Kids, you’re doomed to failure

President Obama’s back-to-school speech contained blatant lies, writes Ann Althouse, who objects to telling kids that “nobody gets to write your destiny but you,” and that “nothing — absolutely nothing — is beyond your reach, so long as you’re willing to dream big, so long as you’re willing to work hard.”

If you believe that, you are so dumb that your chances of controlling your own destiny are especially small. But it’s absurd to tell kids that if only they dream big, work hard, and get an education, they can have anything they want. Do you know what kind of dream job kids today have? A recent Marist poll showed that 32% would like to be an actor/actress. 29% want to be a professional athlete. 13% want to be President of the United States. That’s not going to happen.

Even young people with more modest dreams — like getting a decent law job after getting good grades at an excellent law school — are not getting what they want.

Obama doesn’t really believe this or “he’d be all about reducing the role of government and unleashing private enterprise,” Althouse writes. He doesn’t look at a poor person and “his life is what he made it.”

OK, it’s hyperbole to say you can do absolutely anything if you put your mind to it and you can all grow up to be Lady Gaga. (This is my only pop culture reference.) But people who think they can control their destiny do a lot better in life than people who think that what they do doesn’t make a difference. A sense of self-efficacy is very powerful. If you think hard work will improve your life, you’ll work harder and improve your life.

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  1. Joanne-
    Regarding your partial defense of Obama’s “you can be anything you want,” I think self-efficacy is built more upon personal responsibility and careful judgement than any pie-in-the-sky-dreams.
    Those who do achieve their dreams jobs did not make one single decision but instead made thousands of decisions everyday to reach their goal. Those decisions line a long and windy path that is not easy nor always apparent.
    Sentimental statements such as Obama’s essentially offers a ‘shortcut’ – that the simple and fickle desire to be something is enough. It masks the struggles and choices that one must make…often choices that seemingly have little to do with one’s goal but instead mean everything.
    I’d say this is largely causing the seeming explosion of drug and alcohol use in high school and middle school. Students that I have talked to have compartmentalized their life goals so much that they believe that drug use now will have no effect on their career later… when instead by choosing drugs they are giving up on their goals. By telling students that they can be whatever they choose, Obama is not making students work harder… instead he is giving them a false sense of self-empowerment that robs them of their effort.

  2. No doubt Althouse would be equally incensed if he’d read “The Little Engine That Could”, which has more or less the same message. What’s the alternative? Telling them their destiny is predetermined by their environment?

  3. EdintheApple says:

    Pious platitudes, sounds a lot like “just say no,” as long as inner city poverty, unemployment, lack of health care, high crime, etc., dominate inner city communites the President’s phrases are hollow

  4. What’s the alternative? Gee, I don’t know, NOT saying anything to high schoolers?

    But even if you assume there’s some reason he had to speak, he could have said “work hard, be nice.” Saying that doesn’t make the outrageous leap to “and you’ll succeed.” Telling them that dreaming big or working hard is a necessary condition for success isn’t the same as telling them it’s a sufficient condition.

    It is cruel to tell students who have no skills yet that they can be whatever they want. It would be much better to tell them that successful people have common traits, and working on those traits now will serve you no matter what your aspirations. No need to lie.

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    The problem with Obama’s comments isn’t the “dream big” comment or the “work hard” comment, it’s NOT telling them about all the incremental steps it takes to actually reach success.

    How about something like this…..

    “Think big, dream big, work hard, but you also need to understand that little things matter. Getting up on time, showing up for ALL your classes, turning in ALL your homework, studying, and asking for extra help when you need it are the important daily steps that build to larger dreams. You will have set backs, times when you fail to meet your own expectations, learning how to re-group and start again is vital. Other people will disappoint you; they’re human and have human failings; don’t let their inadequacies turn you away from your own goals. Your plans will change as circumstances change and as you gain more knowlege, prepare for that.”

    How’s that?

  6. Stacey…. that’s what he said last year. You’re plagiarizing the prez!

  7. Stacy in NJ says:

    LS – Since I didn’t plagiarize, It’s obvious I missed my true calling and should have gone into speech writing instead of housewifeier. Perhaps I wasn’t properly encourged by a motivational presidential address? Oh, the wasted years. Oh, the humanity.


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