projects and essays. Why not? I had nothing else to do with the remaining 30 minutes of class. I turned in work; I got good grades. No misunderstanding.

But, eventually, I got bored and just did enough to satisfy an A. My heart just wasn't into embellishing Juan's illustrious adventure at the hospital. It didn't garner anything more. There wasn't an A++ or Super A.

During the next PTA meeting, my adorable Spanish teacher burst into tears. Why? Because I wasn't trying anymore. My heart just wasn't in it. Despite the fact 95% of the class gave no fucks whatsoever, my decline crushed her.

This fortified the notion, in my mind, that it's not worth being seen as bright or exceptional insofar it gains you nothing. It only means you are expected to do more for an A or the same baseline salary as that jerk-off you tutored Business Calculus to. If you can't sell it, don't do it. Yet, somehow, people always end up using that word -- bright. Again, I wonder if it's simply a nice way of saying idiosyncratic, since I try my hardest to not act "bright" in anyway. I simply try to not be dim-witted and do good work.

(I also find it somewhat worthless coming from most people, since I've known genius-level, 160-170IQ types. I'm nowhere near that realm of existence. And, yes, those people do live in a different world than us albeit sometimes not good).

Bright kids put schools in a difficult position, to be sure. The biggest problem with them is they're still just kids. They may be high-IQ, but they've got kid-like focus, maturity, self-motivation, etc. It would be relatively easy to just take high-IQ children and let them tool around on their own, but that's not a good idea because they'll never learn study skills and organizational skills that are so necessary to succeed in the real world.

Gifted and talented programs are, of course, an option, but they cost money and even when they're available they're often too-little, too-late. Magnet high schools, for example, don't do much good when a kid has been figuring out who to avoid schoolwork to spare himself from the sheer boredom since kindergarten.

I think a good solution would be to develop specialized curricula for advanced students at the state or national level (segregated by area to account for students who are advanced in some areas but not others). Obviously it would be logistically impossible for teachers to teach and grade these different assignments, but gifted students tend to be able to self-teach, and grading should be purely based on effort anyway.

Like many HNers, I was a pretty bright kid growing up. I scored embarrassingly well on most aptitude tests, and before entering middle school found myself the subject of repeated IQ, aptitude, learning style, personality style, thinking style, and psychological analysis by befuddled education specialists trying to figure out why I did so poorly in school.

Here's a sample of what I endured before entering 6th grade.

-6 IQ tests (the first when I was 4!)

-ITBS (I scored so high I had to take it twice, the second time isolated in a room with two observers since they thought I had cheated)

-MBTI - INTJ - I've taken this test at least a dozen times

-Keisey - I'm unfortunately a Mastermind

- Holland - Strongly R-I-A

- Various Thinking Style tests (abstract-to-concrete, abstract-sequential)

- Hermann A-D

When I got to High School, I endured another battery of tests (3 more IQ tests), interviews and other ridiculous activities. I spent one day a week sequestered in a "gifted lab" where I was expected to produce works of art or something, but I found interminably contrived and boring.

Why did I do so bad in school despite these indicators of intelligence? I was miserable. From 1st grade on I was miserable. I hated school and everything about it. Arbitrary rules, boring wrote memorization, pep rallies, uninteresting subjects, teachers more inclined to deal with behavior issues in class than teach anything. I only bothered to attend instead of skip classes because the school had a decent liberal arts program (which was fun and had teachers that "understood" being miserable in school) and I helped start a poetry club with several other disaffected youths.

The truth is that I felt like, and in fact was, socially outcast by all of the special programs, tests, special classes, after school mentoring programs etc. I couldn't really enjoy talking with other kids my age in the normal classes and getting involved in "special" classes instantly cast you as an outcast.

After enduring all that I never bothered to take the PSATs, SATs, GREs. I didn't care. I was done being tested, probed and made to do what others wanted in the interest of nurturing my potential.

The truth is that, as a smart, self motivated kid, I kept myself plenty occupied by intellectual pursuits. Just outside of school. I built computers, wrote software, wrote music (often in math class), performed in community orchestras, drew in pencil, created alphabets, painted, studied a couple martial arts, read an extraordinary number of books, played piano for modern dance recitals, published poetry, got heavily involved in the demoscene. School was to be endured, not to succeed in.

When I turned 15 I started feeling hopelessly trapped in a system and a world I couldn't escape. Buoyed by my "successes" in various IQ/Aptitude tests, I thought the world just didn't "get" me. I started having suicidal thoughts. At 16 I found myself thinking seriously about killing myself. I spent more than one night at my sink with a kitchen knife at my wrist wondering if I should go ahead and make the cut or not. It was not a good place to be. I was saved by my music, and ability to experience frisson (as weird as it sounds).

