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Family book club: Mindset

Topics/tags: Autobiographical

A few months ago, I started reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset [1]. Dweck’s distinction between fixed mindset and growth mindset struck a chord. Certainly, I exhibited some tendencies toward a fixed mindset when I was in college. For example, I took my score on my first college math exam as evidence that I would never be a great mathematician [2]. But a lot of my life has been about growth. I’ve challenged myself with film classes, with studio art, with teaching courses I’ve never taken, and more. As Dweck notes, most of us are somewhere on a spectrum between pure fixed mindset and pure growth mindset.

In any case, as I read the first few chapters of Dweck, I started worrying about whether Michelle and I had been raising our children with a fixed mindset. Certainly, we celebrated many of their achievements, from their seventh-grade ACT scores [3] to their reading lexiles, as evidence of their intelligence. And that’s exactly what Dweck cautions against.

So I suggested that everyone in the family read the book. Of course, it’s my family, so someone [4] suggested that we form a Rebelsky Family Reading Group. The idea was that we all read the book and then discuss it together. I had only asked that people read it, or at least the first chapter. But a family bonding activity sounded good.

Today, we had the book club discussion. It started at 5:00 about p.m. It ended at about 7:30 p.m. Like any Rebelsky family discussion, it diverged from the main topic at many times and included some of the traditional Rebelsky family memes [5]. I found it interesting to see how each of us read and reacted to the book. It appears we all agreed with the basic theme that a growth mindset is preferable, but we had very different reactions to the rest of the book: the quality of the studies, the use of repeated anecdotes, the implications, and so on and so forth. I’m not going to relay the details because, well, I don’t consider it appropriate to share my family’s opinions broadly and, given both my normal (lack of) hearing and the addition of a cold, I’m not sure that I’d get everything right.

I will say that I was happy to hear that we’ve generally done a good job of helping our children rely more on internal validation rather than external validation and to enjoy challenges [6]. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, all three sons regularly make me proud with how they approach the world.

I also appreciated our use of technology. We all read the book on Kindle and were able to share notes, bookmarks, and highlights as we went. That meant that we had a good way to structure our discussion. That is, we went through the book from front to back, stopping mostly at the parts that someone had selected. As I said, it was a Rebelsky family discussion, so we also detoured to other topics and other parts of the book. But the technology gave us a helpful framework.

In the end, the best part was having a long discussion with my family. Dinner discussions have always been part of our modus operandi. However, we’ve had fewer opportunities for them of late.

I look forward to our next four Rebelsky Family Book Club meetings, one on Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, one on some personal finance book, one on a book on stoicism, and one yet to be determined [7]. I know they’ll be great. And while you can’t join in, perhaps you’ll be able to experience them vicariously through musings about the meetings and the books.


[1] Eventually, I’ll even muse about it.

[2] I scored an 83. That sounds oka, until you realize that it was out of 150 rather than 100. Then it sounds bad. But I had placed out of the 100-level math classes and was in a class with mostly second-year students. And, well, it was the third highest grade in the class. So perhaps it wasn’t so bad. However, the two higher grades were also first-year students and the top grade was 143. In any case, I clearly had a fixed mindset because I took it as evidence that although I could be a decent mathematician, I would never be a great one. That view stuck with me throughout the rest of my undergraduate career. Of course, the 0 on the Putnam didn’t help much either, even though it put me in the 50th percentile of people taking the Putnam.

[3] Ah, the joys of Duke TIP. If I recall correctly, all three sons scored over 90th percentile on the ACT while in seventh grade.

[4] Probably Middle Son.

[5] While we did not discuss the legendary Rebelsky Test, we did consider whether or not You do pretentious music major well is a compliment.

[6] In the weeks leading up to the discussion one Son posted a question of Do people really say This is too hard I’m doing something easier? That seems like a horrible way to live.

[7] We committed to five book club meetings this summer.


Version 1.0 of 2018-06-23.