Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No learning, no responsibility

This is a quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

A kid may well blame himself for doing poor on a math test by saying he's stupid, but that doesn't mean he's taken responsibility, that he's acknowledged that he's capable of doing better the next time.

I bring this up because I thought it was insightful. It ties in well with one of the deep seated myths of math (and possibly other academic fields): "Either you can do math, or you can't." If you think about it, this simply denies the whole notion of learning. And if you assume you can't learn, that implies you're not capable of doing better. So, you're not responsible, right?

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Thalia said...

I think that's a very relevant point.

I remember talking with students in different classes I taught, where they would tell me, "I went and studied and I don't get it" and spoke in such a defeatist manner. Then I would ask them how they studied - one young woman used flashcards to memorize words - for an experimental methodology course - for 30 minutes in the evenings.

It was not to the "I am just someone who doesn't get math" (which I've seen before too, and it's frustruating), but it was the "I tried" (even if the attempts were ill-suited for the material) "and I can't do it. Therefore I just can't get it ever. It's too hard."

It was very frustruating.

Sarah said...

Perhaps not coincidentally, artistic ability, like math, is incorrectly and almost universally considered something you either have or you don't. What I find particularly frustrating is people who sign up for art classes and then spend every single class whining that they have no artistic ability. Why sign up for a class, if you don't believe the subject matter can be learned?