Cultivating Intellectual Humility

November 30, 2019

Quote of the Week

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." --C. S. Lewis

Cultivating Intellectual Humility

“I disagree with myself.” This is what a third-grade boy said in front of his math class during a discussion about even and odd numbers. He believed six was both even and odd. When one classmate presented counterevidence, he considered her point. “I didn’t think of it that way,” he said. “Thank you for bringing that up.”

This third grader was exhibiting intellectual humility—recognizing the limits of his knowledge and valuing the insight of someone else. In a culture in which confidence is admired and mistakes mocked, his admission is commendable. But does such intellectual humility have any real benefits for learning?

My colleagues and I set out to test whether intellectual humility was empirically associated with learning outcomes. We started by measuring high school students’ intellectual humility. We had students rate themselves on statements like “I am willing to admit it when I don’t know something” and “I acknowledge when someone knows more than me about a subject.” We wanted to know: Would this intellectual humility relate to students’ motivation to learn, their learning strategies, and even their grades? What’s more, would teachers observe any differences between students with differing levels of intellectual humility?

We found that the more intellectually humble students were more motivated to learn and more likely to use effective metacognitive strategies, like quizzing themselves to check their own understanding. They also ended the year with higher grades in math. We also found that the teachers, who hadn’t seen students’ intellectual humility questionnaires, rated the more intellectually humble students as more engaged in learning. [read more]

Reading Corner

Title: The Tower: A Story of Humility
By: Richard Paul Evans
Ages: 4-8

"A young man wishes to be great. He believes he will achieve his goal only when everyone in the village looks up to him. So he constructs a wooden tower that reaches to the clouds, but soon he becomes lonely.
One day a passing bird tells the young man of an old woman who is greater than he. So he descends from his tower and discovers the poor woman feeding a flock of birds. She shares the wisdom that "to be great is not to be higher than another, but to lift another higher." Only when he meets a lonely child who proudly holds himself apart does the young man finally see the truth of her words. With his feet at last on the ground, the young man commits an act of great generosity, achieving his wish in a way he never expected." --Publisher

Be the Change

Encourage your children to learn how to share their opinions respectfully, while listening to what others share openly as well. This article offers practical tips on how to support our children in this way.