An article published this week reveals that some educators are now beginning to see what HR professionals have recognized for several years. It seems that “empty praise” and meaningless accolades may not actually produce an intelligent human being after all.

For probably the better part of two decades the education mindset in this nation has been largely based on esteem building techniques, with much less emphasis placed on accuracy than on feelings and self worth of the individual student. They didn't necessarily have to be right, but they absolutely had to feel good about themselves in the process.  This evolved into a world where there were no losers, everybody was a winner, and trophies and ribbons went to everyone – just for being there. If they could just get real life to cooperate with that philosophy, everything would have been ok.

According to the article, “A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities.” In fact, researchers are now finding that empty praise – esteem building without a proper foundation of achievement, can have the direct opposite effect from what was intended. They have found, in “study after study”, that “children rewarded for being smart become more likely to shy away from hard assignments that might tarnish their star reputations.”

This is very, very bad news for the companies that print those “My Child Was Student of the Week” bumper stickers.

None of this will be a shock to some human resources professionals, who are now attempting to figure out what makes the Gen Y generation tick. In fact, employers have been struggling in recent years with the first full wave of these new workers, fresh from their idealistic upbringing and outcome based education, where failure was not an option only because there was no such thing as failure. There have been warning signs. In 2007 a study showed that college students were far more narcissistic than their 1980's predecessors. In fact, of the 16,475 students who completed the “Narcissistic Personality Inventory”, fully two thirds had above average scores, an increase of 30% over 1982.

I'm not even sure I would want to take a “Narcissistic Personality Inventory”. I am FAR too important for a small thing like that. But I digress…..

These students were described by the researchers as “self-centered”, and were “more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived”. Additionally, they were “at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth,” and more likely to “exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors." Not the stuff of heroes, to be sure.

So, we can be encouraged that some educators are finally figuring it out, and modifying their approach. Our parents were right. Actually learning something and learning it correctly may be the best thing for a person's self esteem. I can hardly wait for the first batch of students taught that way to emerge. Prepared, intelligent, unburdened by the weight of 2,000 meaningless ribbons, they will confidently enter the workforce and selflessly fund my social security checks. God Bless them. There is hope.


PS – Be sure to give me five stars in the “Rate This Article” box to the right. I might not have earned them, but it is important that I feel good about myself!


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