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Discipline, Being Smart, School

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Posted

I can only speak from personal experience here, but, there is a negative cultural problem in the school environment I did not think of before. This is probably indicative of a larger cultural problem however.

Throughout my school experience, it was so common for children and teachers to praise intelligence rather than hard work and discipline. I don't like doing finger pointing anymore, but, only after suffering the consequences did I come to understand why praising children for being smart only harms them (from parents and teachers alike). I know I'm not the only one who experienced this--I was surprised to find other people online who feel the same way.

It's like this: When you praise a child for being intelligent because they are able to complete tasks that they find very easy (any kind of academic work), you are teaching them to rely on their intelligence, rather than discipline. What do you think happens to a child who blazes through the public school system with minimal effort while receiving constant praise from their teachers and parents? What happens when this child reaches the "real world" where you have to actually work in order to accomplish anything that anyone would care about?

This "gifted" child from a very young age believes themselves to be different and better from others, because their teachers, their parents, and their peers continually praise them for getting perfect scores on various homework and examinations after putting in 0 effort, while they observe others struggling. This teaches them one thing: I can accomplish X without doing the work, because I'm smart. If the child becomes an egomaniac like me, not only do they believe themselves to be smart, they believe other people and other things (such as their infantile homework assignments) to be lower and stupid and worthless. They do this because this is the culture they grew up in. This is what their parents, their peers, and their teachers taught them.

This gifted child finally graduates, who never learned how to put in a full day working on one thing, who never learned how to concentrate and eliminate distractions, who never learned how to moderate pleasures and instant gratifications, who never learned how to study properly, who never formed a healthy value system. Kids like this have major problems when they finally grow up and face the real world, rather than the illusion of easy achievements and praise they received in school.

In my case, this is why I struggled when I reached college. That was the first time in my life when I actually had to try at something. That was the first time when I was no longer the smartest person in the room by a long shot, and nobody cared who was smart and who wasn't. I dropped out 2 semesters later. Couldn't handle it.

I didn't learn from that event however, it took multiple failures until I realized what the problem was. Have to be careful though. Having a realization isn't worth anything (this is just "being smart" and not producing anything). Realizing you have a problem or you did or said something wrong neither changes nor forgives the problem. The only difference is that now you are aware of its existence. The problem is still open to criticism and amendment. Self-awareness is the first baby step. This also took a bit of time for me to figure out. Now, the hard part is figuring out how to fix the problem, and then actually having the discipline to amend it. Reforming an identity and a set of habits that has been built in your being since you were a child is an incredibly difficult task.

The illusion of school is that children believe they're actually accomplishing something when they receive grades and various accolades. But there's such a massive rift between the superficial and narrow intellectual achievements of the school system and the reality of society and the universe as a whole. The primary activity within schools is the passive consumption of intellectual information, most of which has questionable value to most individuals. There is very little production of anything. Any production that does happen is usually in the form of a project or essay with guidelines on how to produce. The final product will be graded based on a one-size-fits-all guideline, often with a numerical grade attached to it, as if any worthwhile human activity can be judged in such a superficial and stratifying way.

Great achievements that change the world or change the individual do not happen with minimal effort or being smart. Even the "smartest" individuals out there who did something amazing didn't sit around having epiphanies. They put countless, disciplined hours working on something and failing a lot.

A gifted child addicted to minimal effort, high return validation is going to shutdown in the face of any challenge. Anything that doesn't immediately offer a solution is going to be ignored and procrastinated on. It's too uncomfortable, because they've never had to exert effort before. They do not possess the discipline or knowledge to solve a problem or create anything.

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Posted (edited)

I've recommended the book by Robert Greene, Mastery, which will help codify the lessons you are learning as you go.

My personal experience is pretty much this:

I was smart, because I was interested in lot of things, like science, art, history, etc., and I had a good memory. It wasn't because I studied like a studious person - it was only cuz I was ahead of the class, and that wriggle room let me ace the tests. But I never had the discipline to actually study rigorously or daily. That didn't bite me on the ass until college.

It wasn't because the subjects got more difficult - it was because of the thinning of the herd. I was no longer ahead of the class - I became an average student just because I didn't develop any study habits.

Luckily I found the philosophy bug in time, and I mustered up enough dedication to that major and graduated from college. :shakehead:

But at the same time, I wasn't disciplined with drawing either. So I often doodled in the margins of my notes for class certain characters or faces. They were pretty sharp and neat. However, when I decided to draw a graphic novel, I found out that my short-cuts and tricks didn't help. They were almost obstacles in themselves! :eek3:

I had to really rely on guidelines to establish the physics or masses of the objects in space, because I didn't know how to draw figures except at a fixed eye level. In telling the story, I had to pick from different angles, different vantage points. That meant I couldn't rely on my habits at all. Back to the drawing board with fundamental blocks or shapes for bodies, figures, and guide-lines for facial features.

Little by little I developed a semblance of discipline through daily drawing, inking, and so forth. These days I try to challenge myself with new projects on top of the graphic novel such as TGIFF on instagram, where I draw a cute chick from scratch and ink it under 45 minutes. :thumb:

Edited by The Heretic
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Posted

Damn dude... I've been reading Mastery this morning. Taking a break before reading more. So good, exactly what I was looking for. This is really helping me crystallize some of my thoughts and feelings. I really appreciated that he started the book discussing our primal beginnings.

