Several years ago, I read a book comparing the Japanese and American school systems. (For the life of me, I can’t remember or find the name of the book, otherwise I’d link to it.) The book illustrated an example of one massive difference: in both countries, children were asked to go in front of the class and work a math problem.
In Japan, if the student made a mistake, there was no shame or embarrassment. They were asked to correct the mistake, and worked through the problem until they came up with the right answer, even it if took considerable time. They were praised for persevering and for the work they put in to solve the problem. However, American schoolchildren were quick to label a student as ‘dumb’ or a ‘slow-learner’ immediately after the student made a mistake.
The author of the unremembered book stated that in Japan, the school views children as all having the same potential for achievement. Some students just take longer to master material than others. I feel confident in saying that this differs greatly from our opinion in America. The thought of having to solve a math problem in front of a class makes my stomach knot up a bit. (Math was never my strong subject). And honestly, in high school, I got as far in math as colleges required (the bare minimum), and I quit taking math classes. I labeled myself as ‘not a math person’, and never looked back.
**I feel like I need to add a little disclaimer: I don’t like making mass declarations about nations (or groups) of people. I recognize that while studies have found that Denmark is the happiest nation in the world, there are depressed Danes, and joyful, well adjusted people of other nationalities. While the French have a much different food culture than America does, there are Americans who eat only unprocessed foods and French citizens who rely heavily on fast food. My intent is not to put people in a box, but to learn from someone that knows more about something than I do. And now back to our regularly scheduled programing…**
The book The Danish Way of Parenting urges parents not to over praise children for achievements, but rather to praise them for working hard and from learning from their mistakes. (See the A is for Authenticity chapter).
The authors state that praising a child’s intelligence actually decreases their confidence when they come up against a task they struggle with. Children think, “I’m not smart enough for this.” Instead we need to foster the mindset that hard tasks require hard work, and making mistakes is just part of the learning process.
Ironically, this can especially be an issue for bright kids who grasp new information easily. The truth of the matter is that Bobby and Billy may both make a 95% on a math test. Bobby may not have studied at all, where Billy studied an hour every night for a week.
Bobby may coast through school for several years, getting good grades without much outside effort. However, once he hits more challenging material, Bobby may be at a disadvantage because he hasn’t been practicing strong study skills. He hasn’t learned how to work hard and persevere when learning doesn’t come as easily to him.
According to the book The Danish Way of Parenting, “Geert Hofstede, a world-renowned cultural psychologist, concluded in a very famous study about cultural differences that the US has the highest level of individualism in the world.”
I think there is a lot of truth in this statement, and while it’s not bad, I do think as parents, we need to find the fine line. Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
I think there are several important lessons for parents to learn:
–Teaching kids to work hard is one of the best skills you can give them. If your child excels and learns easily, find something that is a challenge for them. Maybe it’s a sport, musical instrument, hobby, or foreign language. Children need to be challenged and to learn how rewarding it is to achieve something that they work hard for. If they aren’t being challenged in school, or in their regular extra curricular activities, find something new for them to try.
–Teamwork is important, no man is an island. Unless you’re a completely self-sufficient hermit, people need to work and interact with other people. If you can help your child learn teamwork, and how to work with others, it will be a skill that will benefit them their entire life.
–We are all individuals, and we’re wired and gifted differently. No one wants to be Einstein’s sad, frustrated fish, believing his whole life that he’s stupid simply because he’s trying to do something that he’s not suited for. Yes, hard work and practice can help learn and master skills. But when it comes to picking a college major or a career, our children need to understand what they’re naturally most comfortable with, what skills their brains are wired for. They need to understand their own personalities and dispositions so that they can chose environments where they will thrive, not ones that they will be fighting to swim upstream in.