The Hopeful Curmudgeon

optimism is for dummies

There....I said. Optimism is dumb. Not only is it dumb, it also dangerous. Optimism is an enabler for the status quo. Nobody has ever described this danger as eloquently as my favourite and irascible flame throwing academic (and hopeful curmudgeon) , Dr. Cornel West in picture above. I would like to classify myself as a hopeful curmudgeon as well.

Not only is optimism a busted outlook, those purveyors of it are also kinda lazy! The optimist believes that maintaining a positive outlook will surely lead to change. They base this belief on ZERO empirical or qualitative evidence. This outlook is predicated on the power of a positive attitude. Optimism hovers on the peripheries of serious issues. It likes light lifting and avoids perspiration inducing activities (either physical or mental). Optimists are the "give a trophy to everyone" crowd.

The greatest agents of change both past and present were people of hope and not sunny optimists. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and the countless more today fighting for civil liberties across the world recognized the obstacles, the inherent dangers and the potential for harm BUT still chose to press forward. Agents or prisoners of hope are those who recognize that the current path is unworkable and transformation is needed. They do not accept the status quo, rather they challenge it at every turn. The evidence in their minds is clear: change is required, change will be very difficult but regardless of the dangers ahead, change MUST and WILL happen.

People of hope are true activists who move forward and fight to make things better while the optimists smile vacantly.

optimism is too busy with whether the glass is half empty or half full while hope wants to do something with the water!

It is because I consider myself a prisoner of hope that I am so enthralled with Dr. Carol Dweck's work regarding Growth Mindset. Rather than focusing on empty forms of self-esteem and pats on the back of students, a Growth Mindset emphasizes the transformative power of hard work, determination, and practice. Intelligence is not fixed. It can be developed. All children can learn.

A Growth Mindset is rooted deeply in learning from your mistakes and emphasizing the value of questioning and not just answering.  Working with mistakes and questions requires one to step into uncomfortable and muddy territory. Developing a Growth Mindset forces you to face struggle head on while still making the choice to push forward. I would argue that are people of great hope also have a Growth Mindset. They believe that they can improve with hard work and determination. They can learn from their mistakes because they are willing to make mistakes in the first place.

I believe that in my role as an educational leader I must make Growth Mindset development a priority in my school. It is foundational in bringing about the type of learning that I believe will serve our students best. If we want life-long learners, inquirers, collaborative contributors and knowledge creators, then we must help them to participate in meaningful struggle. We have to help our kids to believe that:

being hopeful is hardwork