Grace and the Growth Mindset

“What if we’re wrong,” one of my students sitting in the front row asked me last Wednesday.

I had just finished doing my best to emphasize the importance of trying to work that I gave to them.  We were about four weeks into the new semester, and I was starting to get a flavor for each of my new classes (although I still think that giving high schoolers four hour and a half classes everyday for a whole semester is a silly idea).  My AP students did everything I threw at them, no questions asked.  My new Honors class (the first time in my life I’ve been given an honors class!) did what was in front of them and asked questions if they were confused.  My regular world history class, though, ranged from kids who mouthed off to me to kids who consistently turned to classmates  instead of listening to directions to kids who were on the phones (how many cell phones have I confiscated this semester?) to the basketball players getting called out halfway through class twice a week to a handful of kids trying to participate but then getting frustrated with the other kids’ ridiculousness.

It was after one of these episodes that my student asked the question, “What is we’re wrong.”

And as I explained that it was okay to be wrong and make mistakes, that that’s how we grow, that we never learn if we don’t take risks, that I saw in their eyes how foreign the growth mindset was to my students.

The growth mindset is something that a lot of educators talk about today–the idea of shifting away from mastery of content to growth in skill set, apparently leading students who are supposed to be more equipped to navigate the 21st century.  Whether or not I agree with the way that the growth mindset has manifested itself in the education reform world, I recognize that it is a valuable perspective for all people to work from.

A couple of weeks back I posted about conversations that I’ve had with non-believers.  I had another one with one of my colleagues this past week.  He opened by telling me that one of his students had asked him if he (the teacher) was an atheist.  The teacher had responded by saying that he wasn’t an atheist, but he definitely did not follow any one religion either.  The student then apparently responded by saying that he had a lot of doubts, and felt like a lot of time people made it seem like it wasn’t okay to doubt.

The conversation that ensued between my colleague and me ranged from trying to define doubt, debating the level to which doubt was acceptable in today’s modern world of skepticism, to faith and works, to the difference between religion and spirituality, to the nature of sin.

About two-thirds of the way through the conversation, though, I realized that my colleague and I were viewing this concept of doubt and sin very differently.

“Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I’m expected not to sin and am supposed to perfect,” I told him.  “That’s impossible.”

“Then where’s the bar?” he asked.  “Is it being good enough, or is it having a certain lack of doubt, or what?”

“What do you mean, the bar?”

“The bar for achieving enough faith?”

“What!?  That’s the point!  There is no bar anymore!” I almost laughed at how much the idea of having a “bar” for a measure of goodness in order to reach salvation contradicted my faith.  “There used to be a bar until Jesus came and met the bar for everyone!”

“So…basically we’re all mooching off of Jesus,” he replied.

“That’s the point of God’s love,” I told him.  “And the idea of grace.”

He didn’t seem to buy it.  But as he continued to try to make sense of the idea of someone would love us so much to give us a free pass into heaven and we live lives of love as a reflection of this, I couldn’t help but think that we need to espouse more of a growth mindset as we share the Gospel with others.  Especially for people who are culturally Christian, the idea of having to meet certain requirements in order to be saved it something that unfortunately is overly emphasized.  But the beauty of Christ is that I don’t have to be perfect to earn His love and salvation.  I want to be because of what He’s done for me.  But I am going to fail miserably, over and over again.  But that doesn’t mean I give up trying.

Just like my students cannot give up trying.


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