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Bright at the Bottom: The Myths of Education

The future looks very bright for our teens– when we de-bunk three false, damaging myths.

In a recent study, I found that—no matter what their GPA—teens will have great opportunities because world, corporate, and scientific prospects depend on a far broader set of characteristics than those we emphasize in our system of education.

I’d like us to create systems where more kids can thrive sooner– and that means refuting the 3 myths:

(1) Students at the Bottom are not Bright or Hardworking
(2) Being a top student leads to a great life-– and
(3) Our approach is healthy for students.

This article is the first in a series that will look at each of the myths in turn.

Myth #1: Students at the Bottom are not Bright or Hardworking

Although students in what I call “The Bottom 80™” are often told they have learning disabilities or lack motivation, I found that they learn and are highly motivated– when the situation suits their interests and their gifts.

  • Take Laura, age 14. She chose a difficult-to-research topic for her first multi-month project, despite pleading from her parents to pick something easier, because she was fascinated by it. Laura initiated and persisted in tracking-down adults in a remote location that she could interview.
  • Matt, whose IQ is 142, reads for hours on end to learn everything he can about a subject that interests him.
  • Michelle is tenacious, “working herself to the bone,” to complete all of her school work.

A common theme among The Bottom 80™ group was tenacity and diligence when a topic interests them— they “become completely absorbed in learning,” and “dive in head first.” These students have gifts that are well-suited to successful lives, but often these abilities are not amplified and enhanced in school. Instead, we may think that these students are not capable because their gifts do not match what we look for in school.

Why Should We Dispel This Myth?

We are not helping teens make the most of these vital gifts that have the potential to contribute to the world. Much of school is other-directed, written-language-centric, and not designed to build upon individual students’ gifts and strengths. If you look at the real-life data, you’ll find that many hardworking, motivated, gifted people—including renowned scientists, leaders, and productive citizens—were not good students.

Take Vernon Smith, for example: a Nobel Prize-winner in economics and a “C” student who dropped out of high school. Is he an exception? No. He’s someone who amplified his gifts. He thrived with hands-on learning, and disproved the leading economic theory because he designed his class to learn through physical touch and movement, rather than reading and writing.

How Can We Dispel This Myth?

  1. Educate ourselves and our teens. Appreciate the value of each child’s strengths and gifts. Understand how their very gifts can get in the way of performing well in school. Discuss the real-world data on successful people who were not good students.
  2. Offer more opportunities for kids. Learn how to allow teens to use their gifts and strengths in ways that engage them. Ideally, this is both inside and outside of classrooms including physical games, art, music, community service, and meditation.
  3. Look at the bright side. When you see their gifts and strengths, all teens are bright.

If we stop thinking of poor performance as a problem with the child, and instead create a sense of awe– by appreciating her gifts– we will feel confident about her bright future.

For More Information:

Images: Fireworks ; Vernon Smith

This article is abridged from one that originally appeared on January 9, 2009 in http://pos-psych.com/news/christine-duvivier/200901091421″ target=”_blank”>Positive Psychology News Daily.

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