In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about growth mindset and it’s importance to achievement. Arthur Jensen is often portrayed as a sort of fatalist, but consider this anecdote about a high school student who wrote to him, worried whether his IQ was high enough:
Recently I received a letter from a high school senior who described himself as coming from a disadvantaged background. He had a strong desire to go on to college in hopes of becoming a lawyer, and he was wondering about his IQ and how much stock he should put in it in deciding his further course. I doubt if there is much more sense in worrying about one’s own IQ than in worrying about the age at which one will die, as predicted by the insurance company’s actuarial tables. Among other things, I wrote the following to my student inquirer: ‘My own attitude toward tests, when I was a student, was not to give much thought to them but simply to set my sights on what seemed to me a realistic goal and then do my best to achieve it. You find out from those who have already made it what you have to know, what you have to be able to do, what skills you need to develop, and you set about doing these things just as you’d go about doing any kind of job that you know has to be done. If you set your goals too low, it’s too easy and you won’t develop your potential. If you set goals that are unrealistically high, you become discouraged. I recommend one step at a time, each step being some-thing you really think you can achieve if you really work for it. When you have made the first step successfully, then you will have a better idea of how to take the next step. That way, if you have whatever it takes, you’ll make it; if you haven’t got whatever it takes, you’ll find this out. But you’ll never really know without trying your best. I wouldn’t let any kind of test score determine what I try for. The reality of your own performance is meeting the competition in striving toward your goals is the only real test. I believe this approach gives one the best chances of finally doing what he is best suited for, and this is one of the conditions for a satisfying life.’
- Jensen, A. R. (1970). Can we and should we study race differences? In J. Hellmuth (Ed.), Disadvantaged child, Vol. 3, Compensatory education: A national debate. New York: Brunner/Mazel.