Many people wrongly believe intelligence is fixed at birth.  Many factors will affect school performance such as stable family life, proper nutrition, and parent involvement in studies, but genetics is usually NOT one of them.

This article at Quartz written by 2 professors focuses on the math ability aspect of the intelligence is genetic theory and how it becomes a “self-fulfilling prophecy.”  After working with math students through teaching and tutoring for years, they discovered this pattern:

  1. Different kids with different levels of preparation come into a math class. Some of these kids have parents who have drilled them on math from a young age, while others never had that kind of parental input.
  2. On the first few tests, the well-prepared kids get perfect scores, while the unprepared kids get only what they could figure out by winging it—maybe 80 or 85%, a solid B.
  3. The unprepared kids, not realizing that the top scorers were well-prepared, assume that genetic ability was what determined the performance differences. Deciding that they “just aren’t math people,” they don’t try hard in future classes, and fall further behind.
  4. The well-prepared kids, not realizing that the B students were simply unprepared, assume that they are “math people,” and work hard in the future, cementing their advantage.

What the difference they see? The preparation!  At Gideon, we completely agree.  You can get ahead early or catch up later, but you have to put in the work.  The addition facts don’t memorize themselves.  Starting with struggling older students is harder as you have to change their attitude into believing they can succeed and they have more work to cover to catch up, BUT it is very possible and we do it every day.  You simply have to put in the time.

This doesn’t just apply to math but to all areas.  The article continues to discuss how many studies have been done showing how attitude is critical in high achievers.

Psychologists Lisa Blackwell, Kali Trzesniewski, and Carol Dweck presented these alternatives to determine people’s beliefs about intelligence:

  1. A-You have a certain amount of intelligence, and you really can’t do much to change it.  OR B-You can always greatly change how intelligent you are.

They found that students who agreed that “You can always greatly change how intelligent you are” got higher grades. But as Richard Nisbett recounts in his book Intelligence and How to Get It, they did something even more remarkable:

“Dweck and her colleagues then tried to convince a group of poor minority junior high school students that intelligence is highly malleable and can be developed by hard work…that learning changes the brain by forming new…connections and that students are in charge of this change process.”

The results? Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic. (A control group, who were taught how memory works, showed no such gains.)

But improving grades was not the most dramatic effect, “Dweck reported that some of her tough junior high school boys were reduced to tears by the news that their intelligence was substantially under their control.” It is no picnic going through life believing you were born dumb—and are doomed to stay that way.

Americans don’t like being compared to Asians – especially in math, but the reality is our views tend to be very different with education.  With their longer school years and attitudes of “persistence in the face of failure”, they continue towards their goals, while some Americans argue we don’t need Algebra I anymore.  Or if a child is struggling to read, baseball practice should not come first.

One way to help Americans excel at math is to copy the approach of the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans.  In Intelligence and How to Get It, Nisbett describes how the educational systems of East Asian countries focus more on hard work than on inborn talent:

1. “Children in Japan go to school about 240 days a year, whereas children in the United States go to school about 180 days a year.”
2. “Japanese high school students of the 1980s studied 3 ½ hours a day, and that number is likely to be, if anything, higher today.”
3. “[The inhabitants of Japan and Korea] do not need to read this book to find out that intelligence and intellectual accomplishment are highly malleable. Confucius set that matter straight twenty-five hundred years ago.”
4. “When they do badly at something, [Japanese, Koreans, etc.] respond by working harder at it.”
5. “Persistence in the face of failure is very much part of the Asian tradition of self-improvement. And [people in those countries] are accustomed to criticism in the service of self-improvement in situations where Westerners avoid it or resent it.”

We certainly don’t want America’s education system to copy everything Japan does (and we remain agnostic regarding the wisdom of Confucius). But it seems to us that an emphasis on hard work is a hallmark not just of modern East Asia, but of America’s past as well. In returning to an emphasis on effort, America would be returning to its roots, not just copying from successful foreigners.

Read the rest of this article HERE.

While some aspects of an Asian culture of education such as daily routines of nothing but school, homework, and private tutoring should be tempered with downtime, hobbies, and play, there are lessons to be learned from their success.  We should not simply excuse some kids out of basic subjects if they struggle.

At Gideon struggling indicates a weak foundation rather than an innate lack of ability.  We find the cracks and fill them!  A great example of this model at work is with one of our gold stars, Avery.  She was struggling with math in kindergarten.  Her parents knew that with some extra practice she could improve.  To say she’s improved is an understatement.  In just 5 years through daily practice of 20-30 minutes with Gideon, she has excelled all the way to pre-algebra as a 5th grader which is typically a 7th Honors or 8th grade subject and continues to do well.  She put in the time and effort and has received her reward!  Watch her interview below.