Under the Umbrella of Embarrassment


Embarrassment and the Emotional Underlife of Learning by Thomas Newkirk
Heinemann, October 1, 2017

In this wide-angled reflection, Thomas Newkirk pulls from the work of many influential thinkers, ranging from Carol Dweck to Daniel Kahneman, Erving Goffman to Brené Brown, as he considers how recent research about memory, mindset, economic decision-making, and stereotype threat come together under the umbrella of embarrassment. All learning demands that we take performative risks that leave us vulnerable to embarrassment, and in Newkirk’s own words, "any act of learning requires us to suspend a natural tendency to want to appear fully competent." Newkirk unearths the fear of embarrassment underlying seemingly irrational choices that put up barriers to learning; he is particularly compelling on the ways that embarrassment hinders help-seeking. For the specific subjects of math, reading, and writing, Newkirk offers strategies (some inspired by the field of sports) for how to face embarrassment head-on and diminish its negative impact. While Newkirk’s work is generally synthetic rather than critical, he does offer critiques of the ways that current buzzwords like "grit" and "growth mindset" have been oversimplified in the mass media, and he urges moderation in how we respond to recent recommendations about effective praise. This book is a thought-provoking read about how to internalize a voice that helps us to practice "self-generosity."

Submitted By: Kate Hewitt, Far Brook School, Short Hills, NJ

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