Tuesday, March 6, 2018

All knowledge is contingent

A tweet from Stuart Richie.

His summary:
Out today - HUGE, definitive, double meta-analysis of growth mindset! Main results:
1) Correlation of growth mindset with achievement is tiny, r = .1;
2) Effect of growth mindset interventions on achievement is tiny, d = .08.
By definitive, he means that it is the new standard against which to match other research.

The whole growth mindset movement came along when my children were in their single digit ages. It is a rationally persuasive argument but like most things in psychology, has to be taken with a large dose of salt. In a complex system such as human behavior, sociology, and child development, hardly anything is as it seems. Persuasive has virtually no bearing on whether the proposition is true.

The growth mindset movement did not change much in my approach but made me more conscious, and therefore more careful, of the subtle differences in framing.

The contrast in fixed versus growth mindsets is illustrated by the matched statements.

You can do this, you're smart. (Fixed) - The implication is that the goal can be achieved primarily through the fixed trait of being smart.

You can do this, try harder. (Growth) - The implication is that the goal can be achieved through hard work and effort.
My focus on child coaching was to establish a balance between encouraging perseverance, effort, and ability. More importantly, laying the groundwork for the underlying principle of horses for courses, or more precisely, fit for purpose. Some circumstances require sustained perseverance. Sometimes effort will see you through. Sometimes talent is a necessary prerequisite. But, as one of my son's wrestling coaches used to say:, "Work beats talent when talent won't work."

Too many wannabe social sciences are desperate for the acclaim, money and celebrity that come from success that they are always seeking the silver bullet, the one thing that can fix a complex problem. But single point solutions to wicked problems are as rare as hens' teeth.

Far more often, the solution is the fit application of one or more among a thousand pieces of folk wisdom applied selectively, at the right time, under the right circumstances to the right child.

I suspect we will find the same with the growth mindset idea. No, as this and other studies indicate, it is not a universal tool for all problems. The puts and takes balance each other out. But I also suspect, and there is some supporting evidence in this new study for this idea, that we will find "growth mindset" is a useful technique for some select children, under some select conditions, at some select times.

Useful ideas are being researched and discovered all the time in the social sciences, they are just lost in the cacophony of researchers questing the silver bullet. The social sciences will not ever be science until the practitioners don the mantle of humility and skepticism that you find among real scientist who always know that the unknown is greater than the known and that all knowledge is contingent.

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