To be clear, the connection I am trying to make here is that personality profiling-the production of psychographic renderings of human characteristics-is not just confined to Cambridge Analytica, or to Facebook, or to the wider data analytics and advertising industries. Instead, the science of personality testing is slowly entering into education as a form of behavioural governance.
Source: Learning from psychographic personality profiling | code acts in education
The marketing of mindsets is everywhere. Fast psycho-policy & the datafication of social-emotional learning dominate ed-tech. Grit, growth mindset, project-based mindset, entrepreneurial mindset, innovator’s mindset, pirate mindset and a raft of canned social-emotional skills programs are vying for public money. These notions are quickly productized, jumping straight from psychology departments to aphoristic word images shared on social media and marketing festooned on school walls.
Of course, when all these narratives about “social emotional learning” get picked up by education technologists and education entrepreneurs, they don’t just turn policy mandates or even into TED Talks. They turn into products.
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” – Eric Hoffer
Source: Education Technology and the New Behaviorism
despite the popular notion that “Skinnerism” has been excised from education, it certainly has not; indeed, behaviorism is a core feature of almost all ed-tech.
Source: Palo Alto, Day 2 – Teaching Machines
Growth mindset and Positive Behavior Support marketing have joined Leader in Me marketing at our elementary school. Instead of being marketed with synergy and Franklin Covey’s trademarks and proprietary jargon, we’re now marketed with LiM and growth mindset and PBS. A continuous stream of mindset fads hits my inbox.
Like every marketed mindset going back to the self-esteem movement, these campaigns are veneers on the deficit model that ignore long-standing structural problems like poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, and childism. The practice and implementation of these mindsets are always suborned by deficit ideology, bootstrap ideology, meritocracy myths, and greed.
“Money Doesn’t Have to Be an Obstacle,” “Race Doesn’t Matter,” “Just Work Harder,” “Everyone Can Go to College,” and “If You Believe, Your Dreams Will Come True.” “These notions have helped fueled[sic] inequity in the U.S. public education system.” Mindset marketing without equity literacy, structural ideology, and restorative practices is more harmful than helpful. This marketing shifts responsibility for change from our systems to children. We define kids’ identities through the deficit and medical models, gloss over the structural problems they face, and then tell them to get some grit and growth mindset. This is gaslighting, an attempt to “overwrite another person’s reality“. It is abusive.
Canned social-emotional skills programs, behaviorism, and the marketing of mindsets have serious side effects. They reinforce the cult of compliance and encourage submission to authoritarian rule. They line the pockets of charlatans and profiteers. They encourage surveillance and avaricious data collection. Deficit model capitalism’s data-based obsession proliferates hucksterism and turns kids into someone’s business model. The behaviorism of PBS is of the mindset of abusers and manipulators. It is ideological and intellectual kin with ABA, which autistic people have roundly rejected as abusive, coercive, and manipulative torture. We call it autistic conversion therapy. The misbehavior of behaviorism is an ongoing harm. When coercion is the soul of your practice, you get this:
PBIS is Coercion
This is an argument usually used for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), but it applies to PBIS as well. Because PBIS emphasizes the use of tangible rewards and teacher praise to motivate “appropriate” behavior, it often escapes this description.
The overall focus of PBIS is obedience or compliance with rules leading to a reward. The flip side of that coin is there is a lack of rewards or outright punishment administered for noncompliance. The pressure of complying with this system turns kids into ticking time bombs. Having to focus on compliance with school-wide and classroom rules stresses kids out and causes them to enter a state of anxiety when they come to school. In fact, I have seen this escalate to the point the school building itself was a trigger for panic attacks.
And, take my word on this, no one can identify and rebel against an unfair system as efficiently as a kid or adult with ID, except perhaps an autistic person. They know the system is unfair!
Source: PBIS is Broken: How Do We Fix It? – Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?
