Is growth mind set the power of “not yet” or the politics of “not ever”?

I was struck by @nancygedge’s excellent BLOG. I said I would BLOG about it at the time.

I have worked with; blind students, deaf students,  physically disabled students. Students so disabled they could not hold a pen or speak properly. Also students with Apsergers, Dyslexia and ADHD.

I’ve worked with students from every ethnic background, nationality  and personality. Well maybe not every nationality but quite a few. I’m talking here about labels and my worry that as funding is cut those with labels will be targeted.

The thing that really struck me about Nancy’s BLOG is that it resonated with me from the perspective of non-labelled children as well. Or rather there are new labels being developed to suit our political landscape.

My family is an educational experiment of sorts. One of my children was born in July and the other in September. Both ostensibly the same in terms of development. One is regarded as a star at school and the other a bit, well, mediocre. One is a year older than some of his peers and the other a year younger. Of course we try to explain but kids aren’t stupid. “You’ll catch up in a few years time”, isn’t really that convincing.

Sadly one has labelled himself as “not a school kind of person”. He now sees his future in the Indian Premier League (IPL) playing cricket. We watch the IPL together on Channel 4. Admirable ambition, you might say. You see children aren’t stupid. No amount of aspiration or growth mind set helps when, day in and day out, you are labelled a “3” when your peers are a “4”. I know it’s not terrible, it’s just well average (ish). It’s also so blunt. You can’t really rationalise it. It’s a bit like coming second in the FA cup final. No one ever says ” whoooooooaaah dude second in the final, way to go”.

I wonder what the point of growth mindset is when the education system is negatively labeling people continuously. Of course you could say; that is the point of growth mind set. A “3” should be a “not yet 4”. I’m not convinced? Good feedback based on “what works” makes more sense to me. Our job as parents is to limit the damage before it gets seriously engrained. My suspicious mind wonders where is all this going?

As Ed Milliband alludes to our Alphabet soup education system seems no longer capable of really managing difference. What does it stand for and where’s the safety net? Further Education (FE) the sector that gives second chances is currently being starved of funds to the point of collapse whilst free schools are standing empty. FE has teams of well trained staff supporting learners with labels. I think FE has paid a price for it. The sector is seen as not dynamic, not really much of anything. It is seen as the sector that’s full of “those kind of people, the not like us kind of people”.

All progress is being stripped away. Are we heading back to the future? A 19th century pedagogy that encourages rote learning and a core curriculum that vindicates; who we are and how we got here. A 19th century ethos of education whereby charities are getting more and more involved in education, We have the Fair Education Alliance campaign for a fairer education. It reads like a policy document. In fact it reads like a pitch for business, it doesn’t read like something that is going to make a difference in the face of such structural changes.

The pupil premium seems equally unlikely to work. The rational given for it is, in my view, quite bizarre. Carol Dweck talks about the power of not yet but I buy into the theory of not stupid . Most people know most of the time what’s happening to them. I worry that we are in the grip of a constant cycle of ideas designed solely to vindicate a society that is unfair.

My view is that this is not pedagogy, it’s political. It’s a very subtle way of shifting the emphasis away from social change onto the individual.  We have replaced the social notion that teachers should personalise learning to one whereby a judgement is made on the individuals mind set. It’s part of the neo-liberal ideology that sees society as consisting of individuals. Their view is that education can be made”fair” simply by replacing the progressive with just about anything and that the problems of the individual can be defined within the context of a right and proper “mind set”.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t think it’s conscious. Nobody consciously designs a system that way. I doubt Carol Dweck see her approach as a anything other than a contribution to improving the education system. Power constantly selects that, which vindicates it in an almost evolutionary way. Over a period of time people stop noticing that language and thought is being constructed to vindicate the ideology. De-constructing society does not empower the individual it does exactly the opposite. It dis-empowers them.

So the question is whether growth mind set is really the power of “not yet” or the politics of “not ever”?

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