Posts Tagged 'Nadav and Avihu'

When Falling Becomes Failing: On Mindset and Shemini

I am always in middle of about a half a dozen writing project. One of the persisting projects has been looking at  Dr. Carol Dweck‘s Mindset through a Torah lens. While her research has come under attack, I still think it is a wonderful book in which she uses her research in psychology to outlines two typological mindsets. Mindsets are beliefs  about yourself and your most basic qualities. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Below you can see a great graphic explanation of these two mindsets:

It is increasingly unclear whether attempts to change students’ mindsets about their abilities have any positive effect on their learning at all. In a recent blog, Dweck defended her work and noted that growth mindset theory ‘is on a firm foundation, but we’re still building the house’. In fact, Dweck argues that her work has been misunderstood and misapplied in a range of ways. She has also expressed concerns that her theories are being misappropriated in schools by being conflated with the self-esteem movement: ‘The thing that keeps me up at night is that some educators are turning mindset into the new self-esteem, which is to make kids feel good about any effort they put in, whether they learn or not. But for me the growth mindset is a tool for learning and improvement. It’s not just a vehicle for making children feel good.’

In her defense, just because parents and educators might adopt her language of mindsets, it does not mean that they are doing the work needed to actually create environments the support Growth Mindsets. Dweck said in an interview in 2015, “We’re finding that many parents endorse a growth mindset, but they still respond to their children’s errors, setbacks or failures as though they’re damaging and harmful… If they show anxiety or over-concern, those kids are going toward a more fixed mindset.” Like many other things, a compelling description lost its efficacy when it was turned into a prescription. And even as a description, I do find her typologies helpful.

As anyone who has been around a child learning to walk knows, we all start off knowing that falling is not failing. We are all born with a Growth Mindset and then we learn to have a Fixed Mindset. I was thinking about this when reading Shemini, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

Now Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire-pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord strange fire, which God had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord. ( Leviticus 10:1-2)

Whether their offering of “strange fire” was idolatrous or just their being creative or playful, their immediate death made it clear that in this situation falling was failing. For all of us success and failure need to be clearly defined if we hope to achieve it.  The new research it saying that it is not clear that we can transform someone from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset. It is also not clear if that effort will itself lead to success. That said, I do think that such a harsh response to falling would not encourage anyone to seek challenge in order to grow.  While a critical reading would claim that God was acting as a horrible parent, a more charitable reading would claim that God is setting out the exception which is demonstrating the rule. Falling is not allowed in the Tabernacle or Temple, but it has to tolerated if not celebrated everywhere else in that we are still learning to walk.

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