Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Candice: I'm Not a Natural But...

I just came across a wonderfully insightful article, The Trouble With Bright Girls at the Huffington Post website. The article is based around a study which revealed the following:

...Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses.

Hello, Candice's reaction to High School, how are you aside from being perfectly summed up?

Psychologist Carol Dweck has discovered the way in which girls are praised have affected their outlook on difficult tasks. "Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their 'goodness.' When we do well in school, we are told that we are 'so smart,' 'so clever,' or 'such a good student.' This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don't."

Hello, Candice's entire life since birth, how are you aside from being a mind blowing revelation?

A little back story, my dad was a tall, smart, creative, funny and hard working person. This, according to my mother, meant I was also destined to be tall, smart, creative, funny and hard working. To listen to her tell it, I didn't have to try to be any of these things, they were just coded into my DNA. Done and done, all I have to do is sit back and wait for my innate talents to bloom.

With the exception of being tall, obviously that attitude was not exactly true. Through a beneficial confluence of circumstances I did manage to become 5'10", get on a few honor rolls, a Dean's list, etc. My creativity, nascent in the "drawing things with crayons" phase of life, did in fact blossom once I entered the "write well enough to put a story together" part of life. Funny didn't really all come together for me until high school and the internet. That just leaves hard working.

I have to work hard at being a hard worker. If I think something will reflect poorly on me as a person I will diligently work at it until absolutely no one can deny that Candice should not be chastised, and should even be praised. If I think I can get away with it though, oh the corners I will cut.

Which brings me back to high school (and then college), when I could do a paper in the hour before it was due and pull a B+. I could coast through math and get a passing grade. I could do the summary, annotated bibliography, and first draft of a paper and then not turn in the actual final draft of the paper and pass the class. So I did. My intelligence was never really doubted by my teachers, but my ability to get shit done definitely was. I've stated many times that if I could just go back in time and slap myself across the face, and tell myself that doing homework DID have a point and that point was opening doors later in life, I would. In a heartbeat.

I'd also tell myself to get up and move. My basic motto about sports was, "If at first you don't succeed, write it off and never do it again." If running was hard, then why bother running? Not being able to run didn't affect my intelligence, my creativity. All I had to do was show up to PE in order to pass the class, so I cut all other available corners that required effort. And more importantly, required I fail the first few times.

Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., "If you would just pay attention you could learn this," "If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.") The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren't "good" and "smart," and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

They're talking about schoolwork here, but where I needed to hear it most was physical activity. Kate likes to say she was a natural at skating, a little whiz at the ice from an early age which she later abandoned in pursuit of tween-age ennui. It's an aspect of skating that we simply cannot share with each other. The first few times I was on ice, I was slow, I fell, and I was not a natural. Replace "first few times I was on the ice" with "any sport I ever tried ever and you've got the summary of my ability to instantly pick up a sport.

For me the ice is something I have to "pay attention and try harder" at. All the time. Every time. Working a regular schedule means that I'm able to make a weekly appointment with myself to skate for an hour that I rarely miss. Kate's had interruptions here and there described before in this blog. If I had to say who had practiced the most, it would be me.

And after almost a year of skating there are things Kate can do better than me, and things that I can do better than she can. The results, unique to each of us, are roughly even. Our enjoyment of the sport? Dead even. The result of the experiment is that if I'd put in time, effort, and practice as a child I might well have been a decent player of any sport. A star? A natural? I suppose not, but I can confidently say that doesn't detract from the value, and enjoyment I could have had.

This article was a lesson learned too late in some ways. I can't go back and re-do my years in high school and undergrad. I can't go back and tell myself that volleyball might have been a worthwhile thing to keep trying at. I can use the lesson now, in skating, at my job, and in a lot of other things.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! Short time lurker on your blog, but I found this very interesting. I had a similar experience growing up, and as I approach the north side of 25, still struggle at not falling into the Brilliant But Lazy mire that has been my existence up till now. Haven't read the article yet, but I wonder if it has so much to do with sex and gender, since my older brother has the same issue, maybe even worse than I have since he's still living at home. I suspect it is more a consequence of being smart and internalizing "everything should be easy for me" and with sports there's an added implication of it being below smarter kids because of the Dumb Jock stereotype.