I did plenty of extracurricular I suppose, just none that would work on a university application.

Kids who succeeded in school were "losers" (I mistakenly thought), since they didn't have the inner light that led to self-creation (or so I thought). Regurgitation of endless facts and conforming to what the teachers wanted did not impress me.

Despite being extraordinarily bright, I was also hopelessly naive.

After graduating HS (just barely). I took a couple years off to find myself and to grow up a little. The rarefied environment I grew up in (along with some family issues) just gave me no chance to do that -- my IQ was high, but my EQ was low.

If I could do it all over again? I'd do the normal classes with the normal kids. I'd avoid all of the tests and other nonsense. I'd join the baseball team and the debate club. Get a perfect SAT score and get into a top school. Selling out? Maybe. But I think I'd have a been a lot less miserable and saved fighting the system for a later time.

Why did I do so poorly in school despite the tests? It was probably the tests. I was told I was so smart so many times that the effect mentioned in this article seems particularly germane. I didn't work hard, so I didn't do well, but I tested high, so I thought the system was broken, not me. I was already smart, so I didn't need that fact positively reinforced, but I did need instances of hard work reinforced. I had no work ethic coming out of high school, I simply did things that interested me and dropped things that didn't.

I've thankfully grown out of many of these things, and the mantra I've used is simple, "If you're so smart, you should be able to figure out how to <insert problem>." If it's doing well in school, socializing well, working hard, etc. I try and overcome my problem with that simply phrase. It sounds silly, but it works and I wish I had known it growing up. I would have been a lot happier.

My god, this sounds so much like me! Although I'm not always miserable, only I'd always done well in school except for the last two years when everything just got very, very boring.

I graduate this year, and everything you've said in: > At 16 I found myself thinking seriously about killing myself. I spent more than one night at my sink with a kitchen knife at my wrist wondering if I should go ahead and make the cut or not. It was not a good place to be. I was saved by my music, and ability to experience frisson (as weird as it sounds). I did plenty of extracurricular I suppose, just none that would work on a university application. Kids who succeeded in school were "losers" (I mistakenly thought), since they didn't have the inner light that led to self-creation (or so I thought). Regurgitation of endless facts and conforming to what the teachers wanted did not impress me. Despite being extraordinarily bright, I was also hopelessly naive. Applies to me.

Could you please tell me how you got yourself out of this? I'm quite desperate here.

It sounds hopelessly stupid, but it saved me. I'm one of the few percentage of the population that can frisson to certain works of music.


When I was sitting there, knife to my wrist, the thought of all of the music that I would miss, that I wouldn't discover or be able to frisson to (I didn't know what it was called at the time and only learned what it was decades later, but I knew it was very real for me) was the one thing I couldn't accept.

I've never regretted that decision.

What I've found is that outside of academia, the real world problems are so messy, and so complicated, that it takes all of my intelligence to work on those problems and deal with other messy soft issues, like selling my ideas to higher ups, or balancing financials against employees, are so intellectually stimulating that it literally "gets better" if you have the drive and will to find a line of work where you get to work on interesting problems.

(I've always thought the wonderful "it gets better" ads do a disservice to other disaffected members of society by not talking specifically to us, even if the message it true for more than the community they target)

As a matter of fact, it doesn't just get better, it gets awesome. I've gotten a job I never get bored of, I got the girl, I get a pretty nice paycheck, live a nice life, travel as much as I want to wherever I feel like (see the world!), and always work to write a novel of my life that I'd find interesting.

Just remember, if you are as smart as they say you are, you can figure out how to solve your own problems. Not popular at school? That's a solvable problem. No girlfriend? Solvable. Bad grades? You can solve it. Your mind is your most powerful and flexible asset, you can use it to do anything you really put your mind to, even things that don't come naturally once you solve the problem of learning how to grind on boring stuff.

I had no idea frissoning was a unique thing. How repeatable is it for you? I've felt it countless times from music or moments in film or life in general when I experience something that is particularly profound or impressive on a visceral level. It's not a daily occurrence though. I've usually attributed it to the feeling of getting a surge of adrenaline. Interesting.

I can't repeat it much. I don't go chasing after it; I let it find me. It isn't something you can conjure up over and over. You feel like you are in contact with beauty itself, and then you are forever changed. The experience is fleeting, but I remain grateful for it when it happens.

In my case I found it in some music that I found at the exact right moment in my life and it served as a sort of pivot point to open myself up to life more. It's hard to know what caused what exactly; I don't believe it necessary to boil it down to something that would appease the cynics of the world. I instead see it as something of an omen: that I'd one day be able to participate in this thing called music.

It's a long road, but I thank you for reminding me of it.

Sounds like a mystical experience. Maybe something to look into?

If anything, I'd describe the experience (if what I experience is the same thing) as similar to, if not the same thing as, a small shot of endorphins dumped directly into the base of your neck.

Yeah I've experienced it.

Are you saying it's not commonly experienced?

I personally have no idea if it is common or not.

If I find a new piece of music that triggers a strong reaction, it can be very repeatable. For example, when I was 12 I had a tape of some Rachmaninoff performances with one particular section in I think the Paganini Variations, only a few seconds long, that would send me into the stratosphere.

I played it thousands of times until the tape finally broke.

It's very different than finding something beautiful or sublime.

For example, this is a stunning work of music, I find myself enthralled with it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZn_VBgkPNY

However, the opening of this piece will cause me to frisson mildly http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KDoz-7IHI4

While the first 3 minutes or so of this will send me into outer space http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uOxOgm5jQ4

Sadly, it'll often wear itself out if I play a piece of music too often. Sometimes I'll "save" certain pieces of music and only play them once or twice a year to experience the "flavor" of the frisson to that music.

It won't happen if I'm extremely stressed. It's actually a way I can tell I'm stressed, if music that should cause me to frisson doesn't. I've worked out some mental exercises and visualizing techniques to overcome the stress and let it happen which has been a great sort of therapy.

I've always had that reaction to that 3rd piece too. I wonder if there is any objective reason for that.

For me it is very repeatable, I can call it up if I'm not in a very wrong mood. Interesting to know it's got a name. I talked to several religious people about how they know there is a god. What they described to me sounded a lot like this feeling, just a different conclusion from mine - if I interpreted them correctly. If this is true it might be quite common.

Any citations for it only being a few percent of the population who can experience frisson? It seems more common than that, in my experience.

I've heard between 10-35% can experience it depending on the study (it's extraordinarily high in the population who go on to become musicians). I've personally only ever met 1 or 2 other people who claimed it.

Fascinating. I "frisson" to music often, and I had always assumed that everyone else felt the same sensation with their favorite music or other art.

> I'm one of the few percentage of the population that can frisson to certain works of music.

I've been labeling this feeling as an ASMR[1] (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). Is it really a rare occurrence? I can pretty much do this on demand when listening to certain songs/types of music.

[1] http://www.asmr-research.org/

My understanding is that ASMR and Frisson are similar, but different experiences. As far as I can tell, I can frisson, but not ASMR.

Interestingly, reddit has both a frisson and an ASMR subreddit.

I know that frisson is highly personal. What causes me to frisson won't cause another person to frisson, and I only know a couple people personally who I believe can frisson (but nobody really talks about it, because there's simply no awareness of it).

I don't know if the same is true for ASMR. But the triggers people post in the subreddit are not representative of anything that's ever triggered a frisson in me (soft voices, clicking sounds, etc.).

But that doesn't stop people from trying to share their triggers for each phenomenon!




I knew about the ASMR subreddit, but the frisson one is new to me. They are both strange. I do get chills/euphoric sensations from certain music and certain sounds, though. It would be cool to know exactly what's going on.

>Why did I do so poorly in school despite the tests? It was probably the tests. I was told I was so smart so many times that the effect mentioned in this article seems particularly germane. I didn't work hard, so I didn't do well, but I tested high, so I thought the system was broken, not me. I was already smart, so I didn't need that fact positively reinforced, but I did need instances of hard work reinforced. I had no work ethic coming out of high school, I simply did things that interested me and dropped things that didn't.

That I think is the most essential point you've made, how did you get around that? If I know that then I certainly wouldn't be this depressed.

The how for me usually comes through a change in attitude. One such change is knowing that learning boring things now can pay off down the line, that what you're doing pays off. Once you accept that, you'll approach the mundane shit with new vigor. For me in high school, I hated history class - you learn some remote facts, you memorize them, you spit them out in an essay on a test. Who the hell cares? We had shitty weekly assignments where you literally just made an outline of the chapter you were reading. I remember very little of the actual content. But ... years later I'm really glad that I have the skill to quickly scan and digest mundane information. This ability didn't just happen - no one is born with a text filter that magically highlights important facts in paragraphs.