Instead, acknowledge pipeline problems and the meritocracy myth, stop bikeshedding the structural problems of the deficit model, and stop blaming kids and families. Develop a school culture based not on deficit ideologies and cargo cult shrink wrap, but on equity literacy, diversity & inclusion, neurodiversity, the social model of disability, structural ideology, and indie ed-tech. Get rid of extrinsics, and adopt instead the intrinsic motivation of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Provide fresh air, sunlight, and plenty of time for major muscle movement instead of mindset bandages for the pathologies caused by the lack of these three critical things.
“Self-esteem that’s based on external sources has mental health consequences.” Stop propagating the latest deficit/bootstrap/behaviorism fads. Develop the critical capacity to see beyond the marketing. Look beyond deficit model compliance to social model inclusion. The social model and structural ideology are the way forward. Growth mindset and behaviorism, as usually implemented, are just more bootstrap metaphors that excuse systems from changing and learning. “We must not allow pressure for resilience to permit broken systems to persist.“
Deficit ideology, surveillance capitalism, mindset marketing, and behaviorism are a dangerous alliance. “We favor product over process which begets one bad policy after another.” “Learning should be by design, not product.” Fix injustice, not kids. “It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student.”
Plenty of policies and programs limit our ability to do right by children. But perhaps the most restrictive virtual straitjacket that educators face is behaviorism – a psychological theory that would have us focus exclusively on what can be seen and measured, that ignores or dismisses inner experience and reduces wholes to parts. It also suggests that everything people do can be explained as a quest for reinforcement – and, by implication, that we can control others by rewarding them selectively.
Allow me, then, to propose this rule of thumb: The value of any book, article, or presentation intended for teachers (or parents) is inversely related to the number of times the word “behavior” appears in it. The more our attention is fixed on the surface, the more we slight students’ underlying motives, values, and needs.
It’s been decades since academic psychology took seriously the orthodox behaviorism of John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, which by now has shrunk to a cult-like clan of “behavior analysts.” But, alas, its reductionist influence lives on – in classroom (and schoolwide) management programs like PBIS and Class Dojo, in scripted curricula and the reduction of children’s learning to “data,” in grades and rubrics, in “competency”- and “proficiency”-based approaches to instruction, in standardized assessments, in reading incentives and merit pay for teachers.
In preparing a new Afterword for the 25th-anniversary edition of my book Punished by Rewards, I’ve sorted through scores of recent studies on these subjects. I’m struck by how research continues to find that the best predictor of excellence is intrinsic motivation (finding a task valuable in its own right) – and that this interest is reliably undermined by extrinsic motivation (doing something to get a reward). New experiments confirm that children tend to become less concerned about others once they’ve been rewarded for helping or sharing. Likewise, paying students for better grades or test scores is rarely effective – never mind that the goal is utterly misconceived.
It’s time we outgrew this limited and limiting psychological theory. That means attending less to students’ behaviors and more to the students themselves.
Source: It’s Not About Behavior – Alfie Kohn
Anyone who has observed the enthusiasm for training students to show more “grit” or develop a “growth mindset” should know what it means to focus on fixing the kid so he or she can better adapt to the system rather than asking inconvenient questions about the system itself. Big data basically gives us more information, based on grades, about which kids need fixing (and how and when), making it even less likely that anyone would think to challenge the destructive effects of – and explore alternatives to – the practice of grading students.
Source: When “Big Data” Goes to School – Alfie Kohn
At the first level, I question the ideological motivation for doing research to find the source of success and failure within individuals—assuming that individual character and behaviors are primarily or solely the source of both success and failure.
As a colleague noted during comments after the keynote, this is a “very American” way of thinking; and I would add, a flawed view of the relationship between human behavior and social forces.
At the second level, I am cautious about the quality of growth mindset and grit research as valid, and that caution is grounded in the first level—both concepts fit well into American myths about rugged individualism and the Puritan work ethic; thus, even so-called dispassionate researchers are apt to see no reason to challenge the studies (although some have begun to unpack and question Angela Duckworth’s studies on grit).
