Rising Above the Bar
When I visited my high school counselor, I walked in confidently with a game plan and set questions about college and my career goals. As I began to speak to her she smiled at me, but not because she was pleased that I was so invested in my future. Rather, she thought it was so amusing that I actually believed I was going to college, and a good one at that. As my plan began to get too elaborate for her she cut me off, and she told me how great it was that I looked into pursuing these goals, but it might not be the path for me. At that very moment my heart sank. As she talked about the different pathways for “people like me,” I just stared blankly at the wall. I knew I wasn’t a top student, but I thought I had at least deserved a chance. My school counselor didn’t even give me that. I was officially handed the key to the bottom of the barrel along with all the other students everyone had low expectations of. I’ve always thought school was supposed to challenge students and make them grow, but the environment of my school changed my mindset. In her book Mindsets: The New Psychology of Success, researcher Carol Dweck introduced the two mindsets people have: a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is the belief that one is born with a specific set skills and intelligence, and a growth mindset is the belief that these qualities are developed over time through effort. Unfortunately, low expectations set for students at school, home, or the community can drag students down, and these kinds of environments can affect their mindset. However, whether it does or not is up to the student.
The standards of the school environment can change a student’s mindset. Mike Rose has shares his experience in his story “I Just Wanna Be Average.” When he was placed in the vocational track classes, he was burdened by low standards and as a result didn’t put in much effort to exceed them. Rose writes, “Students will float to the mark you set” (Rose 2). When not being challenged students are stuck in the same place, and they fail to thrive. The school environment changes everyone, but is it for better or for worse? Some students are put in honors classes and are pushed to become doctors and lawyers, while the rest of are getting spoon fed meaningless courses that will make them suitable to become janitors. In Rose’s case, these two pathways can just be dependent on test scores. The “smarter” kids get pushed and challenged toward great things while the rest get pushed towards the back of the class. This type of schooling system gives a lot of students like Rose a fixed mindset, but it didn’t hold him back for long. If low standards can put students in a fixed mindset, then in contrast high standards can put students in growth mindset.
High standards in a learning environment can definitely put a student in a growth mindset. Mike Rose describes what a challenging learning environment looks like: “We wrote three or four essays a month. We read a book every two to three weeks, starting with the Iliad and ending up with Hemingway. He gave us a quiz on the reading every other day. He brought a prep school curriculum to Mercy High” (5). As Rose and the other students got lost in the work, they also got busy and managed to rise to the expectations of this unusual instructor. The expectations were high but being treated in this way helped him to recognize that he could accomplish much more than had been expected in the Vocational Ed track. From this teacher, he caught the excitement of learning. Did his brain change to make him more apt to learning? No, probably not, but it is undeniable that his circumstances influenced his mindset. The sharp contrast in everything from his performance in school, to his attitude and mindset towards learning, shifted as he was given the opportunity to be pushed. He was given high standards, which upon fulfilling, gave him a sense of gratification that launched him into a new reality. The importance of a good role model cannot be disputed. Carol Dweek claims the mark of a growth mindset to be the acceptance and excitement towards a challenge. Coming from the fixed mindset Mike had, that he didn’t amount to much, and wouldn’t go very far, it really was remarkable that his eyes were opened and he was able to even want to go to college. Furthermore, the fact that not only Mike’s desires had changed but, in actuality, his very reality was shifting towards success is evidence of the effect of an excellent teacher.
Another factor that can influence the mindset of a student is the…
Dweck, Carol. “The Mindsets.” Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House
Publishing Group, 2006. pp. 1-6
Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Lives on the Boundary: The Struggles and