Tuesday, February 27, 2007

No, You Can't Have a Playstation. Do Your Homework.

I grew up watching "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company," "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Zoom", so I'm no stranger to the "you are special" refrain that echoed through those programs. But as I grew older, I began to question the wisdom of that educational approach. After all, you're only special if you do something special. Until then, you are just a food tube.
I can't quite fathom the purpose of indoctrinating each and every child into believing that they are one-of-a-kind little snowflakes. I guess the educational establishment figured it would improve childrens' self esteem. But what I think would really improve their self esteem would be to convince them that they can learn the difference between plurals and possessives. Or that history isn't boring. Or that I know algebra is difficult but if you try just a little harder you'll get it.
Instead, what we have taught them is that they are special no matter how distracted or lazy or willfully ignorant they are. As a result, we have become a nation of greedy, self absorbed, check-mailing nincompoops. And instead of toning down the 'you are special' rhetoric, we have accelerated it. I mean, changing the words of the pre-school song, Frere Jacques to "I am special, I am special. Look at me?"
Anyway, once again an academic study has emerged validating my sentiments. From the Associated Press:

Study: College students more narcissistic
By DAVID CRARY, AP National WriterTue Feb 27, 12:32 AM ET
Today's college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.
"We need to stop endlessly repeating 'You're special' and having children repeat that back," said the study's lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. "Kids are self-centered enough already."
Twenge and her colleagues, in findings to be presented at a workshop Tuesday in San Diego on the generation gap, examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006.
The standardized inventory, known as the NPI, asks for responses to such statements as "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place," "I think I am a special person" and "I can live my life any way I want to."
The researchers describe their study as the largest ever of its type and say students' NPI scores have risen steadily since the current test was introduced in 1982. By 2006, they said, two-thirds of the students had above-average scores, 30 percent more than in 1982.
Narcissism can have benefits, said study co-author W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia, suggesting it could be useful in meeting new people "or auditioning on 'American Idol.'"
"Unfortunately, narcissism can also have very negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others," he said.
The study asserts that narcissists "are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors."
Twenge, the author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before," said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.
The researchers traced the phenomenon back to what they called the "self-esteem movement" that emerged in the 1980s, asserting that the effort to build self-confidence had gone too far.
As an example, Twenge cited a song commonly sung to the tune of "Frere Jacques" in preschool: "I am special, I am special. Look at me."
"Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism," Twenge said. "By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube."
Some analysts have commended today's young people for increased commitment to volunteer work. But Twenge viewed even this phenomenon skeptically, noting that many high schools require community service and many youths feel pressure to list such endeavors on college applications.
Campbell said the narcissism upsurge seemed so pronounced that he was unsure if there were obvious remedies.
"Permissiveness seems to be a component," he said. "A potential antidote would be more authoritative parenting. Less indulgence might be called for."
The new report follows a study released by UCLA last month which found that nearly three-quarters of the freshmen it surveyed thought it was important to be "very well-off financially." That compared with 62.5 percent who said the same in 1980 and 42 percent in 1966.
Yet students, while acknowledging some legitimacy to such findings, don't necessarily accept negative generalizations about their generation.
Hanady Kader, a University of Washington senior, said she worked unpaid last summer helping resettle refugees and considers many of her peers to be civic-minded. But she is dismayed by the competitiveness of some students who seem prematurely focused on career status.
"We're encouraged a lot to be individuals and go out there and do what you want, and nobody should stand in your way," Kader said. "I can see goals and ambitions getting in the way of other things like relationships."
Kari Dalane, a University of Vermont sophomore, says most of her contemporaries are politically active and not overly self-centered.
"People are worried about themselves — but in the sense of where are they're going to find a place in the world," she said. "People want to look their best, have a good time, but it doesn't mean they're not concerned about the rest of the world."
Besides, some of the responses on the narcissism test might not be worrisome, Dalane said. "It would be more depressing if people answered, 'No, I'm not special.'"

1 comment:

Panda said...

I'm with you, Big Daddy.
I hated the bumpersticker craze here in CA...My child is an honor student/outstanding kid at blah blah school. They were as meaningful as plastering "My child gets up for school most days" on the backs of parental vehicles.
The seven intelligences and "all children are gifted at something" detracted from those students who actually were gifted and/or worked hard. The self esteem of the kids was more important than their output scholastically or their intelligence. If everyone gets an A it's meaningless. GATE kids are cheated when their work is unappreciated and devalued to spare the feelings of their classmates. Self esteem is earned not bestowed. To tell all kids they're special is a joke...some just AREN'T.
Besides, it's Boomers who are special, dammit. Hahaha.