He also talks about the importance of developing social intelligence. At first, I was going to mention that in my post, but I deleted it because I didn't think it was relevant... but nah, that's super important. If you are emotionally and socially stunted, you are going to make really stupid decisions. Unless you plan on becoming Survivorman and living in the wilderness alone, you must learn how to play politics at least a little. It takes more than 1 more to do anything. You will inevitably have to deal with people in some way. You might as well learn how to work together, or at least learn how to identify parasites and sociopaths that will crush you and distract you from your goals if you aren't careful. Bigger and better things happen when you get a bunch of people working together (slaying a mammoth, landing on the moon, starting a business, raising an army).

That is my other criticism of the school system. People defend school and say that it provides social opportunities. While that is true, (1) school merely provides opportunities, it doesn't explicitly develop social and emotional intelligence that will allow you to effectively navigate the environment both within and without school (2) school is a very destructive environment for some kids (depression, bullying, pharmaceutical companies are marketing questionable drugs to children because they were unlucky in the genetic/environment drawing when they were born and nobody taught them how to adapt) (3) there are plenty of other alternatives, we can organize society in an infinite number of ways, stop limiting your options and learn to color outside the lines.

Also, that childlike wonder/curiosity/absorption... I've been wanting that. I sometimes feel moments of it, but it goes away. Sometimes I feel it when I'm sober, I feel it while under the influence of psychoactive chemicals. I want to create that feeling in my every day life you know? And I want to somehow bring my interests to other people, and show them an experience of the world they haven't seen before.

I have this weird collection of disparate interests, and I'm having trouble integrating all of it, deciding what needs my attention the most... But, I want to believe that if you throw yourself hard enough at something, magical things happen, despite the crowd telling me I'm being impractical or I'm useless right now.

If we were a group of hunter-gatherers, what would I be contributing right now? To our survival and broadening our experience of the world? We aren't chasing food in the wild anymore (not directly), but we're still a group of humans working together. I want to give people something they can use and experience and enjoy, and I want to feel fulfilled in the process.

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Posted (edited)

The problems you’ve mentioned are certainly something to be concerned about, but it’s no use praising students for discipline if they never find themselves in need of it. For that, they need to be challenged, and they also need strong incentives to meet those challenges-- stronger, I think, than being praised.

My own experiences with formal education haven’t left me with any great affection for it. I would have liked to have been more concise with my account, only it provides so many excellent examples both of problems within the American educational system and wider cultural problems that have an impact on education. :tsk:

My early classroom memories are all of being bored. To keep myself interested, I would add extra requirements to my assignments to make them more challenging, but my teachers only saw me as being difficult. And if I ever became interested in a subject for its own sake, I would inevitably be led in a direction other than the one the teacher wanted us to go, and so, again, I was being difficult. More than a few times I was discouraged from holding myself to my own high standards, and told that I should just be myself—which was very confusing, since what I was doing seemed perfectly natural to me.

By the time I was in high school, I had grown to hate school. I was at the top of all my classes and a record-setting track athlete—school athletics probably taught me more about discipline than my classes ever did—but I still hated it, and being praised for my accomplishments only felt like mockery when they brought me so little satisfaction. My university studies continued along much the same lines. But while I had excellent study habits, I was beginning to realize that I had no idea where my interests and talents actually lay.

I wanted a chance to explore more options, so midway through my sophomore year I applied to transfer to another university, one that would give me more freedom and flexibility in class selection. I was accepted—but the tuition I was asked to pay would have encumbered me with so much debt that I turned the offer down. In the meantime, I had switched my major from biology to philosophy as a backup plan, having enjoyed the introductory course I had taken more than any class for a long time. (It brought about much parental disapproval—once I told them. :flipoff: )

But a few months later, I was treated badly by a teacher, and was unable to bring the administration’s attention to the matter. It made the idea of attending there any longer unbearable, and under pressure of that, and uncertainty about the future, and worsening health, I left—although the last was something of a catch-22, since leaving meant losing my insurance at a time when I had never needed it more.

I’ve studied a lot on my own since then, but I absolutely cannot bring myself to study anything that doesn’t interest me—anything that wouldn’t bring me closer to my goals, now that I have goals. And as long as I limit those goals to a reasonable number, and don’t let myself be pulled in too many directions at once, I just do what I want, and it works out well enough. (If the prospect of effort doesn’t present a problem for me, moderation is more elusive.) But I’m still not sure where discipline fits into it—whether it’s something I had and lost, or whether what I’ve replaced it with is itself a kind of discipline. It’s not unlike the enthusiasm I once brought to my studies as a child, which seems like a good sign, anyway.

While I’d like to think that when I begin taking classes again next spring, it’ll go better than it did last time, I doubt it will be any less difficult to reconcile my own goals with what will be expected of me as a student—not to mention what will be expected of me from my society later on. I have no reason to believe it’s not just going to be the same problems, all over again, unless being prepared to meet them is enough to make a difference. :noidea:

But as for discipline: while I may have had discipline as a student, I don’t think I got much out of my education until it was in my own hands. Looking back, most of my responses to its shortcomings were actually pretty constructive ones, and it still never lost an opportunity to let me down. But who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t be able to put nearly as much effort into doing the things I love if I hadn’t spent so long making myself do things I didn’t care about. And, even if my interests aren’t compatible with any career I’d seriously consider, I do have a pretty good idea of what they are and what I want to do with them. :yup:

Edited by Tzela Vieed
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