Asian culture: Struggling shows strength

A Marxist slogan popular in my college days — Dare to struggle, dare to win! — applies to education, according to an NPR story. Struggling in school is seen as a problem in the U.S., but not in Asia.

“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”

In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. . . . struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.

In a study, Stigler asked first-grade students to solve an impossible math problem to see how long they’d struggle with it. In the U.S., the average was less than 30 seconds.  The Japanese students worked for an hour, until researchers told them to stop.

U.S. teachers should teach students to struggle, Stigler believes.

 . . .  in the Japanese classrooms that he’s studied, teachers consciously design tasks that are slightly beyond the capabilities of the students they teach, so the students can actually experience struggling with something just outside their reach. Then, once the task is mastered, the teachers actively point out that the student was able to accomplish it through the students hard work and struggle.

“And I just think that especially in schools, we don’t create enough of those experiences, and then we don’t point them out clearly enough.”

Getting parents to change their beliefs about learning will be difficult. Americans try to build their children’s confidence by telling them they’re smart or talented. “As soon as they encounter a something that’s difficult for them to do, that confidence evaporates,” says psychologist Carol Dweck. Praising the struggle –  “Boy, you worked on that a long time and you really learned how to do it” — gives children the confidence to cope with difficulties.

It’s how you play the game — to win

Eleven-year-old soccer players should play to win, writes Barry Rubin on Pajamas Media. Under a coach who tells kids that winning doesn’t matter, his son’s team has lost every game.

He never criticizes a player or suggests how a player could do better. My son, bless him, once remarked to me: “How are you going to play better if nobody tells you what you’re doing wrong?” The coach just tells them how well they are playing. Even after an 8-0 defeat, he told them they’d played a great game.

And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place.

“Sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills,” Rubin believes.

Asked to coach for a day, he put the best players in at forward and goal and kept them in, giving weaker players the chance to play for at least half the game as defenders. He gave the team a pre-game pep talk:

Every week you’ve been told that the important thing is just to have a good time. Well, this week it’s going to be different. The number one goal is to win; the number two goal is to have a good time. But I assure you: if you win, you will have a much better time!

The team took a 1-0 lead.  Told that defense was critical, the weaker plays “performed heroically, holding off repeated attacks on their goal.”

One shouted from the sidelines something I thought showed real character: “Don’t let the good players do all the work!” Instinctively, he recognized that some players are better, but he wanted to bring everyone’s level up rather than down. I’m tempted to say he was going against what he was being taught in school.

They played hard and they won. They were thrilled.

If you don’t care about winning, you’re merely handing triumph to the other side. In a soccer league that might not matter, yet in personal life, your level of achievement and satisfaction is going to depend on giving your best effort.

That works for Western civilization too, Rubin writes.

Perspiration vs. inspiration

Practice, practice, practice creates geniuses, writes David Brooks in the New York Times. Forget the “divine spark.” It’s not easy being a genius.

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability.

Introduce her to a famous novelist to give her “a vision of her future self.”

It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.

Hmmm. Seems a bit extreme.

Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. . . . Then she would practice writing. Her practice would be slow, painstaking and error-focused.

I think this is a formula for producing competent writers, not geniuses.

LA builds arts palace for the untalented

Los Angeles Unified’s new arts school will have a very expensive “world-class” building — but the school won’t enroll the most talented students, reports the LA Times. In fact, students with artistic, musical and dramatic talent will be urged to go elsewhere.

. . . usually in the case of a school play, “The part’s going to go to the kid who shows the greatest talent, and that’s not the kind of school that this is going to be,” (district administrator Richard) Alonzo said. “This is really looking at building potential in communities that have been underserved, for kids that really haven’t had the chance.”

While the school might tell star performers that they would likely be happier elsewhere, it won’t refuse to accept them if they really want to attend, he said.

For years, neighborhood students attended low-performing schools. The district now has put $232 million into the unnamed arts school (naming rights go for $25 million): It has space for 1,700 students.

Up a broad flight of stairs, the campus’ main buildings offer three dance studios with sprung maple flooring.

A professional-quality, 950-seat theater. Music classrooms with acoustic tiling and special whiteboards designed for musical notation.

Floor-to-ceiling windows with motorized blackout shades. Ceiling-mounted projectors in every classroom, allowing teachers to display lessons from computers.

Track lighting in the hallways to illuminate student art. An outdoor atrium for firing Japanese raku pottery. And the school’s centerpiece, a conical library whose dazzling interior swirls upward to an off-center skylight.

The nearby Roybal Learning Center, plagued by toxics issues, cost $400 million; it will serve 2,500 students.

Let’s hope LA has a few bucks left over for “world-class” teaching, curriculum design, books and technology.