Not all the mundane bullshit you have to do will be important later in your life. But you won't know beforehand what parts were good and what parts weren't. So you can sink into not caring, or you can believe that maybe 1/5 boring things will save your ass someday. Sure, you might be smarter than your teachers now, but knowing how to impress 'dumber' people is a really important skill that about 50% of smart people don't grasp.

I've been through similar things, and I should emphasize that things do get better as bane says.

Here's a comic that helped to remind me that at some point it wasn't just about learning bullshit, but that at the end of the day you can do really cool things with crap that seems boring and trivial now: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2125#c...

how did you get around that

Get around what exactly? I don't think he is saying he got around anything - just that he dropped things he didn't like.

If I know that then I certainly wouldn't be this depressed

It probably doesn't sound useful, but there probably isn't a single simple answer to how. BUT - more usefully, there are simple answers to when. Things will get awesome in somewhere between 1 and 3 years - as soon as you find fulfilling things to do, with people who get you. This will happen. It will take longer than you would like, or seems reasonable, or be easy, but it is achievable.

I meant how did he manage to stop doing that, unless he continues to do so, yet things are awesome for him now. I want to know how things managed to become awesome if he still continues to drop boring things, or how he managed to convince himself to work on boring things.

I didn't drop boring things. I taught myself how to do them. Take history for example, in HS I found it excruciatingly boring. Later in college I challenged myself to take it again and ace it. All that stuff I thought was boring, I learned to see it as interesting. As an evolving system. Piecing bits of history together, seeing the evolution of tax systems, or military patterns, or whatever.

Eventually, I got to the point where I could afford to travel a bit. And here's where the awesome part comes in. When I went to Athens, I could visualize Hadrian walking through his arch down to the temple of Zeus. Or in Florence, walk the exact same streets as Michelangelo and see exactly where Savonarola was burned to death.

In Rhodes I could see the approach the armies of Salah ah-Din had to make to assault the fortress of the Knights of St. John. It wasn't just a wall, or a bunch of bricks, it was a living, breathing piece of history. And knowing the history of it, I felt connected to it.

And now that I know that history can be so enlightening, I seek it out where I don't know it. In Korea I learned about King Sejong the Great and why he's great, and suddenly I find I'm interested in linguistics and invented writing systems (great site btw http://www.omniglot.com/). And I find connections between things everywhere!

It's just history, but other things in life suddenly have a vibrancy and flavor I never saw, because I never knew how to see.

Oh, right.

Well I dropped boring things, and things turned out alright. Just make sure you aren't using that as an excuse for avoiding things that aren't as easy. I never found Math as easy as I'm sure some of the Math genius on HN find it, but I didn't drop it either, for example.

I do agree that developing a good work ethic is important.

I had to finish up high school, and simply get out in the real world. I worked odd jobs, shitty manual labor and such for a bit. When that got old (or I got tired of being outside) I found a job doing tech support. After a couple years of that I came away with two things

a) I had trouble doing tech support initially because communicating effectively with people is hard. I learned more skills related to handling people during that job than I have anywhere else, and it's the most valuable skill I've ever learned.

b) I absolutely hated doing tech support. I applied for some other, better jobs, and couldn't get them. Doing support couldn't pay my bills, and I finally found myself in a situation where I knew that the best way forward for me was to just go to school and get it over with. I took a couple remedial classes at the local community college to get over my fears from K-12, simple things like Algebra. But I took those classes also to learn how to study. If learned to grind. And I also learned that even when I thought I knew something, I learned I hadn't mastered it. If a teacher assigned 20 problems, I'd do 40, and invariably I'd find one or two I couldn't solve, or had trouble with.

I had to teach myself work ethic. Tell myself I was working hard, not that I was smart. After all, if I was so smart I wouldn't be 4 years out of High School taking Algebra classes at a Community College would I?

I generally avoided distractions, I had friends I studied with, but I didn't put a whole lot into the relationships. I eventually found people who were also interested in studying and working hard and we became a regular study group throughout most of my undergrad. That helped satiate my desire for human interaction, without becoming a drag on my time or a distraction away from school. I met my wife through that group. But we got together knowing we'd support each other through our schooling and study. So it wasn't like the relationship was a huge distraction like it can often become. (We studied extra together instead of going on dates, cheaper and more useful in the long run).

It wasn't easy. I still have work ethic issues that crop up. But I know how to spot them and work on working them out. Turns out these days, working in a more managerial position, most of the work is mindless grindwork, filling out paperwork, attending meetings, that sort of thing. But if I hand't taught myself to do it, I never would have made it.

