Effort isn’t enough: Kids have to learn

Psychologist Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” theory — students work harder and learn more if they believe they can “grow their brains” — is red-hot in the education world.

Everyone says they believe in the growth mindset, even when they don’t really, Dweck writes in Education Week. A “growth mindset isn’t just about effort.” It’s about learning and improving.

The student who didn’t learn anything is told, “Great effort! You tried your best!”

Instead, a teacher might say, “Let’s talk about what you’ve tried, and what you can try next.”

Dweck has a fear that keeps her up at night, she writes.

. . . that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!”

She calls for “telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.”

Critics hurt U.S. schools’ self-esteem

Criticizing the U.S. education system “lowers its confidence and causes it to perform even more poorly,” concludes a Stanford study reported in The Onion.

OK, Finnish students ace the international tests. Who cares?

OK, Finnish students ace the international tests. Talking about it just makes us feel bad.

Harping on U.S. students’ substandard math and science skills is correlated with steady declines in math and science test scores on international exams, researchers said.

“We should focus on what our institutions of learning are doing well, provide them with positive support, and let them know that we care about their future and that we know they can succeed,” said lead author Julie Ostel.

No ‘participation trophies’ for NFL player’s sons

When Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison discovered his sons had been awarded “participation” awards “for nothing,” he sent the trophies back and explained his actions on Instagram:

“Everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best … cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better … not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

A walk-on at Kent State, Harrison went undrafted in 2002 because he was considered to be too small for the pros, reports ESPN.  Harrison “played a season in NFL Europe and was cut by the Baltimore Ravens before latching on with the Steelers and becoming a force.”

Less praise, more young scientists

Too Many Kids Quit Science Because They Don’t Think They’re Smart, write Alexandra Ossola in The Atlantic

“For most students, science, math, engineering, and technology (STEM) subjects are not intuitive or easy,” she writes. (Barbie said it: “Math is hard.”) Overpraised children aren’t prepared to struggle, Ossola argues
Praising a child’s ability or talent too much makes them unwilling to take on challenges that might test their intelligence, Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychology professor, tells Ossola.

By contrast, talking about a child’s actions — “their hard work, trying many strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their use of errors to learn, their improvement” — builds resilience.

 . . . we found that when we gave kids lots and lots of praise then discontinued it, they either lost motivation or they did a variety of strange and distorted things to get the adults’ approval back. . . . When you praise someone, you are making their actions and performance yours. So they’re looking over their shoulder and not owning their work.

Employers and career coaches have told Dweck that workers require constant validation and feel crushed by feedback. “We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.”

Atlantic‘s Left-Brain America has more on STEM education. Here’s a story on introducing math and science concepts to preschoolers.

 

The killer narcissist

Could Therapy Culture Help Explain Elliot Rodger’s Rampage? asks Brendan O’Neill on Reason. The 22-year-old started therapy at age 8 and reportedly was seeing multiple therapists while living in Santa Barbara and plotting “retribution.”

. . . he was full of self-regard, was incredibly self-obsessed, and was utterly outraged when people, especially women, didn’t treat him with the love and respect he felt he deserved.

Could Rodger’s fury at the world for failing to flatter his self-image as a good, civilized guy be a product of the therapy industry, of the therapy world’s cultivation of a new tyrannical form of narcissism where individuals demand constant genuflection at the altar of their self-esteem?

Therapy’s children are “invited to focus” on their inner selves rather than the world around them, writes O’Neill.

We see it in university students who want to ban everything that they think harms their self-esteem, because they’ve been educated to see any attack on what they think and how they feel as utterly unacceptable. We see it in the growing cult of self-revelation and the search for validation on social networks like Twitter, where individuals’ frenetic tweeting and their desperate desire for that all-important retweet speaks to the reorganization of society around the need for recognition, the need for an “admiring audience” to make the self feel puffed up. And we potentially see it, in its most extreme form, in Elliot Rodger, the son of therapy . . .

In his murder manifesto, Rodger complains that people’s attitudes towards him “really decreased my self-esteem. . . . if they won’t accept me… then they are my enemies.”

And then he makes the key cry of our therapeutic era: “It’s not fair. Life is not fair.”

Watch Rodger’s video. The most alarming thing is how cool and well-spoken he is. This is a man used to talking about himself, following years of practice in therapy sessions. Clearly having decided to have a love affair with himself, Rodger terrifyingly declares: “I am the closest thing there is to a living god… Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent, divine!”

He’s not a religious nut, writes O’Neill. “It’s a therapeutic thing.”

You might call Rodger a homicidal narcissist. His own life has supreme value. Nobody else matters.

Does “therapy culture” turn loners into enraged sociopaths?

Shame can be educational

Shame can be used as well as abused, writes Julia Steiny

Hester Prynne’s big red “A” on her chest is perhaps America’s most famous example of controlling unwanted behavior by public shaming. . . . when parents, teachers or other authorities impose humiliating degrees of shame, the effort to curb bad behavior often backfires.  Overwhelmed by shame, the offender becomes proudly anti-social or defiant, like Hester.  Some seek the solace and company of other bad people — thus the power of gangs.

Conversely, self-esteem advocates talk as though bad feelings in general shouldn’t exist.  Every kid should get a trophy, a do-over, an “A,” no matter what their effort.  But without the adversity of failure, kids can’t be socialized.  They won’t learn to take responsibility or be accountable to their peers, parents and community.

