Alfie Kohn on Growth Mindset

Recently, Salon published a critique of growth mindset by Alfie Kohn. Laura Gibbs is skeptical.  Rather than try to navigate Blogger/Google’s comment system, I’m posting my comment here.

I don’t particularly agree that Kohn is trying to lump together growth and grit.  My sense of his concern is that he worries that growth mindset can be easily co-opted because of the focus of modern education on external evaluation.  Given that emphasis, Kohn suggests two bad things that can happen.

  1.  Improvement becomes about going from “bad” to “good” in the eyes of some external authority,  Given Kohn’s longstanding belief that all external evaluation and praise is harmful because it pulls the learner to the wrong goal, he sees a danger that growth becomes mostly about better meeting others’ expectations.

  2. Kohn considers how growth mindset, which is very much an individual response, matches up with another mindset, the one that suggests if things are going badly in my education/life/etc. I as an individual can improve them by changing my attitude.  This focus on the individual which in many ways pervades American culture is one, Kohn argues, that makes us less willing to consider the role systems, either because they are poorly designed or because they are seeking the wrong ends, have when poor outcomes happen.

Mindset is, after all, only a mechanism that is more effective or less efffective in helping one meet goals.  Kohn seems to believe that without a careful look at systems and structures, growth mindset becomes merely a more efficient path to a bad end.

3 thoughts on “Alfie Kohn on Growth Mindset

  1. Terry Elliott (@telliowkuwp)

    It is more than just Kohn who critiques this. No “reform” is wholly admirable or wholly useless. Dweck’s is no different. It is the unquestioning attitude that I find so burdensome and, in the end, so damaging to students. For example, you can look at the work of Snowden and the Cynrfin group as critique. He argues ( much the same as Kohn that extrinsic reward kills intrinsic motivation–only he argues from a complex systems approach. And from a management position. Many in education think of Dweck’s ‘system’ as an engineering solution to an ecological problem. Bad idea.

    I have seen schools where it has been co


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