The thing is, I knew I was smart, so I considered everything I couldn't do, even grindwork, as something I knew I could figure out. I took everything as a challenge to my intellect, and that's seen me through pretty well.

Here I was thinking frissoning to music was completely common. Except I never really stopped to wonder whether there was a word for that.

Thanks for helping me discover the word. It occasionally happens to me out of nowhere for no reason. I guess I'm trippin' on life?

If At 16 I found myself thinking seriously about killing myself. I spent more than one night at my sink with a kitchen knife at my wrist wondering if I should go ahead and make the cut or not. applies to you, you need to tell someone, if you haven't already.

Absolutely. No matter how bad it seems right now. It gets better. Don't ever give up, no matter how trapped you feel.

Feel like the entire Ocean is over your head and drowning? Just wait a bit. Even the tides fall to the moon.

Talk to someone. But just as important, don't give up. There's very few things you can get yourself into that you can't work your way out of.

I'm thinking of particularly recent cases like poor Ilya Zhitomirskiy.

Don't give up, don't give in, you are stronger and bigger than the emptiness you feel inside of your heart right now.

I'm similar too, except that my father drilled a work ethic in me. I also grew up in a very rural area. So, my father would give me projects that HAD to get done. Some examples: "If you don't split this firewood, we won't be able to heat the house in the Wintertime." "If you don't clean these ditches, now in the Fall, then the Spring snowmelt will wash-out our driveway." "If you don't carry buckets of water to the house this morning, we won't have any to use the rest of the day."

Because of these tasks, I developed a "can-do" attitude. I learnt that if I can figure out how the most efficient way to split firewood, than I can also discover the most efficient way to be fit / be attractive / get high-paying jobs / etc. It just takes cleverness and determination to get out of a bad situation.

But what I do rather than giving up is just sink into my own world, and if that's not destructive, I don't know what is. I just feel depressed, and then end up feeling that I should be stronger and I'm weak because I'm depressed, which just makes me even more miserable.

That's common: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-...

Maybe give this game a shot, that a game designer created after herself having suicidal thoughts – it's a playful way to get you to do things that help when you're depressed (talking to people, focusing on short term plans, finding things that make you happy, etc): https://www.superbetter.com

Meta-emotion will destroy you. I deal with it occasionally and it is absolutely vicious. I'm considering trying cognitive behavioral therapy to get away from it.

It can. What helped me was learning that depression is a physical phenomenon resulting from trained signaling pathways in one's brain that can be observed and retrained. That's what CBT attempts to do, but learning some of the science behind it allowed me to really figure out what I needed to do to help myself.

These are the two books that helped the most:

"The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force" http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0060988479/ref=oh_o05_s00_i...


"Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain" http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0345479890/ref=oh_o03_s00_i...

Right. Try and avoid abstract meta thinking about your state of affairs. Try and think in terms of concrete, short term plans. Things you can do today, this week, this month. Do them. Do them with purpose. Don't just exist and observe.

Chunky, do you have a role model? A mentor? Whether a PG-type or someone successful in some other dimension, I'd encourage, nay, exhort you, to find and talk with a mentor who can tell you about the world that awaits your beyond your "beach of dreams" and current educational straight-jacket. Please, please don't assume that your smarts are all you need to see your future from your current vantage point.

Many have walked through your dilemma. There are a ton of people here who would help you out. Even me.

Indeed there is, but even when I do talk to that person, it's seems to just highlight the fact that I'm stuck in a place I don't want to be, and though I want to get out of it, there's no conceivable way to do so. There' so little time to do anything, and this year's going to decide my future. It's really hard to not think of it like a noose around your neck, and whenever I do think about it, I keep wondering whether I shouldn't have tightened it long ago.

I'm stuck in a place I don't want to be

I promise you these things pass. I felt this throughout school up until I left Senior School for College and started having more control over what I did in my life, looking back now I feel like a completely different person from the me 4 years ago.

Trust me it gets amazing once you get out of there, you just have to get through the endurance test first.

This year's going to decide my future

No it's not. It's going to change your available options, but look around for some people who are successful and happy, not one of them is going to say to you "I'm here now because High School put me here". What matters is the choices you make once you're out of there, and whether that takes you closer to the kind of life you'd like to have.

