Bain urges F&M students to try new things, become better learners

By Izzy Schellenger || Contributing Writer 

Dr. Ken Bain, the president of the Best Teachers Institute and the internationally best-selling author of What the Best College Students Do, gave this past week’s Common Hour lecture. He is the founding director of teaching and learning centers at Vanderbilt University, Montclair University, New York University, and Northwestern University. In addition, his 15-year-long research on how to be better educators has made him internationally renowned, as he is able to give lectures about his work all over the world. On Thursday, Bain’s Common Hour lecture centered on how F&M students can become better learners and intellectuals. 

“[Students must believe that] college can help you develop the dynamic power of your mind so that you can live a more creative and productive life,” Bain said.

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In order to realize our potential as students and as people, we first must recognize that we are all unique and unusual. Because no one shares our exact life experiences, it is important that we learn from the different perspectives of others.

Creative individuals develop at crossroads, Bain said, when they encounter a plethora of ideas and are encouraged to question them. Bain also asserted the necessity of self-reflection and analysis. He challenged 17th century philosopher John Locke’s theory of the tabula rasa, or a “blank slate,” stating that we all are born with different intellectual capacities. Through introspection, students will be able to recognize their innate
uniqueness and their potential.

Bain also stressed the concept that knowledge is not fixed. It does not remain stagnant, but rather it is malleable and flexible. People’s brains always have room to grow and develop.

By overcoming this resistance, the possibilities for intellectual and academic growth are endless.

One way that Bain suggested to help development is to understand and conquer to reasons behind why you are reluctant to try something new.

To illustrate this concept, Dr. Bain described the 50-year-old study about children and their levels of self-control with marshmallows. Children were presented with the choice to eat a marshmallow right away or to wait; if they waited, they would receive two marshmallows as a prize. Half of the children ate the marshmallow immediately, while the other showed signs of struggle and resisted the temptation in front of them.

Upon future analysis, when the same children reached high school, the experimenter found out that the children who resisted the marshmallow when they were younger received higher SAT scores than the children who did not. This allegorical experiment illustrates the notion that if students accept their knowledge as fixed, they are more likely to not resist their temptation to not work as hard towards a goal.

Dr. Bain says that his book, What the Best College Students Do, centers on how students become successful by realizing that they are unique and that their brains are not fixed. One of the ways that this success is measured is through how these students react to failures. The people who dealt with failure in a destructive and negative way all saw intelligence as a fixed and an ascribed concept, giving them a sense of
hopelessness about the future.

Dr. Bain stressed the value of having an open-mindset when it comes to failures. Educators and parents need to create an environment that encourages students and children to have a flexible view of intelligence.

Instead of making “personal-oriented comments” such as repeatedly telling a student how smart they are, educators and parents should focus on “task-oriented comments” where comments and questions are made about work ethic and how the task was completed. In this way, students will develop a mindset that will lead them to expand their horizons of learning.

Sophomore Izzy Schellenger is a contributing writer. Her email is ischelle@fandm.edu.

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