I am Hunter Maats, co-author of The Straight-A Conspiracy, and I have the zero-dollar solution to fixing our educational system: changing our culture. Ask Me Anything.
After graduating from Harvard with a degree in biochemistry, I started tutoring and was struck by just how many students insisted that they "didn't get the math gene" or that they "didn't have a natural ear for languages." Coming from a research background, I started going through the journals to see what I could find about the genetics of intelligence. The answer was incredibly surprising. In May 2010, Science published an article about what we know about the genetics of intelligence. So far, we've found three hundred genes for mental retardation and zero genes for above-average intelligence. In other words, we've found no math gene so far. What we have found is that what students believe about their intelligence is an incredibly strong predictor of their behavior and ultimately their academic success. If you believe that you are genetically doomed to fail at math is it any wonder that you don't open your math textbook or ask your teacher for help? The crisis in our educational system is not that students don't have what it takes to succeed. It's that they have everything they need to succeed and they're not using it. Fixing our educational system will not take more books or fixing the teacher's union or even iPads for every kids. It will take destroying a single idea: the idea that people are born smart. Long before there even was an educational system, individuals with few to no resources like Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington educated themselves by assigning themselves essays, borrowing books from their neighbors and relentlessly self-improving. They understood with blinding clarity what we have forgotten: educations are not given, they are taken.
All too often, we describe today's students as lazy. They are not. They are rational. Based on what they have been lead to believe about intelligence--that it is predetermined by your genes--is it any wonder that they are passive agents in the process? Cultural groups that really believe in the power of practice--many Asian-Americans and many Jews for example--succeed. Mainstream American culture looks at their success and sees it as something we can't copy, because we think their success comes from their genes. It comes from their culture. We are now in a position to carve out an international culture that surpasses anything we have seen before, because it is built on the scientific recognition that the ordinary human brain is flexible enough to become whatever you want it to be. For a long time, we've argued about human potential. Now, we know it...and the news is very, very good.
Along with a friend from college, Katie O'Brien, I'm on a quest to bridge the gap between what people believe about their brains and what science knows about learning. Our first step was to create a fun, cartoon-filled, approachable guide to the latest neuroscience and the exact steps needed to succeed in any subject in school. It's called The Straight-A Conspiracy: A Student's Guide to Ending the Stress of High School and Totally Ruling the World.
Really excited to talk with you all and hear about your own educational experiences, Hunter