There's so little time to do anything

I'm going to guess you're talking about exams here, but I guess this applies whatever it is. Even with 5 minutes left using that 5 minutes effectively will help you. If you care about the outcome then make use of whatever seemingly-tiny amount of time you have left. If you don't care about the outcome then use that time somewhere else. You sound pretty smart, your blog is well written, I'm sure that you can make meaningful progress at what you want to make progress in.

1 Well, my experience is of Senior School in the UK, but from what you're saying the difference sounds negligible for this situation.

this year's going to decide my future.

That is totally, absolutely wrong. Just because teachers etc say it doesn't mean you should believe it. I'm sure you've read how Steve Jobs forced himself to go to college because it was what was expected, and then dropped out. Personally, I missed the course I wanted to do, started something else, dropped that and finally ended up doing a computer science degree (which was something I'd ignored for 3 years). (Edit: and it all worked out better than if I'd done the degree I'd initially wanted to do)

There are plenty of examples of the opposite - people who don't go to college straight out of school.

Think it through - there are very, very few decisions that "decide your future" in a way that can't be changed, and the few that are usually are crimes.

Sure, work hard and go to college or whatever, but DON'T THINK "MISTAKES" CAN'T BE FIXED".

When someone tells you "this decision decides your future" nod politely, and ignore the implied pressure. They are incorrect.

Personally, I missed the course I wanted to do, started something else, dropped that and finally ended up doing a computer science degree (which was something I'd ignored for 3 years)

I had a very similar experience that took this geeky computer nerd into the crazy and scary world of politics for a couple years. I ended up running a state senate campaign and worked for the WI Senate Majority Leader for about 2 years. It was crazy and completely different from anything I would have experienced had I stuck to Computer Engineering and graduated in the standard 4 years like everyone expects. It happened by accident (because I was purposefully wandering) and was far more educational than anything I could have done in college. It was is by far the best thing I ever did.

Don't be afraid of a curvy path through life. There's a lot of value in the curves.

Edit: formatting

I agree with you, and this is what I'd thought for the most part, but I find that if I don't think this way, I do exactly what bane did and just abandon whatever bores me. I don't want to just barely pass high school, I want to do well.

"this year's going to decide my future"

No matter what anybody tells you, this isn't true at all. You can decide your future whenever you damn well want to. In fact you should always be adjusting your future as you need to. Don't listen to those that make you feel like this is it.

I've changed my future 3 or 4 times as I wanted to as an adult and never regretted it.

Different people are different distances and difficulties away from their ideal life, but the only way you're really stuck is if you give up. "this year's going to decide my future" is not true. Well, aside from the tautology that every year, every moment decides your future. The noose is a mirage, just as much as the resume/admissions game is. Play the game or don't - but don't let it bind you.

When you put it that way, it sounds much better. But what happens if you don't play the game?

You family may neg you for the rest of your life if they are that kind of people but so long as you do something with your life it doesn't matter much in the eyes of the rest of the world.

> this year's going to decide my future.

Trust me, everyone here is 100% right when they say that this is just so not true. Myself, I went to college to study music and audio engineering, I discovered partying and living on my own and dropped out. I got married. I got divorced. I lost all my possessions multiple times. I've experienced addiction, depression, the whole nine yards. I didn't discover programming until I turned 25. I'm turning 32 next year, and I couldn't be happier with my life. The whole thing has been a terrifying rollercoaster so far, and I'm not betting on it slowing down that much for a while. But trust me the one thing I can promise you is that things change, lots, all the time!!

Take it from someone who has believed the same lies. What the teachers are saying right now doesn't apply to you at all.

It is meant for those who needs to shape up to graduate.

Even though it is so incredibly unfair, these are almost the only people whom the teachers will focus on.

And for what it is worth: as hard as the yc interview is, pg isn't going to care if you graduate high school or not. The journalists who interview you will, because it makes for a better story.

> this year's going to decide my future

Hah, if you only knew how untrue this is. What happens in high school is essentially meaningless (take it from someone who graduated with pretty much prefect marks). Go to college not in your home town, enrol in a degree that seems at least mildly interesting, and be open to changing your mind.

Don't worry: your future is not held captive by your 18-year-old self.

EDIT: feel free to email me if you want to chat.

I was desperately bored in high school, and my solution was starting college early:


At Simon's Rock, the whole entering class consists of students who just finished 10th grade. In my experience there, self-selected 16-yr olds given the opportunity and expectation to live like adults mostly rise to the occasion.

That advice comes a bit late, given you have just 6 months of high school left. For you I would say two things:

1) It Gets Better

2) You can do anything for just 6 months.

Hang in there!

