Got it. Don’t say anything.

Not that I didn’t already know about the pitfalls of labels, especially when they’re person-oriented and not task-specific, but damn, if I weren’t anxious enough already around my niece and nephew (and students) in terms of how I communicate anything to their malleable developing brains, this Atlantic article is doing nothing to mitigate the problem. I’m hyper-conscious of them building narrow mental models of the most confining social constructs (i.e. race and gender) because that’s about all I feel reasonably in control of influencing in a positive way. But now if I hear my sister or parents call one of them smart (the “S” word, in the article), am I supposed to stop them and say, “actually, what she’s doing is demonstrating intelligence in this particular situation, so let’s not pin her down with the suggestion that she’s innately smart and thus encourage a fixed mindset about her capacities. Trust me, our mindfulness now will pay off later. She’ll understand.” How often do you hear parents praise their children with performance-oriented praise? “Oooh, she’s so smart!” That sounds more normal, and therein is the issue, our proclivity to define our youth as this or that, fitting them comfortably within the social paradigm. Beginning to determine their future. Or is that a slippery slope?

In truth, I side with the article’s argument. Heck, I invite my students to have the same mentality it espouses: a growth mindset, which leaves them open to possibility, reveals to them the importance of failure and the necessity of change, and underscores the power of self-generosity.

So why am I writing about it? Because I forgot to post yesterday, and I’m retroactively adding it in, Fuller-style.


  1. dasfuller

    Holy christ. This…idea…that we can’t call a kid “smart” because, oh no!, they’ll actually think they’re smart, is the dumbest thing I’ve read these past couple days. How are we supposed to communicate with other humans that isn’t like some 1950s version of an absolutely sterile future (white jump suits and everything)? Canelli, stop reading bullshit like this. It’s intellectuals’ version of Cosmo, and it is garbage.

    1. Luigus (Post author)

      Fuller, you read Reddit, a heap of garbage with some good stuff in there, all day and can distinguish the garbage from the good stuff. It’s not like I’m credulously swallowing everything I read. Relax.

  2. nmp3102

    Thanks, Lou, for giving me an article that basically defines my whole childhood.

    From where I stand, you’re good on the students front, though – the closest thing you called me in comments last year was, “mercilessly meticulous” or “the ideal Putney student.” (a little pressure attached to the latter since it was my FIRST MARKING PERIOD OF FRESHMAN YEAR which means everything since must have been downhill from there…)
    – Nicole

    1. Luigus (Post author)

      That’s a pretty rough (identity-oriented) interpretation to impose on you. But things wouldn’t necessarily go downhill from there, as the constancy of an ideal is a fair ambition.


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