I have been thinking a lot lately about how reading changes us.
In between other books I have been devouring for class, leadership ideas and my book club, I keep going back to read more of Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath book. Today I came across something that really made me think about our choices to attend (and maybe teach at) great schools.
"The phenomenon of relative deprivation applied to education is called- appropriately enough- the 'Big Fish-Little Pond Effect.' The more elite an educational institution is, the worse students feel about their own academic abilities. Students who would be at the top of their class at a good school can easily fall to the bottom of a really good school. Students who would feel that they have mastered a subject at a good school can have the feeling that they are falling farther and farther behind in a really good school. And that feeling- as subjective and ridiculous and irrational as it may be- matters. How you feel about your abilities- your academic 'self-concept'- in the context of your classroom shapes your willingness to tackle challenges and finish difficult tasks. It's a crucial element in your motivation and confidence." Gladwell, 80
The reason I find this difficult to believe in its entirety is because of the increasing awareness in Education about the importance of Growth Mindsets on learning. In Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck's research, it is the mindset of taking on challenges and looking for opportunities to grow that leads to success. The opposite, believing in a fixed intelligence, judging ourselves as failures and feeling that we are in competition with others for success, is what prevents us from pursuing (and sticking out) difficult challenges. Since Gladwell mentions competition in his descriptions of the science classes at Harvard, it makes me wonder if there is any real connection between the fish and the pond or if it all has to do with Mindset in the end.
As I apply for a Masters program in the U.S. next academic year, I find myself seeking out exactly those prestigious programs and reputable schools. Why? Because I want to be challenged. I don't want to be a big fish in a little pond. I want to be in a big ocean of ideas where I can grow. What is the point of learning if you go in knowing you are already on top and will remain there? I want a challenge and I want to learn from those big scary sharks who might be scary at times. That is how we grow into big fish!