Most 16 year olds will be happy to do what is expected of them if they are treated as adults. The worst parts of being a teenage isn't that it is difficult but that you have no freedom and nobody takes you seriously.

So the question then is -- did you really often not try because you didn't care, or specifically because you were secretly (even to yourself) afraid of making a mistake and thus disproving everyone's beliefs about you being smart (being afraid of letting people down, or not living up to the expectations of others)?

This is exactly what happened to me. I often was thought of as smart, (though still to this day I don't know why), but nonetheless it affected me and led me to avoid certain challenges. To think that it was all a result of a belief in a "fixed/unchangeable intelligence/personality/self", as opposed to the opposite, is both incredibly enlightening and exciting and very frustrating that I allowed myself to form the mindset in the first place.

That last bit has become my standby.

"This 'being social' stuff is miserable. But if you're so smart, you should be able to fake it, at least!"

This does not say much for the value of testing _and making presumptions based on test results_. Note the emphasis on the second part of that sentence. Testing is ok. Recognising that all children are not the same intellectually is fine. But making presumptions based on limited evidence, like test scores, is something I have always wondered about. This story only reinforces my beliefs.

s/test/standardised &

Yes, praising students for their effort is a good way to encourage them to keep trying. But is this necessarily a good thing?

I see far too many students entering postsecondary education who shouldn't be there. No matter how hard they try, they just can't grasp the basic concepts. And when they inevitably fail, they fall back on what they were praised for as children -- "but I worked so hard!" -- as if they deserve to receive a degree on the basis of effort alone.

Sure, it's useful to remind smart kids that they need both brains and effort. But don't make the dumb kids think that effort alone is enough to get them where they want to go.

I'm not going to disagree with the meaning behind your post, but I am going to disagree with the wording.

Calling kids who shouldn't be in university dumb is incredibly harmful and reinforces the idea that you need some sort of Bachelor's degree to be successful, not-stupid, a real adult, etc. That attitude only encourages people who really should enter a trade get a random arts degree instead which causes them far more misery in the long run.

Besides, effort is not enough for smart people either -- for some careers, you'll need a variety of talents that even for a "smart" person may be difficult or slow to develop: people skills, aesthetic sense, artistic control, etc. Not to mention some people have an easy time with biology and have no trouble at all going through med school but find calculus hellish, and people who are the exact opposite. If anything, the whole "If you believe in yourself and work hard, you can go anywhere!"-attitude has a chance of backfiring with everyone.

Calling kids who shouldn't be in university dumb is incredibly harmful...

Only because you attach a value judgement to the word. I'm just calling a spade a spade; problems only arise when people think it's impossible for stupid people to be happy or successful (despite large volumes of evidence to the contrary).

A good professional life's about follow through. No one cares what you were smart enough to do, only what you've done.

I'm just learning that now at 26.

This article gives much more info on this topic. " Inverse Power of praise" http://nymag.com/print/?/news/features/27840/

I've read upwards of 140 comments, and have yet to stumble on some kind of solution for those of us who fell into the "smart praise" category as children. Is there some way to flip the proverbial work-ethic switch in your mid-twenties (or later) or are we doomed to a life of self-doubt and avoiding anything remotely challenging that we're not already proficient in?

I was always a Bright kid.

Wow... That hit close to home for me. I've always felt this way and I'm afraid to fail. I overachieve always to try overcompensate for the feeling that if I fail then I'm not smart enough.

I never overachieved in school, I think I was mostly bored but was always told I was "smart" and "bright." Jebus, that really hit a nerve.

Where is the study showing intelligence to be profoundly malleable?

IQ is one of the more heritable traits, from what I've heard.

Feeling a lot of kinship with many commenters in this thread. High grades without trying; honor/gifted classes from a young age (at the private school I went to, we had those starting in first grade. You were put into a class with a teacher and only 2-3 other students); breezed through tests without studying (thankfully this did not impact my work habits later on - as soon as I started working on challenging, real-world problems I became a workaholic); aloofness; extreme precociousness; a burning hatred of childhood (I wanted to be an adult to have something like freedom. I remember it feeling so unfair that large numbers of "undeserving", irresponsible, cruel people got to be adults and I was stuck a child. No one else I knew could relate); and of course, suicidal ideation. It's interesting to ponder what our lives would have been like had people like the ones in this thread known each other at the time.

Anyway, I thought I'd add my "why I hated school as a gifted child" list to this thread: This applies to public and private schools, both of which I've attended. This is an NYC-based, personal, anecdotal perspective, and doesn't feature any sort of statistical rigor.

