(Continuing the series, we now examine three primary sources of the student perspective I've labeled "delusional achievers"--students who exhibit a disconnect between success and the work required to achieve it. The first two are in this post, the final one will be in part 4)
Is it Self-Esteem?
Many people have pilloried the self-esteem mania in our culture. We want our kids to feel good about themselves. One of the few substantive insights in Waiting for Superman was the part where we learned the American students thought they were doing better than they actually were. This was the only area where they ranked at the top of the world–feelings.
Unfortunately, feelings don’t earn a paycheck.
I’ve heard similar results from other sources. One study reported that American students thought they had done really well on a math test, but in fact hadn’t done any better than students in other countries.
I would say the self-esteem movement is a primary culprit in the creation of the delusional achiever. Students have been conditioned to believe they are great, excellent, smart, and have done a great job, even when the work sucks. It’s too discouraging to criticize, of course, so we can only give praise. This assumes criticism is the only alternative to praise.
Exhortation, however, is the preferred third option, where acceptance meets motivation. Yes, you have done well, says the exhorter, but what about trying this? No, you didn’t quite get it, but think about it this way. Do some more practice. What would happen if you did this? Where can you look to learn more about that?
Exhortation keeps self-esteem in its place.
But it has to be more than just self-esteem. I know this because some of my SINOs did not grow up in this country, and therefore were not subjected to the self-esteem propaganda. Yet some of them exhibit the same traits I’ve described.
It’s Your Job
Thus, I find that a second cause of the delusional achiever is disengaged parents. Not disengaged from their children, necessarily, but disengaged from the educational process. There are people who drop their children off and think it’s the school’s job to do education. It’s all on the teacher, the principal, and the system. They do not fulfill their own vital role of inculcating a practical awareness of the need for continual learning in their children. They do not explain to their kids how success happens (they may not know), or teach them the value of hard work.
They also may inadvertently de-value certain aspects of school. For example, in our culture, it’s acceptable in a lot of homes to be bad at math. To not be able to read is almost universally unacceptable. But lots of people can’t do math. “Oh well, I just don’t get it.” This of course is bunk. Anyone can do math. It just takes some people more work than others. But in a home where the value of work is fostered from an early age, that student will do the work. I’ve had students work really hard for a C in math, and others hardly work at all and earn a B because they just get it and can ace all the tests. But who is “learning” more? And who will benefit from their efforts five years from now? (Hint: It’s not the lazy one)
The absence of these traits in the home can produce children who do things because their teachers say to do them, but don’t internalize anything. They have no framework in which to process the purpose of school. For them, there is a dichotomy between real life and school life. When I come to school, I have to have books, do notes, act responsible (when I feel like it), and fill out worksheets. When I go home, I get to eat, play video games, hang out with friends, or waste time on the internet (more on that in the series finale).
But none of it has a purpose. There’s no sense of why we’re doing all this. It’s just what we have to do. There’s a lack of independent reasoning. Of initiative, of curiosity. And I don’t think there’s an easy solution to this. And I hope this doesn’t sound like another ‘blame the parents’ rant. I’m not casting blame, just conveying a perspective that does not maximize educational opportunities, and that a lot of people have in a measure. After all, if the parent grew up thinking this way, ignorant of the true value and purpose and process of education, why would their children be any different?
(Tune in to part 4 soon for the 3rd cause of the delusional achiever--technology's downside)