About the Colony

Too much emphasis on self-esteem

About 20 years ago, I complained editorially that a stepchild of mine who I think was in the fourth grade was getting presents for doing her schoolwork. In reality, I think the teacher had a box of treats or toys in one corner of the room and when you turned in your work, you got to reach into the box and pull out a surprise. It was a tiny trinket and admittedly didn’t cost much.

But I argued that the treat for turning in your work should have been not flunking the fourth grade. The teacher argued that the incentive helped the children do their work and that it was good for their self-esteem.

There was a movement in education at the time that said improved selfesteem would result in higher achievement. I can remember teaching English at the high school level in the ’60s, and there was a trend not to grade students for grammar, but just to encourage thinking, no matter how badly it was presented.

Grading for bad grammar and spelling, punctuation and more would discourage a child from expressing himself. It would hurt self-esteem.

It was baloney then, and it’s baloney now.

I was even critical of the “gifted” program in which some students were placed. It seemed to me many of them thought of themselves as gifted and therefore didn’t try very hard at learning new stuff, as if failure at learning a new skill might damage their self-image.

In one of my classes filled with a bunch of bright pupils, a discussion came up that I was too controlling. They wanted to have a say in the curriculum. So I told them they could come up with their own final project; I would not question it and I would grade it on how well they did.

Most of the students did great. But several couldn’t find a project that fit them and began begging me to find one for them. I refused. It was reflected in the final grade.

Toward the end of my working days, I noticed that many young people coming to the job felt they had some sort of entitlement; that they didn’t have to earn it by time and performance on the job.

I was delighted to read in this newspaper a story just a few weeks ago that showed children are not helped by empty praise and that it is better to reward those who try harder.

Evidently current studies affirm that children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to have greater success in the long run. They learn that intelligence is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things, research showed.

They don’t deserve a trophy just for living.

I like that.

Lon Allan can be reached at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.

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