Kids know they’re smart

The smart guy from Khan Academy appears to be taking some unnecessary precautions:

The Learning Myth: Why I’m Cautious About Telling My Son He’s Smart

My 5-year-­old son has just started reading. Every night, we lie on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.” I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell­-tale signs of a “growth­ mindset.” But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years: I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

Considering that his son started reading two years later than me, most of my high-IQ friends, and most of our children, I suspect Salman Khan can relax a bit. Anyhow, I always find this issue of “telling kids they’re smart or not” to be amusing. It’s exactly like debating whether to tell a kid he’s tall or not.

I mean, do you seriously think the kid is not going to notice? Especially if he is, in fact, actually smart? My parents never told me I was smart. It was just kind of hard not to notice when I was sitting there in kindergarten reading the Encyclopedia Britannica while the other kids were eating paste, licking the doorknobs, and urinating on themselves.

If Khan wants to make sure his son struggles, that’s easy enough. Throw some long division at him. Make him read in another language. Give him Cicero and Plato to read. In fairness, I don’t tell my son he’s smart, I just tell him to keep a straight face when his teammates lament the long division problems they’re struggling with, to help them out if they ask for it, and avoid ever letting them see the collection of alien hieroglyphics that pass for his math problems. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of his face when I introduced him to the “silent gh”.  He loved the “silent e”, but I’m 100 percent certain he thought I was screwing with him until I showed him a list of numbers that included a spelled-out “eight”.

The important thing is to teach the highly intelligent not to coast on their capabilities, not to mistake potential for achievement, and to show them how to respect the less-intelligent. Intellectual arrogance in a child is as natural and as innocent as athletic arrogance. It must be kept in check, but one can’t do that by pretending there is no reason for it to exist in the first place.

We don’t pretend that children don’t come in different shapes and sizes, and we shouldn’t pretend that they don’t come with different cognitive capabilities as well. I also find it rather amusing that a guy with a five year-old thinks he has discovered secret of raising smart kids. Come back in thirteen years, sport, and we’ll see what you think you know.