Don't Flatter Your Honor Roll Student
I came across this book review last week in the Wall Street Journal, and thought it was interesting:
Now, in “NurtureShock,” Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman survey the newest new findings about child development. Little in the book is all that shocking, but given our enthusiasm for turning tentative child research into settled policy, the studies that the authors discuss are of more than passing interest.
A striking example is the latest research on self-esteem. As Mr. Bronson and Ms. Merryman remind us, the psychologist Nathaniel Brandon published a path-breaking paper in 1969 called “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” in which he argued that feelings of self-worth were a key to success in life. The theory became a big hit in the nation’s schools; in the mid-1980s, the California Legislature even established a self-esteem task force. By now, there are 15,000 scholarly articles on the subject.
And what do they show? That high self-esteem doesn’t improve grades, reduce anti-social behavior, deter alcohol drinking or do much of anything good for kids. In fact, telling kids how smart they are can be counterproductive. Many children who are convinced that they are little geniuses tend not to put much effort into their work. Others are troubled by the latent anxiety of adults who feel it necessary to praise them constantly.
The benefits of teaching tolerance and promoting diversity look equally unimpressive in the current research. According to “NurtureShock,” a lot of well-meaning adult nostrums—”we’re all friends,” “we’re all equal”—pass right over the heads of young children. Attempts to increase racial sensitivity in older students can even lead to unintended consequences. One researcher found that “more diversity translates into more divisions between students.” Another warns that too much discussion of past discrimination can make minority children over-reactive to perceived future slights. As for trying to increase emotional intelligence, the education fad of the 1990s, it doesn’t seem to promote “pro-social values” either. It turns out that bullies use their considerable EQ, as it is called, to control their peers.
The rest of the review is here. This is mostly common sense, of course, but, as Chesterton was fond of pointing out, common sense isn’t nearly as common as one would hope.