I was extremely pleased to read a Washington Post article printed in the Anchorage Daily News on Monday, January 16, 2012, entitled "Esteem can't match competence." The first paragraphs had me cheering!
For decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement. The theory led to an avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies and attendance certificates - but few, if any, academic gains.
Now, an increasing number of teachers are weaning themselves from what some call empty praise. Drawing on psychology and brain research, these educators aim to articulate a more precise, and scientific, vocabulary for praise that will push children to work through mistakes and take on more challenging assignments….
Finally! At long last people are regaining common sense! Most children, youth and adults - if not all of us - know when we have earned praise, and none of us really want - deep down inside of us - want to be told that we have done something well when we know that we have not. None of us like empty praise.
A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities. As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are "persistence," risk-taking" and "resilience" - each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings.
This idiotic way of thinking has been in more places than just our classrooms. When every child on a soccer team receives a trophy that says "Best Player," something is very wrong. If someone is the best player, then someone else has to be the worst player - and the other members of the team fall somewhere in between the two! It doesn't do any good at all for adults to not keep track of the score because the children know what the real score is! It would be so much better if parents, teachers, coaches, etc. found some way to praise a person that is honest. Recognition of a job well done is much better than empty praise. "I like the way you ran all the way down the field as fast as you could go." "I like the way that you kept the ball away from the other team's goal." "I like the way that you work so hard in the game." "Thank you for doing such a good job shoveling the driveway."
We do not want citizens - and particularly not leaders - that have high esteem but no competence. People like that are just "empty shirts." The current President of the
seems to think quite highly of himself, but he is definitely a failure as a leader. Somewhere along the way, he received too many pats on the back and not enough training! United States
When we recognize something that a person has done well, they try harder to do something else that will please us. Mature adults will prepare the circumstances where every person can reach their full potential - whether or not it is higher or lower than someone else. We each need our "bars" to be set high enough that we have to push ourselves to reach them - but not so high that we become discouraged. Empty praise, as the research shows, does not increase competence in any way.