Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Our Identity

I never liked being asked "what do you want to be when you grow up?"  After a while, I became numb to the question and just said "architect" because I liked to build things out of K'nex.  Eventually that morphed into "engineer" part way through high school after a neat summer camp I went to.  I did end up going to engineering school, but I took a year off in the middle to start a business, did a lot of education things on the side, and then graduated and became a teacher.  Who knows how long I will teach.  My point is that my identity, who I am and what I believe, have almost nothing to do with my current job, and changing jobs is about as complicated as buying a new house (not something you should do every two years, but hardly impossible).

What then should we ask kids when we want to know who they want to be when they grow up?  I'm not completely sure, but I think it has something to do with their mindset.  My short definition of mindset is "how you evaluate what happens around you".  This includes views on failure, how optimistic you are, what you believe is possible, and how people can/do achieve difficult things.

My mindset has not significantly changed, nor have my core beliefs, since I was in high school, and they have been almost constant since my first year of college.  I believe that the world can be better, and should be better, and that I can develop the skills (through consistent effort) to make it better.  I started in engineering because it seemed like the most natural field to develop my interest in problem solving, and the design-heavy curriculum I went through at Olin failed to disappoint that desire.  I went into education because I thought it was the field where I could get the most bang for my buck, the most impact per hour of any other field I could be in.  And beneath all of this is a Christian foundation that motivates these desires and strengthens them when they temporarily stop being fun.  All of this together helps me define my purpose and give clarity to what I should be doing next in my life.  Though I try to stay as open as possible to nearly anything, my mindset and core beliefs will probably not change a lot in my lifetime.  It is anyone's guess what my job will be a few years down the line, but I'm confident that my life choices will reflect my mindset and views of my role in the world.

Back to kids -- how do we get them to give serious thought to, and be intentional about, the development of their mindset as prepare to leave school?  I feel like mindset is not openly questioned all that often, and yet it seems to be the core of who we will become.


  1. Pre-college, a lot of what kids do / get involved in/ majority of their classwork, etc. is laid out for them. I think an important part of developing mindset is simply encouraging thought and reflection about what they choose to engage in on a daily basis and why. I think your flexible curriculum helps foster that.

  2. I think you're right about kids generally not having to make a lot of decisions and not being asked to reflect on the decisions they do make. Our identity in many ways is shaped by our daily decisions and how, through reflection, we start making different decisions to put us on a different course.

  3. I'm wondering if what we've talked about many times, an independent project/project based learning/interest based learning school, would better help kids think and reflect about who they are and what they want to become? As your brother (?) stated, so much of what kids are exposed to is dictated to them, with no room for self-exploration.

  4. I think it would. Kids are put in an environment where they don't have to make too many decisions, aren't faced with big challenges, and don't need to persevere through long-term challenges very often. In my brother's case, he didn't hit an environment where he felt a lot of these things until halfway through undergrad. I want my kids to hit that as early as possible where there are caring teachers at school and parents at home that can coach them through struggle instead of protecting them from it. Don't get me wrong -- not all kids go through school without challenge and struggle -- but many on the high end find it too easy and many on the low end check out.