Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Remember the phrase "Healthy Competition?"

As our educational system suffers a loss of concrete standards in favor of mediocrity-inducing esteem building, it's good to know we aren't alone. Read this refreshingly graphic comdemnation from Sir Digby Jones, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry. He and other businesspeople are the ones who have to hire modern graduates and try to teach them remedially to be useful for something. (hat tip: Scrivener)

"I want sports days," he added. "I want medals for first, second and third, not for everyone who takes part. I want exams that you can fail. But we must reach down to those who do not come first, second or third and give them the confidence to find out what they are good at."

Also, read his analysis of the tremendous importance of understanding risk, another concept our failure-averse system isn't teaching.

In case you missed the worm turning on this feel-good, know-nothing educational strategy, there was a big L.A. Times article in January where the following self-esteem analysis took place. That piece is now archived by the LAT, but if you go to Dr. Sanity's blog archives from January, and scroll down to Self Esteem is Not Necessarily Good For You, our good psychiatrist has the juicy excerpts with her own commentary.

Here are some of our disappointing findings. High self- esteem in schoolchildren does not produce better grades. (Actually, kids with high self-esteem do have slightly better grades in most studies, but that's because getting good grades leads to higher self-esteem, not the other way around.) In fact, according to a study by Donald Forsyth at Virginia Commonwealth University, college students with mediocre grades who got regular self-esteem strokes from their professors ended up doing worse on final exams than students who were told to suck it up and try harder.Self-esteem doesn't make adults perform better at their jobs either. Sure, people with high self-esteem rate their own performance better — even declaring themselves smarter and more attractive than their low self-esteem peers — but neither objective tests nor impartial raters can detect any difference in the quality of work.

A close family member (and recovering teacher of developmentally deprived and special needs children) told me that all the happy talk in the world doesn't matter, because the kids know when they don't measure up, and lying to them about it only builds distrust and confusion. She said she had much better luck with her second graders when she was candid about their poor performance while assuring them that with their effort it would be improved.

If lying about poor performance won't hornswaggle kids into achievement, and inflated egos don't lead to more productive or even happier adults, wouldn't it be a better and simpler policy to encourage everyone's best while only lauding that which is genuinely praiseworthy?

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