Rising above Harvard's competitive atmosphere and into a realm of personal growth and achievement is crucial to individual success, Jeffrey P. Howard '69 told about 75 members of the Black Students Association (BSA) last night.
In his speech on academic efficacy, Howard said the concept of "innate" intelligence--like the theory espoused in The Bell Curve, a controversial book at the center of recent nationwide debate--was mistaken and dangerous to personal development.
"Smart is not just something you are," said Howard. "Smart is something you can get."
Cooperative study groups and self-discipline were Howard's chief recommendations for student improvement.
"Get up. Sit down in the chair. Pick up the pen and get to work," Howard said, reciting the internal dialogue of "effective effort."
In particular, Howard raised the issue of Black student achievement. He proposed a hypothetical Harvard entering class whose Black members "decided to take a vow to take this institution seriously--to do well at Harvard, and having been to Harvard, to make it work" for themselves and their communities.
"What would it mean to do Harvard in style?" Howard inquired. Audience members responded with what Howard said was a "worthy list," topped by honors and academic achievements.
As a "psychological basis" for reaching these target goals, students should follow an "efficacy paradigm," Howard said.
Confidence promotes "effective effort" which in turn leads to personal development, he said.
How individuals respond to failure or difficulty controls how they do academically, said Howard.
By adopting what he termed a "learning goal orientation," he said students can challenge themselves to learn everything they can from a situation rather than attempt to prove themselves by outdoing others.
Under the prevailing "innate" model of human ability, as encouraged by The Bell Curve, "how you do is norm-based," said Howard.
"Your value is ascertained by comparison with those around you," he said.
As a result, he said, students tend to respond in a "helpless" way to academic difficulties and failure.
Instead, academic obstacles should be met with renewed vigor, Howard said. Students should "get mad, get determined," and think, "I must improve myself," he said.