* Co-student apathy, class disruptiveness, and disinterest. Seeing other students cheat, fall asleep, space out, not participate, and fail horribly can be a motivation killer.

* A predilection toward violence by many students/the constant threat of getting "jumped" (less of an issue at private, but not completely eliminated)

* Overcrowded classrooms

* Teaching to the lowest common denominator. No attempt at tailoring education to individuals or logical groups.

* At times, more time spent on attempting to restore order than teaching

* A habit of blaming "everyone involved" (i.e., anyone in the vicinity) instead of attempting to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of activities that were against regulations. A very "short-cutty" attitude towards determining any sort of blame. Nothing resembling due process and no requirements for sound evidence. "10 guilty men go free" had no meaning.

* Little to no coverage of the source theories or practical future applications of subjects. Much focus on facts, figures, and formulas without any attempt at relating it to the real world, past, present, or future. "Real world" examples tended to be laughably contrived. Attempting to glean information about sources/reasoning for the thing's existence often met with angry stares ("you're causing us to veer off the subject and confusing people!") or simply stopped cold ("it doesn't matter, just learn it").

* Poor facilities and equipment (not an issue at private)

* Alternately attempting to paint the currently taught education as a personal enrichment experience ("it's for your own good") or a necessity for future survival ("learn this or you'll sleep in the street"). Neither perspective was accompanied by anything resembling why or how it was beneficial.

* A jarring, cacophonous, impersonal, zoo-like atmosphere. Getting up early, waiting outside in the cold/heat, being stuffed into classrooms/buses/lunchrooms with people who had horrible hygiene; disgusting habits; were loud and obnoxious; were dramatic, crying, whining, moping children; were four feet tall and no life experience, yet filled with endless arrogance and bravado. Blaring bells going off when you're still half asleep. If you were precocious/mature, you tended to feel very uncomfortable and out of place. Arguments about this being like the "real world" are complete and utter nonsense; if I don't like a place of work or other institution, I go somewhere else that I like better.

* Absolutely horrible food (even at private school!)

* Far too much focus on testing rather than the ability to understand and apply knowledge (which goes right along with not attempting to teach how said knowledge could be usefully applied).

* Lack of depth. I've learned (and continue to learn) more about subjects researching them on my own than I ever learned about them in school. Perhaps that's a given considering how much time we can personally spend on subjects outside of school, it still seems like schools could do a lot better job of it.

Another deceptive title designed to attract clicks.

The problem is with how we attribute achievement, how we praise kids, not the kids themselves. But the title as written attracts more attention. The reader thinks, "What could possibly be wrong with the bright kids?" Click.

I'd argue this finding implicitly speaks to the way we view and value intelligence and ability. Seems to me we refuse to acknowledge effort is as useful as some sort of innate ability. Our dominant fascination (judging by scholarly and mass media publications) seems not to be with hard work, and achievement despite the odds, but instead with those who are "gifted" and do not need to work as hard as everyone else to achieve the same results.

Surprise! The bright kids are not as motivated. That's the revolutionary finding presented in this fluff HBR blog "content".

We go to great lengths to try to find such "innate" above average ability, to label and preselect "the bright kids", instead of devoting our attention toward motivating and rewarding _effort_, which in my opinion might ultimately harness more human potential in the aggregate than focusing excessively on "the bright kids".

Especially when you consider that the attention we place on ability and the "bright" label we give them could possibly lower their overall performance, if you believe what's suggested by this study.

>We go to great lengths to try to find such "innate" above average ability, to label and preselect "the bright kids", instead of putting our efforts into motivating and rewarding _effort_, which just might ultimately harness more human potential in the aggregate than just focusing on "the bright kids", in my opinion.

That's true for the most part, however motivating bright kids doesn't take away from resources so much so that rewarding effort becomes unfeasible. Bright kids require a lot of motivation because either:

1) They tend to doubt their abilities, and because they're bright spend most of their time figuring out whether they're actually bright as stated in the article.

2) They get bored with ordinary mundane work, and so break away from any formal system of learning and seek for an outlet, which may turn out to be very productive, or because they're so young, it may be counterproductive and result in them going back to point 1.

Very true. For how to "solve" those problems in education I have never had any decent ideas. No doubt many readers here have experienced them first hand.

I just see a lot of attention on "innate" ability, who has it, and why, and less attention placed on effort. I think effort is underrated. That is my biased opinion.

Would anyone disagree that if bright kids were forced to have to expend more effort, they might themselves benefit, as they _might_ be more likely to see some of their true potential? No guarantees of course.

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