Scarcity, mentioned about, is a compilation of powerful studies that make a case unlike what most Americans believe about success and failure: those living in scarcity struggle because of the scarcity (think poverty), and those living in slack are often successful because of the slack. This work has not been embraced or received the celebrity of growth mindset and grit because it works against our narratives.
Privileged researchers blinded by their own belief in American myths as well as trust in their own growth mindset and grit, I fear, are not apt to challenge research that appears even to a scholar to be obvious.
The third level is the most damning since growth mindset and grit speak to and reinforce powerful cultural ideologies and myths about meritocracies and individual character—ones that are contradicted by the evidence; and thus, growth mindset and grit contribute to lazy and biased thinking and assumptions about marginalized groups who suffer currently under great inequities.
K-12 applications of growth mindset and grit have disproportionately targeted racial minorities and impoverished students, reinforcing that most of the struggles within these groups academically are attributable to deficits in those students, deficits linked to race and social class.
All three levels, then, are born in, protected by, and prone to perpetuate race and class stereotypes, and as a result, work against inclusive pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy.
Finally, stepping back from these levels, I also remain skeptical of growth mindset and grit because they are very difficult to disentangle from deficit perspectives of students and from monolithic, thus reductive, views of identifiable groups by race, class, gender, or educational outcomes.
Source: Rejecting Growth Mindset and Grit at Three Levels | radical eyes for equity
Thomas points to the deficit thinking that is inescapable with grit and growth mindset—The idea that students who do not demonstrate white, well-resourced definitions of perseverance with curriculum that may or may not be meaningful to them, in a larger system that is often operated with intentional and unintentional bias against their success, and to act upon those perseverance ideals daily are somehow less disciplined than others, diminished in a way, and that teachers must “fix” what’s wrong in them, (i.e., personal character and maturity) and not fix their environments and the controlling narratives of those in power that perpetuate this constant diminished state.
Author and educator Richard Cash agrees, referring to deficit thinking as the, “spoken and unspoken assumptions about a student’s lack of self-regulation, ability, or aptitude. The most devastating impact of deficit thinking is when differences—particularly socio-cultural differences—are perceived as inferior, dysfunctional, or deviant … Typically, schools are designed to ‘fix’ students who are achieving poorly or misbehaving. However, by blaming students, we exonerate ourselves as the possible cause—using the symptom to overlook the source” (June 2018).
Thomas ties it to his critique of grit/growth mindset: “Both growth mindset and grit … mistake growth mindset/grit as the dominant or even exclusive quality causing success in student learning (ignoring the power of systemic influences) and then create an environment in which some students (too often black, brown, and poor) are defined in deficit terms—that they lack growth mindset/grit.” He adds, “[S]tudents are better served by equity practices couched in efforts to alleviate the systemic forces that shape how they live and learn regardless of their character.”
In a separate post, he argues that it is particularly harmful, yet typically American, thinking to assume that students’ success and failure is driven solely by individual character and behavior, when actually, so much of any one individual’s success or failure is driven by social forces, environment of birth, and systemic biases. He recommends Sendhil Mullainathan’s Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much to clarify this point, as do I—It’s a thoughtful read.
Thomas and others claim that growth mindset/grit programs, “disproportionately target racial minorities and impoverished students, reinforcing that most of the struggles within these groups academically are attributable to deficits in those students … linked to race and social class … [which] perpetuate race and class stereotypes, and as a result, work against inclusive pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy” (Thomas, 2018).
Thomas promotes author and educator Paul Gorski’s assertion that, “Equity literate educators … reject deficit views that focus on fixing marginalized students rather than fixing the conditions that marginalize students, and understand the structural barriers that cheat some people out of the opportunities enjoyed by other people.”
Source: Grit and Growth Mindset: Deficit Thinking?
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