Praise Junkies

I enjoyed reading this article, which harkened back to my days as a student.  Coming from a small town, Midwestern, Catholic upbringing, there wasn’t much of an emphasis on self esteem, and, in retrospect, I’m glad for it.  In recent decades, the prevailing educational wisdom was geared towards building self esteem, and lots of it.  And, as it turns out, it doesn’t have much of an impact.  In fact, it may well discourage education.  Kids get used to the praise without having put in the requisite hard work necessary for actual mental development.  So, you get the praise, but without any of the growth.

To this day, I still remember what a German teacher told us on our first day of class: ‘I don’t care about your self esteem.  What I do care about is how well you can read, write, speak and understand German when you leave my class.  Mach die Tur zu, und machen Sie Ihre Bucher auf nach Seite Zwanzig.’  And so it went.  The net result was that to this day, my German is passable.  Herr, as he was affectionately known, was a little Napoleonic tyrant, but his tactics were effective, remarkably so, and he was nationally recognized for his pedagogical techniques.  What’s ironic is that he eschewed pretty much every modern, faddish techniques in vogue in so many other classrooms.  Time honored and tested, it worked, and we sure as hell did.

And what was also ironic, is that in completely ignoring our ‘self esteem,’ he gave us something better: the ability to effectively communicate in German.  Which is a skill in which I can still take pride.  In ignoring ‘self esteem,’ in the short term, he gave it to us many times over in the long term.


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