Brian Foote: Big Ball of Mud [Google Video], a presentation of his paper of the same name that Brian gave at Google back in August.
My terse comment attached to my link to this SciAm article on raising smart kids got a reaction from my mother, so I thought I'd clarify my position a tad, which is actually represented pretty well in the article.
The myth of natural ability cuts two ways: It makes those with more ability than their peers less likely to apply themselves because it implies only those with less ability need to do so, and it makes those with less ability than their peers less likely to apply themselves because it implies the cards are already dealt and only those who already have more ability will ever have it. There's no shielding anyone of the fact that they have more or less ability at various things than other people at a given point in time. The trick is learning how people get good at things, knowing that it's possible to get better at anything with work, and feeling good about working at something even when others seem to be having an easier or harder time at it. In other words, it's about teaching self esteem, and that's difficult. But we're starting to understand how too much praise can be bad for self esteem.
Throughout my education, I had always wanted (but hadn't always known I'd wanted) a study subject that covered work and study skills directly: what to expect (when it's easy, when it's hard, when it seems like you can't get any better), what skills are involved (memory, abstraction, persistence) and how to improve them (drills, creative application), techniques for handling specific kinds of challenges (taking regular breaks, free-writing, flashcards—seriously, nobody told me how and when to use flashcards), the simple fact that some things are difficult and they're supposed to be difficult. When I was in high school I found a book on these subjects and was astonished that nobody was teaching that material in school. Most schools just assign work and expect students to discover the skills needed to do it. (Sadly, I didn't buy the book, and haven't found it since.)
So when I say I hope my kids never believe the myth of natural ability, I mean that I hope they learn how to do and enjoy hard work, regardless of their ability. Calling natural ability a myth is a mind hack: It's not the case that everyone is capable of everything, or even that all skills are formed environmentally. Even hard work itself may be out of reach for some people. But an extreme fatalistic view is a more natural state for young people than its opposite, and this can have serious negative developmental effects.