Daily Archives: 20 February 2007

Debunking the Self-Esteem Industry

The latest issue of New York Magazine reports on new research that not only debunks the self-esteem mania that prevails in Western educational theory, but suggests why the constant criticism that prevails in much Asian teaching and learning seems to get better results.

Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self-esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self-esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise.

[Carol] Dweck and [Lisa] Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self-esteem and its relationship to everything—from sex to career advancement. But results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem was polluted with flawed science. Only 200 of those 15,000 studies met their rigorous standards.

After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.) At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.”

Now he’s on Dweck’s side of the argument, and his work is going in a similar direction: He will soon publish an article showing that for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further. Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: It’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”…

Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, a pioneer in the field, conducted a series of studies where children watched other students receive praise. According to Meyer’s findings, by the age of 12, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well—it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. And teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it’s a teacher’s criticism—not praise at all—that really conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude.

In the opinion of cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham, a teacher who praises a child may be unwittingly sending the message that the student reached the limit of his innate ability, while a teacher who criticizes a pupil conveys the message that he can improve his performance even further.

via Arts & Letters Daily

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Two Hawaiian Canoes Reach Micronesia

Today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports that two Polynesian voyaging canoes have made landfall in Micronesia.

MAJURO, Marshall Islands » To the sounds of ukuleles and a conch shell, the Hawaiian double-hulled canoes Hokule’a and Alingano Maisu arrived at a dock here today, completing their 2,200-mile journey from Hawaii to Micronesia.

The vessels are on a pilgrimage to Satawal atoll to deliver the Alingano Maisu to renowned navigator Mau Piailug, who taught Pacific way-finding to native Hawaiians and sparked a renaissance in the building of voyaging canoes in the Pacific….

The welcome in Majuro was a celebration of two Pacific cultures that have kept sailing traditions alive, and of their ancient mariners who developed ocean-voyaging methods centuries before Westerners had nautical navigation equipment to cross vast oceans.

Majuro islander Alson Kelon, who escorted the vessels into port, said he felt proud to be a Micronesian and honored to support the voyaging tradition of his ancestors.

Kelon said he helped to found a canoe sailing group in Majuro after witnessing the Hokule’a make its first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976.

He said the teaching traditional voyaging integrates all kinds of learning, including mathematics, science, oceanography, astronomy, English and leadership….

The late Big Island canoe builder Clay Bertelmann promised to deliver a double-hulled canoe to Mau about five years ago, and his family has continued to fulfill the promise….

Mau’s son Sesario said his father’s health is waning.

“The main thing is to get it there while he’s still around,” he said.

Sesario said his family has to discuss what to do with the Alingano Maisu, but he hopes that it will be used to carry on his father’s work teaching way-finding navigation.

Sesario, a police officer in Yap, said he would like to use the canoe as a way to reach youths at risk of becoming criminals.

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Filed under Micronesia, Polynesia