Learning to tolerate and recover from shame starts in the family, says Australian criminologist John Braithwaite.  “Healthy families love their kids, but frown on unwanted behavior.” Children learn to control their impulses.

Parents who rely on humiliation to force the behavior they want tend to raise delinquents, he says. The “parents do all the work of controlling behavior.”

“Shame is like fire, a natural force that can serve either good or evil,” Steiny concludes.

Sure, let ’em all be winners

Do Our Kids Get Off Too Easy? asks Alfie Kohn in the New York Times. In a column adapted from The Myth of the Spoiled Child, he defends “participation” trophies for all — if we must have competitions with winners and losers. “Grit” lovers who think kids should earn rewards and honors want children to be miserable now to prepare for the miseries of adulthood, Kohn believes. They think children shouldn’t “be allowed to feel good about themselves” without “tangible accomplishments.” Conditioning approval on children’s behavior is a big mistake, he argues.

 (According to research), when children feel their parents’ affection varies depending on the extent to which they are well behaved, self-controlled or impressive at school or sports, this promotes “the development of a fragile, contingent and unstable sense of self.” Other researchers, meanwhile, have shown that high self-esteem is beneficial, but that even more desirable is unconditional self-esteem: a solid core of belief in yourself, an abiding sense that you’re competent and worthwhile — even when you screw up or fall short.

I think Kohn confuses parents’ unconditional love of their children with the world’s opinion of other people’s children. If Mom and Dad love their kids only when they score the winning goal or ace the test, that’s a serious problem. Children need to feel lovable.

But kids who grow up thinking that everything they do — however ordinary — will be cheered by non-family members are going to be very frustrated adults. And they won’t have the grit to deal with frustration and keep on going.

Outside your family, who think you’re wonderful just the way you are, the world is just not that into you.

When I was an adolescent, I found it comforting that the world did not revolve around me. It was less responsibility.

‘Incredibly good’ is bad for kids

Lavish praise makes kids who aren’t confident less likely to pursue challenges, according to a study titled That’s Not Just Beautiful—That’s Incredibly Beautiful.

Honest praise is just fine, writes Eleanor Barkhorn in The Atlantic. But adults often heap compliments on children with low self-esteem.

In one study, Dutch children were asked to rate their confidence. Later they were told to copy a famous painting, which would be evaluated by a “famous painter.” There were three random responses to the child’s painting: “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing!” (inflated praise); “You made a beautiful drawing!” (non-inflated praise); or no comment about the drawing at all (no praise).

The researchers . . . asked the children to make a new drawing and let them pick their subject: either a complex drawing or a simple one. It turned out that the students with low self esteem were less likely to do a complex drawing if they’d received inflated praise. “Compared to non-inflated praise, inflated praise decreased challenge seeking in children with low self-esteem,” the researchers wrote.

In another study, parents gave more inflated praise to children with low self-esteem than they did to children with high self-esteem.

 “Parents seemed to think that the children with low self-esteem needed to get extra praise to make them feel better,” said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State.

“If you tell a child with low self-esteem that they did incredibly well, they may think they always need to do incredibly well.  They may worry about meeting those high standards and decide not to take on any new challenges.”

Confident children can handle excess praise, researchers said.

Coddled kids vs. high standards

Common Core’s critics — “right-wing alarmists” and “left-wing paranoiacs” — have been joined by parents who think higher standards are too stressful, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Are Kids Too Coddled? he asks.

Stress is “an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper,” writes Bruni. And school isn’t going to be fun all the time.

Higher standards are traumatizing children, according to New Yorkers at the state’s Common Core hearings.

One father said that while his 8-year-old son was “not the most book-smart kid,” he was nonetheless “extremely bright.” With the new instruction, however, too many kids were “being made to feel dumb.” There was “no room for imagination or play,” the father groused. “All the kids are stressed out.”

A social worker testified that she’d been receiving calls and referrals regarding elementary-school students on the psychological skids. “They said they felt ‘stupid’ and school was ‘too hard,’ ” she related. “They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home and upset even to the point of vomiting.” Additional cases included insomnia, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation, she said, and she wondered aloud if this could all be attributed to the Common Core.

A teacher on Long Island did more than wonder, speaking out at a forum two weeks ago about what she called the Common Core Syndrome, a darkly blooming anxiety among students that’s “directly related to work that they do in the classroom.”

“If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is,” she thundered, to wild applause.

If children really are falling apart, writes Bruno, maybe it’s because they’ve been protected from blows to their egos. They’ve won trophies for participation. They’ve made “bloated honor rolls.”

“Our students have an inflated sense of their academic prowess,” wrote Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in Education Week. “They don’t expect to spend much time studying, but they confidently expect good grades and marketable degrees.” Our global competitors are tougher.  “While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better.”

It’s those white suburban moms.

Mom: Take my son off the honor roll!

When Beth Tillack’s son made the middle-school honor roll, she demanded he be removed. He’d made a D in civics, a C and three A’s.

“The bottom line is there is nothing honorable about making a D,” the Pasco County, Florida mom told a local news station. “I was not happy, because how can I get my child to study for a test when he thinks he’s done enough.”

As a result of her protest, the policy will be changed:  Students who earn a C or below will not be eligible for the honor roll.

“It makes my job at home so difficult,” Tillack said of the current policy. She took away her son’s iPod as punishment for the D. He claimed making the honor roll showed he should get it back. This didn’t work.