Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Personality Myth

I heard a piece on WBEZ's Invisibilia program, The Personality Myth, and the story resonated with me because its point was that personality is mutable.  The cells in our bodies are constantly being replaced, our brains are always being rewired, and our memories of events, even big important events, change over time.  What makes us who we are is not a fixed, unchangeable entity, but a mutable and constantly growing set of attributes that we actually have a lot of control over.

In the Invisibilia piece, a woman working with prisoners finds that her experiences, along with a conscious decision on her part, changed how she thinks about "good people" and "bad people": while there are amazingly good actions that people take as well as horrifyingly evil actions, people themselves, because of their mutability, are not so easily categorized.

All this reminds me of my reading and experience around growth mindset, and the saying "Success is never final and failure is never fatal; it's courage that counts."  What has already happened, whether good or bad, can be learned from and, as amazing, changeable people, we can choose the next steps on our path.

The implication for me and for my students is that regardless of past experiences with math, we have the ability to learn new strategies and techniques, and develop deeper understandings.  Right now, for example, I am in the middle of a two-week workshop getting ready to teach the Computer Science Principles class.  While I have some experience with CS, I am being asked to think in some new ways, and I am really enjoying this experience.  I'm not completely comfortable with the material yet, and the experience of learning new things has me both tired (brain work takes a lot of energy) and exhilarated (each new idea sparks lots of other ideas and questions for me).

At a deeper level, the Invisibilia piece reminds me that I have to be careful about categorizing my students.  Regardless of their past experiences and views about math, regardless of their apparent energy level for the topic, their gender, sexual orientation/identity, race, culture, year in school, or the thousand other attributes that make them who they are at this moment, my job is to recognize their humanness, honor what makes them unique, and help them determine the person they will become.