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Teaching the wrong lessons

USA Today has an article about a study that the big push towards boosting children's self-esteem of the 80's wasn't such a good idea, after all. Apparently now that those kids are growing up and finding out that not everyone will blow sunshine up their butts and praise them to the high heavens. Reality is crashing in on their tender little egos, and it's proving very painful.

Ever since I first heard about this notion, I've thought it was insane. Protecting children from criticism and failure and judgment while they're children simply renders them unable to deal with it when they're adults, and makes it a far harsher lesson.

One belief I've had for most of my life is very simple: anything someone else gives you, someone else can take away. The only things you are guaranteed to keep are those you earn for yourself.

I know I'm a good writer. I know that because I work at it. I read obsessively, and I write nearly as obsessively. I am borderline anal-retentive about spelling and grammar, because I don't want anything to distract from the message I am trying to convey. I don't know I'm a good writer because someone told me I was, because that's what some stupid book told them to say.

So I'm glad to see people have finally come to realize this simple truth. I'm just sorry for all the kids they screwed up in the process.

Is there any way we could sue the National Education Association for malpractice?


Update: OK, typo fixed, ccwbass. I KNEW I shoulda triple-checked this piece before hitting "publish..."


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Teaching the wrong lessons:

» Brain Fertilizer linked with Mommy Madness (UPDATED)

» Cross-Eyed Bear linked with Self-Esteem Bubble Bursting

» The Zero Boss linked with Why Johnny's Still Dumm

» what if? linked with Always a Winner

» Myopic Zeal linked with Self Esteem, Spanking and More...

» Number 2 Pencil linked with Nothing like real life to burst the bubble

Comments (21)

- Hmmmm... so then if we pr... (Below threshold)

- Hmmmm... so then if we project the effects on adult orientation and self image from these and other similar "theories" that have been force fed into our education system over the years one might think you would have, as a direct result, a specific portion of our society that are essentially "nanny-fied" and convinced that the government should be expected to take care of them from cradle to grave....Now where have I heard that pleating sound recently?

- Personally I prefer the solid individuality of my forefathers...To wit:

- Didn't need no welfare state,
- Everybody pulled their weight,
- Gee our old Lasalle ran great,
- Those were the days....

"thiy're"?Not anal... (Below threshold)


Not anal-retentive enough, I see. ;)

Not to worry. My edit-after... (Below threshold)

Not to worry. My edit-after-the-original-post count averages somewhere around 7. I'm really, REALLY sloppy.

The original, and much more... (Below threshold)

The original, and much more comprehensive, article was in the Jan issue of Scientific American


You want an illustration of... (Below threshold)

You want an illustration of just how and destructive this self-esteem crap is on kids? Try this little story:

I was a middle school teacher at an affluent private school about 8 years ago. I left the corporate world for just one year to clear my head and try and make a difference for others. Well, about 20% of the boys at this school were on some kind of ADD/ADHD medication. Now, I'm not saying that some, or even many of them, didn't need the stuff. But here's what I can tell you:

1) I had these same kids fake cry on me constantly as an excuse for why they didn't get their homework done;
2) Many of them would actually, in the early morning, place their math text book in the lost-and-found rack, then go to my classroom, and say that they didn't do their homework the night before because they'd forgotten their book (pretty sneaky, huh);
3) During awards ceremonies, for the school soccer team, baseball team, track and field, etc., they'd give out 8th place trophies and ribbons;

Well, on one of these occasions, one of these little boys broke his soccer trophy. I immediately felt a pain in my chest, because I remember when I was a boy how hard I'd worked to get the few trophies I'd earned as a child. I busted my butt to get 2nd place in cross country and tennis, and those trophies were worth gold to me.

Well, I went up to this child and said, "Would you like me to fix it, or try and get you another one? What can I do to help?" He looked me straight in the eye and replied: "It doesn't matter, I don't care, I have a whole chest full of the things at home."

Think about that, and the implications of self-esteem building, and it'll make you shudder.


KCTrio,At least th... (Below threshold)


At least they HAD 1st through 8th place trophies. At my son's elementary school (this was 2-years ago) they wouldn't even allow winners or losers at their field days - "Everyone" was a winner and EVERYONE got a ribbon, even if they came in last place. And all the ribbons were identical - they said "Winner" on them! Even a knuckle head like me can see the implications of this! (No incentive to try for one). My 5th grade son would come home from school laughing about how worthless that ribbon was. Even the kids can see through this charade!

JP:Amazing. I've ... (Below threshold)


Amazing. I've got 3 kids in Catholic school, and I'm proud to say that the place hasn't hit that level of deparvity.

You've made my story seem benign by comparison. Thanks for sickening me a bit more than my memories had thus far.

Your post is gold, solid gold, and frightening.


Couldn't agree more, Jay. ... (Below threshold)

Couldn't agree more, Jay.

Telling someone they're going to be just fine when they're dying is mercy. Telling someone who's going to fail that they're going to succed is just cruel.

lol, don't get me started. ... (Below threshold)

lol, don't get me started. Anyway
Jay, please, don't use "triple check" my mother uses that phrase, and apparently the entire world uses it. I recently saw an advertisement in the USA Today (I think?) for Sutter Home Health Care.

It said that Sutter uses bar coded patient tags, so that the patient never gets the wrong medicine, or always gets the right dosage. However, the wordage was just....-shudder-...awful.

"The health care practicioner scans the barcode and the computer triple-checks the patient to their medicine..."

ITS A COMPUTER....COMPUTERS DON'T HAVE TO "TRIPLE CHECK" SHEESH. I actually screamed at the newspaper once. Now, when I see it, I just turn the page quickly before I become ill.

I'm a psychotherapist and I... (Below threshold)

I'm a psychotherapist and I read the scientific American article. They make the same mistake people always make, that self esteem is what you think of yourself. That is not what self esteem is. Self esteem is what you think of what you DO!

There is a big difference. It is about how you act. The whole basis of self esteem education is based on that false definition of it. True self esteem will solve a lot of problems, but lying to kids and telling them they spelled something right that is really wrong, for example, does not build self esteem. Telling them that they must take responsibility for themselves, insisting on honesty, building character, and then when they do it and assess their own character, that builds self esteem.

napablogger, napa valley? I... (Below threshold)

napablogger, napa valley? I'm in Vallejo

Jay, you are contradicting ... (Below threshold)

Jay, you are contradicting yourself. You say:

Ever since I first heard about this notion, I've thought it was insane. Protecting children from criticism and failure and judgment while they're children simply renders them unable to deal with it when they're adults, and makes it a far harsher lesson.

One belief I've had for most of my life is very simple: anything someone else gives you, someone else can take away. The only things you are guaranteed to keep are those you earn for yourself.

In 1st paragraph you blame NEA for protecting children from criticism, in the 2nd paragraph you declare that you have noone to count on but yourself. Then why the hell are you blaming NEA for your own failure to raise your children properly ?

Ah, wait, I forgot you don't have any kids.

The proper rearing of children is the responsibility of their parents. Public school merely delivers scientific and liberal training they need to have useful skills in life. Anyone seeing it as more than that is delusional. Anyone is counting on public school system to rear their children into productive members of society is a Resolutely Clueless Moron :-)

This wayof thinking has mas... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

This wayof thinking has massively slipped its way into sports.

A lot of sports leagues for kids don't keep score-which is stupid, because the kids do, and they know who won/lost.

For some reason we want to protect kids from losing, but the truth is that kids can learn just as much, if not more from losing, than from winning. It doestn' help the kids at all to avoid losing, because at some point in their life there are going to be real winners and real losers, why not let them learn the lesson, when they are young and the outcome doesn't matter.

I don't understand you peop... (Below threshold)

I don't understand you people.

You blame public schools for YOUR OWN FAILURE to teach YOUR OWN childern the right lessons. You criticize the government for putting up with NEA, you criticize the NEA, etc.

Then, you turn around, and send your own damn kids to a public school because you are incapable of teaching them the right things yourself.

Jay,If we are going ... (Below threshold)

If we are going to hold the NEA accountable for the self esteem fiasco, which I believe we should, can we also hold them accountable for the "we don't need phonics to learn how to read" mess?! I send my kids to public school, but it is in a small town in Michigan where they teach phonics and they DO keep score. I also try to teach my three sons that all actions have results, and that they must live with those results. It isn't easy, but it is doable!

I remember hearing a few ye... (Below threshold)

I remember hearing a few years back of a study that showed that the group in American society with the highest self-esteem was prisoners, especially those convicted of violent crimes. Too much self-esteem (or better, a lack of humility fit for humans) leads one to believe they are god-like, i.e., not bound by the rules everyone else is bound to; and, too meuch self-esteem leads them to believe they deservce respect no matter who they are or what they have or have not done.

"Then, you turn around, and... (Below threshold)

"Then, you turn around, and send your own damn kids to a public school because you are incapable of teaching them the right things yourself."

So what are you suggesting here, that the entire country home school their children? That will work nicely in the homes where mommy dropped out of school at 16, and daddy can barely read himself. The self-esteem bandwagon is happening in both the public and private schools, so that only leaves home schooling.

Oleg, I think most ... (Below threshold)

I think most of the folks commenting here know the difference between how to teach our kids and how not to. I think I can probably correct any mistakes the public schools try to make with my kids, because I know better.

That doesn't mean I can't call them out for their idiocy, nor does it mean I can't be concerned that their teaching methods will damage other people's kids, who may not have the advantages I'm going to make sure mine do.

It is these kids who are gr... (Below threshold)

It is these kids who are growing up and landing spots on "The Apprentice" and "American Idol." None of them can be told that they are not the best. Whenever they lose, they all spout the, "they don't know what they're missing" line, detailing all the alleged qualities they have such as great leadership skills, people skills, and other intangible qualities that they must have been told their whole lives that they have.

Kids on "American Idol" who don't know the lyrics to any songs - songs that are 40 years old and are used in hundreds of movies and commercials - can't understand why it's important to actually know what you're singing. All they know, and you can see it on camera, is that their parents and friends have told them that they're the best. You and I at home can see (or hear) clearly that they have been lied to. They even yell at the judges that their sole reason for being upset at getting eliminated is, "I'm good!" Even when the judges offer real advice like "if you worked with a good vocal teacher for a few months, you could be right back on top next year," they just deny, deny, deny that they're not the best.

Robert A Heinlein said it b... (Below threshold)

Robert A Heinlein said it best:

"Don't cripple your children by making their lives easy for them."

I'm lucky that by the time this ill conceived BS made its way into the schools I was almost out. I didn't have to deal with it, but I sure did hear about it. I'm not surprised that some severly retarded assclown would come up with such a steaming pile of goat manure. That surprises me is that enough people who should have known better went along with it.

One poster above said that even the kids know it is BS. Now if the average person has gained enough wisdom and experience by age 10 to see the folly of this nonesense, what does it say about the adults who can't? Why would anyone put up with this BS? Well the possibilites I see are incompetence, indifference, and good old fashioned malice.


A year or so saw a news seg... (Below threshold)

A year or so saw a news segment- I think by John Stossel- on this crap, and one of the things he focused on was an idiot giving seminars to teachers on how to 'properly' teach kids to read. No phonics, studying the alphabet, etc.; just keep books in front of them and keep praising them for being good readers, and eventually they'd pick it up.

This clown was being paid many thousands per seminar, all over the country, to 'teach' this method to cheering teachers. Any guesses how much this kind of crap has cost in money, and wasted time & education of kids? And what may have been robbed from the futures of the kids by these lazy fools not wanting to be bothered to actually TEACH?






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