Monday, 26 January 2015

Grit and Growth

Continuing to post weekly assemblies, here's this week's;

Why do we limit ourselves? Why do we tend to say 'I can't' quickly before we say 'I can'?

It is something we all suffer from and it is quite possibly the one main contributing factor in limiting out potential, limiting what we can achieve. Why do we do it?

There are many different theories, but all of them point to the fact that we can do something about it if we truly want to, which is good. That we often don't try because we feel we can't do it.

Some of us limit ourselves because we've been told, time and time again that we're no good. And we start to believe it. Maybe in primary school, or in a club, we try something, fail at it, and then someone says we're no good, so we believe them and stop. When someone we respect, someone in authority, tells us that we are no good at something, we tend to believe them, particularly when the evidence points to them being right.

At school, I was told that I would never really amount to anything; a senior teacher told my parents that there was little point me doing hard A-levels as I was most likely only going to fail them & maybe I should look at a safe local job for after school. Something inside of me told me that was wrong & I knew I wanted (& was able to) achieve more, but if I'd not thought that, I would not be here now.

The trouble is, there is a myth that we only use a small part of our brain & we can't do anything about that. Even scientists in the past felt that there was a limit on our use of the brain; the concept of IQ (Intelligence Quota), formed  by psychologists just over 100 years ago, was a test used to identify students in France who would not succeed in the newly created compulsory education system. It has since been used to identify people capable of being forced into the army in the first world war and is still, today, used in the USA to identify whether or not a criminal is 'intelligent enough' to have known that what they did was wrong when they murdered someone and so deserved the death penalty or not.

And in popular culture, there's an amazing film; Lucy, with Scarlett Johansson as the lead role, who accidently takes a new drug which expands the use of her mind to 100%. A great film, but one that reinforces the limit to our use of our brain without help from drugs or stimulants.

As science develops, we are more and more able to understand how our mind works; it is clearly still by a million-fold, the most complex object in the world to date and each and every one of us has a unique set of patterns in the billions of neural pathways that make up our mind, our memories stored as electrical impulses lighting up our brains. We can now 'watch' these signals fly around the brain in real time, and watch parts of our brain light up as we perform simple tasks. We know better than ever what parts of our brain do now and how they link together. And we know one important thing now that our ancestors of 100 years ago didn't:

That the brain can grow. 

We can develop our brain, just like any muscle, and make it better; in any way we want. We don't need to look to drugs like the character Lucy, in order to do more with our brain than we do now.

So we do not have innate intelligence. You are not, intrinsically, cleverer than I am, or better than me at things. Our ability is not fixed, so if we can't do something, it's just that we've not learnt how to do that yet.

What's funny, however, is that we know this in some areas of our life. When we get a 'Game Over' message on our PlayStation, we don't think we're no good and give up. Instead, we pick up the controller and click the 'start again' button, determined to not make the same mistake again that got us kicked out of the game last time.

The trouble is, we do have innate preferences; some of us find it easier to work with words than numbers, some of us work better with images or pictures than words. These are all subtle differences that make us unique. I am not so good with languages, but it did not stop me going back to evening school to learn a foreign language even though my MFL teacher at school told me I was hopeless and couldn’t learn a language. I am not brilliant, but I can get by in France now. Because I did not believe that I couldn't do it. 

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship by the US government to visit schools in New York & Washington (The International Visiting Leaders programme), where I met some amazing students, teachers and leaders. One school in particular, in Washington, sticks in my mind - they have a huge sign in the entrance way to the school, which is seen by students, staff and visitors every day. It reads:

"If you don't understand, it's not your fault"

I think this is the most powerful statement ever. It means that, whatever you are studying, whatever you are doing, it's never, really, 'Game Over', so long as you are willing to pick up the controller again and have another go. You will certainly progress further each time and will, eventually, get there, so long as you don't give up.

But it takes one thing that is rapidly becoming a very hot topic in education & society in general. It's given an American phrase; Grit. Grit is the determination to keep on going, to not give up. To re-start the game and learn from our mistakes.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic words, Andy!

    Culturally, I think we often understand progress in isolated and fixed terms; focussing on specific outcomes at specific points in time. While this has value and is to some extent inevitable; it overlooks the liberating power of truly understanding our capacity for sustained and continual development.

    I've got much better a seeing my own progress and it has proved key in raising my levels of aspiration and motivation. Which in turn, is having a real impact on what I am actually doing an achieving.

    Hope the pupils are taking this on board.

    Keep up the good work,

    Sam form the Veg Men