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334, the Anderson School on West 84th. Unlike Bond, he prefers a uniform of cargo pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of one of his heroes: Frank Zappa. Thomas hangs out with five friends from the Anderson School. Since Thomas could walk, he has heard constantly that he’s smart. Not just from his parents but from any adult who has come in contact with this precocious child. When he applied to Anderson for kindergarten, his intelligence was statistically confirmed. The school is reserved for the top one percent of all applicants, and an IQ test is required.
Thomas didn’t just score in the top one percent. He scored in the top one percent of the top one percent. But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite.
For instance, in the early grades, Thomas wasn’t very good at spelling, so he simply demurred from spelling out loud. When Thomas took his first look at fractions, he balked. The biggest hurdle came in third grade. He was supposed to learn cursive penmanship, but he wouldn’t even try for weeks. By then, his teacher was demanding homework be completed in cursive.
Rather than play catch-up on his penmanship, Thomas refused outright. Thomas’s father tried to reason with him. Why does this child, who is measurably at the very top of the charts, lack confidence about his ability to tackle routine school challenges? Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves.
They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent. When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. It might actually be causing it. Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms.