Thursday, May 03, 2007

It's one thing to praise your kids. That's good. It may be bad, however, to praise them too much. In fact, if you constantly tell your kid s/he's smart, you may be causing your child to actually underestimate his /her abilities. A study was conducted in a fifth grade class. Four groups were given a task. Three of the groups were told, "Very good. You must have worked hard on this." One group was told, "Very Good. You are very smart at this." The groups were asked to pick a new task. The groups that were told they worked hard picked a more difficult taks than the first one. The group that was told they were smart picked an easier task than the first one.

Why did this happen? “When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote in her study summary, “we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” And that’s what the fifth-graders had done: They’d chosen to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

Since the late 60s, schools have been eliminating competitions where some people win and some people lose because they didn't want children to label themselves as losers. Self-esteem building became the goal, and not in the sleeping with students sense popular at Now Toronto Magazine. No, "Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise," the article says.

After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.)

In fact, these students become risk averse, and maintaining their image become their first priority, and become more competitive and engage in activities designed to tear people down. And these students turn to cheating as an avoidance strategy, which is why schools are banning iPods: kids are using them to cheat.

And what happens at work?

At most workplaces, failure to achieve a goal or complete a task isn't rewarded with a ribbon, or automatic advancement through the company. Instead, the consequences can be disastrous. My boss recently told me she saw a report on TV that said when these "Everyone-gets-a-ribbon" kids get reprimanded at work they cry. Which makes it odd that within three days, I see an article entitled "Is it Ever Acceptable to Cry at Work?" And that article's advice? Use tears sparingly. "crying, as any toddler knows, can be a lethal weapon to get what you want. Tears are sometimes a signal to our colleagues not to mess with us on that particular day or topic," but "in most cases tears still tend to look like a loss of control," so don't cry. The fact that that piece of advice (don't cry at work) has to be printed in a newspaper is a good indicator of what the "self-esteem" movement in education produces.

Hmm. That does, however, explain some of my career choices. . .

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