Bobvis has pointed out a couple times now studies that say that if you tell kids to “do their best” and not insist they can do better in school, they will learn to accept mediocrity. At least, I think that’s the message; the study claims to indicate that children who believe intelligence is a “fixed” quantity for each human are more likely to give up on a task if it’s difficult or challenging.
A secondary bit mentioned in the article he quotes is the phenomenon of “learned helplessness”, which manifests itself all sorts of ways in society.
Working at Southern Tech, I’m constantly amazed by the fact that our older faculty/staff can clearly and easily be separated into two degrees of capability: mediocre and nonexistent.
The Mediocre folks are capable enough of doing basic word processing tasks and working with one or two specialty statistics programs they’ve been using for at least a decade. The nonexistent folks are much worse; they routinely need help figuring out (I am not making this up) that they have accidentally pushed the Caps Lock key when typing.
As near as I can tell, the “Nonexistent”-skilled folks have one thing in common: all are over the age of 45, whether faculty or staff. Watching them attempt to work on their own, I can only conclude that for some portion of the population, the ability to form new mental models and learn new tasks (or even new ways of doing old tasks) has been lost after this age. This is also confirmed by my mother, whose interaction with computers amounts to announcing that the way certain things are programmed to work is “dumb”, and proceeding to attempt to interact with the computer in the way she thinks it should have been programmed to react rather than altering her behavior to work with the system as designed.
Trust me, mom. The computer’s way more inflexible than you are.