Thursday, January 27

Genius as group: being part of a genius

Who among us has jumped at the opportunity to do group work?

Sensing the crickets via blogosphere, I'm guessing most of us would rather work alone. Group projects present a myriad of difficulties, from scheduling and personality conflicts to leader/follower issues and unstated expectations of others. Throughout my scholastic career, I endured (yes, barely tolerated) many group projects. When teachers announced a group project, I prayed we were at least allowed to choose our partners. (In which case I would choose the best friends I had in the class, at least being able to rely on them more than the average classmate.) I loathed group work because it felt like I ended up doing most of the work (so why couldn't I just work alone?), that everyone else was slacking (thus stressing me and stifling my creativity) and therefore I had to pick up the slack and carry it—while carrying my own load—across the finish line. And then my hard-earned A became everyone's A.

You know the story well. Either you've lived it or your kid complains about it. This is the unavoidable grip of group work in our world. I'm not the only person who has experienced this and these experiences do not cease after scholastic endeavors end with pieces of paper declaring aptitude and capability.

Perhaps, now more than ever, group work prepares us for the real world... especially the smart, innovative, genius-hungry real world.

I don't use my own experiences as examples to suggest I'm a genius, so let's get that out of the way first. I'm also not saying that I don't like to work with people or don't work well with people. I like it (now) and I'm rather good at it. (I'm better off when I have some sort of leadership role, but I know that's not always possible.) I'm also not suggesting that group work is bad and shouldn't be used in schools because my training as a teacher has taught me that classroom-focused, student-centered, peer-to-peer learning allows for incredible learning potential not present in lecture-centered, teacher-centric classrooms. That, and the whole idea of "no man is an island" (thanks, Donne) rings true once students go home or out into the workforce.

What I'm suggesting is that even though smart kids tend to despise group work because the other kids tend to either expect (because they're lazy/apathetic) or allow (intuiting that the smart kid wants to be in charge) the smart kids to carry the bulk of the work, perhaps the smart kids should buckle down and realize that this will help them not only be better people ("works well with others" is still a bragging point?), but also grow towards the illustrious genius status.

Lehrer suggests that the current "dearth of geniuses" is because "our modern problems have gotten so hard – so damn intractable, complicated and multi-disciplinary – that we can no longer solve them by ourselves."

So instead of following the models of geniuses that have gone before, today's genius first has to join a group project with a variety of stakeholders with different disciplinary expertise to attack the world's problems. Does this mean that a person is no longer considered a genius but instead a part of a genius? Not that the title means much, but it's likely that the suggestion of genius brings with it some ego, respect, and, today more than ever, earning power.

1 comment:

  1. Haha I totally hated group projects in college! I would always inwardly (if not outwardly) groan when one was assigned because I knew I generally had two choices: take over and shoulder most of the work or tune out and coast, willfully ignoring the urge to take over. Usually, I would take some sort of leadership position, since my grades were important and I hated the idea of getting a lower grade because of someone else. In fact, I probably shone in group projects since I interact way better with smaller groups than large ones.

    Still, I definitely had a few group projects though, in non-major subjects, where I just coasted. There was something liberating about knowing I could do something way better than the person doing it, but not saying a word about it. It was like I gave my inner control freak a mini-vacation, so it was kind of cool. I would never do that in a class I actually liked and/or actually challenged me, but in a lame-o class that was basically a waste of my time anyway, why not?

    Oh, man, another thing I hated about group work was the Alpha Dog type of thing that always seemed to arise, generally among males, though I'm sure that sounds terribly sexist of me to say. In the few cases where I decided to coast, it was always when a guy who wouldn't be reasoned with decided to assume control of the situation. Rather than fight, I said screw it.

    I totally agree that group projects can be successful (remember our Shakespeare Jeopardy? That was awesome!), but generally, they suck. But... so does the "real" world, I guess, so it's good for kids to get used to the dynamic. Boy am I glad I'm self-employed. :)


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