Where does ‘Mindset’ meet social inclusion?

This is another guest blogpost from our annual conference – this time from Gary Walsh of Character Scotland. Gary is Character Scotland’s Executive Officer and is leading the development of the Character Development Network. If you would like to contact Gary please email gary.walsh@character-scotland.org.uk. You can also follow Character Scotland on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Character Scotland is a newly formed charity currently funded until August 2015 to do two things: continue to run the extremely successful Inspire-Aspire program and develop a new venture called the Character Development Network.
Together, these strands of activity contribute to our overall aim which is to support the cultivation of character attributes and values in Scotland, with a particular focus on children and young people.

SELMAS is grateful to Gary for sharing his critical reflections of the conference. Please add a comment if you feel inspired!

On Tuesday 19th November I attended the 2013 SELMAS conference in Stirling – a great event and a credit to all in the SELMAS community.
The presentations and discussions covered a wide range of bases including: visionary thoughts on ‘people-centred learning communities’, emerging technologies, meeting the needs of future generations, the opportunity gap, values, and a whole lot more besides. During the panel discussion I stuck my neck out and asked a question relating to the title of this blog post. After the event I received some feedback from a fellow attendee suggesting that this question resonated on some level with others, so I decided to explore the issue further and put some thoughts down in the form of a blog post.

Mind, Set and Match

Matthew SyedMatthew Syed – a former Olympian and Commonwealth champion table-tennis player, now a sports journalist and author – delivered the keynote address at the conference. His presentation drew on the impressive and important work of Prof Carol Dweck – Mindset – with a particular leaning towards sport as you might expect from an athlete. His delivery was insightful, intelligent, motivating, extremely entertaining and fun.
I have been a keen advocate of Dweck’s work for a number of years and have consistently found it helpful – I’ve even developed and delivered CPD sessions to teachers based on it. There is no doubt that Dweck’s work is well researched and respected. It even reads dangerously like common sense. Having had the opportunity, however, to revisit the issue of Mindset, I found myself asking some fundamental and challenging questions.

Reflecting on Mindsets

In Dweck’s book the research itself is presented quite simply, which is perhaps part of its broad appeal. There are two distinct and empirically measurable mindsets: a Fixed Mindset and a Growth Mindset. A person with a Fixed Mindset believes that intelligence, personality and character is innate and cannot develop; whereas a person with a Growth Mindset believes these attributes can develop with effort and application. A Growth Mindset is therefore preferable to a Fixed Mindset because it tends to lead to success and better performance. There is more to it than that but it all seems completely sensible, positive; the findings are probably recognisable to most and immediately applicable in everyday life. This image sums it up nicely. (And you can watch Carol’s keynote speech from SLF 2009 to catch up if you like).
The problem is that it isn’t as simple as all that though, is it? When we look at the issue of Mindset through the lens of psychology, it may appear as completely straightforward, even factual and measurable. It may be tempting to leave it at that because it arguably presents some workable solutions for the majority of people in the majority of circumstances.

New Perspectives

I forced myself to challenge this thinking and to consider it differently. The questions I began to ask myself were initially philosophical in nature: firstly whether one particular Mindset could ever really be the key to success; not to mention the old chestnut ‘what is success anyway?’ When regarded from a philosophical perspective, the issues of success and Mindset suddenly become a lot less straightforward.

Thinking of it from a sociological or ethical perspective, things get even trickier – at least it did for me. The world is not fair; it is not inclusive, it is not just. People are discriminated against and undervalued. It should not be that way but, for the moment it is. I began to wonder how the Mindset approach fits with the social inclusion agenda in Scotland, and it led to some even more difficult questions arising in my mind such as these:
• Is the development of a Growth Mindset just another luxurious and exclusive pursuit afforded only to those fortunate enough to be able to access it in the first place? Is it mainly available to those who are included: those who have the right kind of opportunities, the required degree of social mobility, the facilities, resources, health and wellbeing, learning or physical capabilities, and sufficient access to an environment where personal enrichment is actively encouraged and supported?
• How useful are the labels? By identifying two specific Mindsets, one being more preferable than the other, do we not run the risk of making crude and potentially unhelpful judgements about people, or even perpetuating a two-tier society characterised by those who ‘have it’ and those who do not? Or worse, those who ‘make it’ and those who do not?
• Could the theory of Mindsets be interpreted or used as just another way of blaming victims? Could a message, intended or otherwise, be received as ‘the problem is your Mindset, therefore it is your own fault that you are not a success’? Is the implication that success is completely within the control of the individual and that society has no role to play?
• Is the existence of a Fixed Mindset the cause of the shortcomings of individuals, or is it a symptom of our society’s failures? I am tempted to say that it is more a symptom than a cause. In which case should we not be focussing our efforts on addressing key societal issues on behalf of those in need, instead of focussing on supporting individuals in an arguably self-interested journey to peak performance?
• Is it not entirely understandable that a person living in the margins of society might be forced to conclude that they were born unintelligent, unable or unworthy and that that will never change, if society constantly reaffirms those messages? Which Mindset needs to change here?
• Some would say that the measure of success in society is directly correlated to the way in which the weakest and most vulnerable members of that society are treated and regarded (as opposed to fairly crude measures of success such as GDP). Read about the traditional African philosophy of Ubuntu, for instance. If success were to be measured thus at a sociological level, is our success not dependent on our interconnectedness as well as the achievements and performance of individuals? Is that not what CfE and GIRFEC are all about?

Beyond the psychology of success: a call for further exploration

These are difficult questions. No doubt there are better ones we could be asking, probably posed by people much more clever than me, but hopefully you get the idea. This line of thinking might suggest that we need to draw on a broader range of perspectives, opinions and expertise. We need to take Dweck’s work even further – looking deeper and engaging in an exploration that deals not only with the psychology of success, but one that includes philosophical, ethical, sociological and value-based perspectives, and probably some more to boot.
After all, is that not the range of perspectives and dilemmas that teachers, youth workers and others at the coalface are required to consider and balance in every moment of their working lives?
The initial question was ‘where does Mindset meet social inclusion?’. Perhaps the answer is to be found within the question itself; in a truly inclusive society, is there not room for every kind of Mindset?

2 thoughts on “Where does ‘Mindset’ meet social inclusion?

  1. An exceptionally well-written post.
    The questions asked are thought-provoking and, I agree, difficult to answer. It is important though to be asked so that we can become increasingly aware of how research can be filtered through ideological lens and used to further perpetuate social inequities.

  2. Pingback: Grit and growth: who’s to blame for low achievement? | David Didau: The Learning Spy

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