Sunday, June 17, 2007

MSNBC: "Are we raising a nation of little egomaniacs?"

From MSNBC: "Are we raising a nation of little egomaniacs?"
Twenge primarily attributes the increase in narcissism to the obsession of parents and educators, beginning in the early 1990s, with self-esteem, praise and making sure children feel good. [...] “In the American Academy of Pediatrics guide to caring for your young child, self-esteem is mentioned seven times in 10 pages,” says Twenge. “From the beginning, there is so much focus on children feeling good about themselves now that other things appear to be falling by the wayside.”
This brings me to an article published in the July 2006 issue of Scientific American, "The Expert Mind". The authors touch upon a lot of subject, but the one I found most profound was that a large part of achieving expertise in something is, if I may summarize, just giving a shit:
Ericsson argues that what matters is not experience per se but "effortful study," which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence.[...] Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance--for instance, keeping up with one's golf buddies or passing a driver's exam--most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind's box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.
While I'm not a behavior scientist, it feels to me that self-esteem based education ends up putting kids into the comfort zone as fast as possible, essentially taking them out of the realm of "effortful study", and into the realm of permanent mediocrity.

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At 12:55 PM, June 18, 2007, Blogger Berzinator said...

We've been trying to undo some of the self-esteem nonsense that E's Kindergarten teacher inculcated in him. I think teachers embraced this ideology because it is so easy to apply in the classroom. It doesn't matter what kids do or how well they do it, only that they are praised for every little thing that they do do. I sympathize with teachers because they don't get only smart kids who can learn quickly. They also get the ones that are slower to comprehend stuff or the just plain stupid. But public education strives to educate everyone, so you try to bring the below average up to average, sometimes at the expense of the just above average coming down to the average too. However, there will always be those kids on the far right of the bell curve that will excel no matter what ideology they are taught (self-esteem or effortful study). Question is not will they end up as mediocre, but will they have the motivation to learn more and the curiosity to enjoy learning. This is the primary struggle that I worry about as a parent. How do you teach your kids to love what they do? To solve new problems? To find satisfaction in the work itself without constantly being rewarded for doing this or that.

Of course, the question we should be asking ourselves is do we search out problems that are just beyond our apprehension to try to increase our learning? Or are we just disenchanted little reward seekers? It seems that before this generation came along, there were plenty of people who only work at jobs because they pay well. These "greatest genners," boomers, and dare I say it, gen-Xers may not have demanded self-esteem rewards, but they certainly insisted on monetary rewards for their work. Do these folks challenge themselves to stretch beyond their current knowledge or capabilities? Or are they just interested in cashing in from their own little niche of the market economy? I like to think we Gen-Xers are a different breed than those before and after us, but are we so different? I still blame Boomers for all this self-esteem nonsense, self-centered sell-outs that they are.

Anyway, I'll let you know in 10 years whether tiny E is a mediocre little egomaniac, or a hardworkin' problem-solver. We're hoping to raise the latter. I guess you'll have someone to blame, at least, if he turns out as the former.


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