Saturday, February 1, 2014

"Well sorry, I'm not born genius"

Often we heard the above phrase in our daily lives especially if you are studying in a college or a university. It can come in many different forms such as

"I just can't do this. I am not even smart to begin with!"
"Weyh, aku memang bodoh math ar. Tak boleh doh"
"Tau ar pandai. Kesian ar aku yang tak pandai macam ko."

These people, as you may noticed, are saying that intelligence comes from birth. You are either smart or dumb. As simple as that, which brings us to a question, are their statements true? Does intelligence comes from genetics and heredity?

Research showed that it is not REALLY the case. Sure, genetics has something to do with intelligence. Some kids are really born smarter than others but we are forgetting an important fact: intelligence (meaning our brain) are in fact quite malleable. We can work hard to become smarter than we are before!

Let's take math for example, the most popular to this "Oh, I'm a math person/not a math person" problem. (See how many people complain about math on Twitter. Too many to count) In an article written by Noah Smith and Miles Kimball, they noticed a very peculiar patterns in high school mathematics students.

  1. Different kids with different levels of preparation come into a math class. Some of these kids have parents who have drilled them on math from a young age, while others never had that kind of parental input.
  2. On the first few tests, the well-prepared kids get perfect scores, while the unprepared kids get only what they could figure out by winging it—maybe 80 or 85%, a solid B.
  3. The unprepared kids, not realizing that the top scorers were well-prepared, assume that genetic ability was what determined the performance differences. Deciding that they “just aren’t math people,” they don’t try hard in future classes, and fall further behind.
  4. The well-prepared kids, not realizing that the B students were simply unprepared, assume that they are “math people,” and work hard in the future, cementing their advantage.
Source: Power of Myths, There is One Key Difference Between Kids Who Excel In Math And Those Who Don't

As you can see, students who believe that they are 'not a math person' will really become 'not a math person' even though they actually are a 'math person' before. This self fulfilling prophecy is dangerous as you believe in a lie that you choose to believe, hence changing your fate and destiny. I, myself saw this during my high school years. A friend who believes that he can't do math to change his life choose to avoid math completely, refusing to do homework or put in time and effort to practice (an essential factor of mathematical success) thus he continue to fail in math. 

Here is a plot twist: he actually is an A math student in his previous school. What happened was the transition from primary to secondary was a shock to him and it led him to believe that he was not good at math. Believing in that, he became a student who is not good in math. It is true that what you believe can actually become truth if you believe in it hard enough. We can't really blame him. He is one of those many people who believe that intelligence are rigid and there is nothing you can do to change it. In his case, his drop in math score in secondary school pushed him to believe that he is not good in math. Even if he choose to work hard for it, he will still think it will be all for naught because he believes that intelligence is static. So, like many others, he choose not to work at all.

In a flip side, if he believe that intelligence is malleable, he will work harder in the face of failure because he knew that hard work is a determinant of intelligence. Richard Nisbett recalled something from his book 'Intelligence and How to Get It'

Dweck and her colleagues then tried to convince a group of poor minority junior high school students that intelligence is highly malleable and can be developed by hard work…that learning changes the brain by forming new…connections and that students are in charge of this change process. The results? Convincing students that they could make themselves smarter by hard work led them to work harder and get higher grades. The intervention had the biggest effect for students who started out believing intelligence was genetic. (A control group, who were taught how memory works, showed no such gains.)

See? In simply believing that your hard work matters to your intelligence can really change your course during your academic years (or even in life). Isn't it sad to live your life believing that you are dumb and here is nothing you can do about it?

Going back to the Math story, I think this is why our Math scores are plunging in the international level. There is no one to tell these students that they NEED to work hard to be smart, not just to 'berserah and bersyukur'. And there is a trend in school where the divide between 'pandai and bodoh' is so apparent which worsen this situation. As you know, there is a trend of dividing up class to first class, second class etc. This is simply society's way of saying that "You are not smart. That is why we are putting you here". This will make the student believe that they are in fact not smart and hence stop working hard at all. And again, there is no one to tell them that they can improve their intelligence with hard work and so, it spiraled down from here.

Another factor which contributes to this is the abuse of the term "Bersyukur." Don't get me wrong, I absolutely support the said term and have nothing against it but it irks me to see that it is abused for all the wrong reasons. Bersyukur is basically to be grateful of whatever that you are given. True, but like most if not all terms that exist in this world, bersyukur is not something that is stand alone; there is another term to follow it up. Often, we think that by being bersyukur, everything is actually working out and there is nothing we can do about it. However, we forget that there is an 'usaha' component before the bersyukur part. I don't get it why you must be bersyukur of your subpar results when you didn't actually put in any effort into it. It is sadly nihilistic.

So, stop believing that you can't change your life. Intelligence, believed to be an important determinate of a fulfilling live, can be determined by the amount of hard work and effort you put into it. You are not smart unless you choose to believe that you are not smart. Therefore, stop lamenting and start working hard!


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