Saturday, June 9, 2012

False Praise Doesn't Bring Excellence

Please read the following two paragraphs in quotes:

“You are not special. You are not exceptional,” "Yes, you've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped," . “Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You've been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You've been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. ... But do not get the idea you're anything special. Because you're not."

 "Think about this: even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you."
 A 'B' is the new 'C.' Midlevel courses are the new advanced placement."

Finally!! Someone that says it like it is, albeit rather bluntly. The quotes above are from a speech that a teacher gave to students at their graduation. The teacher is David McCullough Jr. His father is better known for his historical books he's authored.

I have three children. They are special to me. They aren't favored over their cousins by their cousins parents, nor are they favored over their cousins by their grandparents. I know that my parents think their children are special to them. They don't favor my brothers or my sister over me and they don't favor me over my brothers and sister. I would think that in this day and age of broken marriages and remarriages that step children would be speical to step parents, at least I hope they are. But beyond that, children are not any more special to any one as they are to the parents and possibly step parents of those children.

Teachers, government authorities (including those charged with protecting endangered children from harm), neighbors, relatives and friends will never consider children special over their own children.

Yet for the past twenty years, lip service has been paid to them. "Do it for the children". They don't necessarily care for the unnamed children. They care more for their agenda and use the children to achieve that agenda. I'm not saying that they purposely use the children and I'm not saying that they all don't care. So please don't fall into the trap of lumping everyone under one umbrella. There are the those that will go out of their way for children even though those children aren't their own. But there is always a limit.

This is also not to say that children shouldn't be encouraged. But not false encouragement. One of the old lines that's been used, especially when the "self esteem of the children" was the hot topic, was that if little Johnny said in school that 2+2=5, he was to be praised for trying and not told he's wrong out of fear that it would destroy his self esteem and he'd become a homeless bum destined to walk to the streets and sleep under bridges. There's just a little problem with that. Little Johnny may remember that he got it right when he said 5 as his answer, and then one day uses a calculator and finds that it says the answer is really 4. Does he then swear up and down that he's got a defective calculator? Does he then decide that a school teacher that should have been helping him learn, has actually lied to him? Does he then question whether anything he was told was the truth in those 13 years of school?

When he starts working and his employer wants something done in a certain way, and he does it wrong, does the employer now have to provide therapy for little Johnny after he's told he's doing his job wrong? What if the employer actually fires little Johnny? Not many employers are going to worry about a persons self esteem when his business is going under because little Johnny has never learned disappointment nor been corrected when he's been wrong.

When kids are very young and play sports for the first time, many of these organizations tell the parents and coaches that they aren't going to keep score. But guess what. The children do keep score!

I used to coach my kids in baseball. Both my son and my daughters. Parents were told by the league that they could not yell negative things at the players during the game. Even yelling out after a kid dropped a popup that he or she should keep their eye on the ball, was considered wrong and the parents would be ejected and banned for the next game. But, as the coach, I could say it to them. At one point, my son was playing second base and turned around late to tell the outfield how many outs there were, as he was supposed to do. But he did it late. While his back was turned, the pitcher pitched and the batter hit a line drive towards my son. It whistled right past his face as he was turning to face the batter. I don't know who was more scared. Him or me. Luckily, it missed him.

I immediately yelled at him to keep his eyes front. I yelled it quickly and loudly and with some fear and anger in my voice. One of the parents came over to me and said that I shouldn't do that because everyone heard it and it only embarrasses my son.

Suppose I did what that parent suggested and kept my mouth shut and let it go so as not to embarrass him again. He'd never know he made a mistake. If he didn't have the mistake corrected the next line drive might break his jaw, cheek or knock some teeth out.

Suppose it was that parents child and I said nothing and it happened again to their child and because I didn't correct that child when it happened the next time and they were seriously hurt, would the parent be so willing to tell me not to say anything so as not to embarrass their child again?

Kids should be encouraged to improve in whatever they choose to do, but to tell them they are doing great at anything when what they are actually doing is poor, only makes them be satisfied with less than adequate results in anything they do.

This teacher is one that had it exactly right. If you strive for excellence and don't achieve that excellence to begin with, you won't reach excellence because you have nothing to improve on when adequate is completely acceptable.

Children are special to their parents. They have special talents but they are not talented at everything. If those talents are not found because we're so busy praising them but not correcting the mistakes they make, we get constant mediocrity rather than occasional excellence.

I like to use baseball as the example with this. Take a look at the batting averages of the professional ballplayers. Someone hitting .300 is considered a very good hitter. But .300 for an average means that you're only successful three out of ten times. It's one of the few times that failing seven out of ten times is an acceptable outcome. Every 20 or 30 years we get a player that flirts with a .400 average and it becomes the headline near the end of the season. Everyone is watching to see if he can actually accomplish that great of a task. Even if he does, he's still failed six out of ten times and he'll get in the record books.

But baseball is a game. Imagine if you build cars for a living and seven out of every ten cars you build have the doors falling off as the new owner is pulling out of the dealership. How long do you think you'll keep your job?

To berate children isn't right, but to heap false praise on them or even praising them but not helping them to improve when there is room for improvement is not doing them any good at all. Mediocrity should not be praised. Giving a trophy to a team that hasn't won a game because the other teams got a trophy keeps that trophy from being a reward for excellence.

David McCollough Jr. has it right and I wish there were more teachers like him out there.

What did the kids say in reaction to his speech? Well, this is something that I believe the children should be praised for.

"For once someone told us what we need to hear and not necessarily what we wanted to hear," 
"Undoing all 'they've' done in on 10-minute speech. My faith in the world may have been restored," 

The kids seem to understand what was meant by this teacher. It's too bad that some adults don't get it.

You're welcome to comment.


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