Recently I was fortunate enough to rediscover an NPR story entitled, Why Eastern and Western Cultures Tackle Learning Differently, and immediately made connections to the field of gifted education, and to educating and parenting gifted learners. While many of us are aware of the work of Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University, and her emphasis on praising effort in learning over innate intelligence (to overly simplify her research), this article drives home even more vividly the idea of expected and embraced struggle as the most necessary ingredients for high level success.
The opening paragraph of the article cuts quickly to the chase: “For the most part in American culture, intellectual struggle in school children is seen as an indicator of weakness, while in Eastern cultures it is not only tolerated, it is often used to measure emotional strength.”
In American culture, struggle is often synonymous with weakness, whereas in Eastern culture, struggle is seen more as an opportunity, “a chance to show that you have what it takes emotionally to overcome the problem by having the strength to persist through that struggle.”
In my many years of educating and coaching gifted students and their families, I have often posed many of these these questions to help facilitate a mindshift from failure to challenge/opportunity:
If you, like I, wonder why Eastern cultures may have adopted a “struggle is good” approach to learning, you may also enjoy reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, 2011. In his intriguing chapter entitled “Rice Paddies and Math,” Gladwell postulates this: Asian cultures have long cultivated rice as a staple food crop, and rice farmers have had to work harder than every other type of farmer. Growing rice requires perfectionism and constant vigilance. Some estimate that the average workload of a wet-rice farmer in Asia is three thousand hours a year! The proverbial wisdom in Chinese history repeatedly comes back around to the idea that hard work leads to a better life, that persistence is key, and that sacrifice is necessary. These are also cultural beliefs that are necessary to succeed in learning.
So...just as we can help children to expect and embrace struggle, my final questions to you, as parents and educators are...How can we, the adults, model and celebrate struggle in our learning? How is this a gift to our gifted children?
As always, I hope that this foray into other ideas, and then linking them to the gifted perspective, has made you think. I welcome hearing from you!
Past President, WATG