Monday, January 02, 2006

Must Be A New Year

Start off with your resolution not to read self help books. They seem to be bad for your health. Dr. Phil is not going to be happy.

Self-help's big lie - Los Angeles Times
In U.S. schools, the crusade to imbue kids with that most slippery of notions — self-esteem — has been unambiguously disastrous (and has recently been disavowed by a number of its loudest early voices). Self-esteem-based education presupposed that a healthy ego would help students achieve greatness, even if the mechanisms necessary to instill self-esteem undercut scholarship. Over time, it became clear that what such policies promote is not academic greatness but a bizarre disconnect between perceived self-worth and provable skill.

Over a 20-year span beginning in the early 1970s, the average SAT score fell by 35 points. But in that same period, the contingent of college-bound seniors who boasted an A or B average jumped from 28% to an astonishing 83%, as teachers felt increasing pressure to adopt more "supportive" grading policies. Tellingly, in a 1989 study of comparative math skills among students in eight nations, Americans ranked lowest in overall competence, Koreans highest — but when researchers asked the students how good they thought they were at math, the results were exactly opposite: Americans highest, Koreans lowest. Meanwhile, data from 1999's omnibus Third International Mathematics and Science Study, ranking 12th-graders from 23 nations, put U.S. students in 20th place, besting only South Africa, Lithuania and Cyprus.

Still, the U.S. keeps dressing its young in their emperors' new egos, passing them on to the next set of empowering curricula. If you teach at the college level, as I do, at some point you will be confronted with a student seeking redress over the grade you gave him because "I'm pre-med!" Not until such students reach med school do they encounter truly inelastic standards: a comeuppance for them but a reprieve for those who otherwise might find ourselves anesthetized beneath their second-rate scalpel.

The larger point is that society has embraced such concepts as self-esteem and confidence despite scant evidence that they facilitate positive outcomes. The work of psychologists Roy Baumeister and Martin Seligman suggests that often, high self-worth is actually a marker for negative behavior, as found in sociopaths and drug kingpins. Even in its less extreme manifestations, confidence may easily be expressed in the kind of braggadocio — "I'm fine just the way I am, thank you" — that stunts growth, yielding chronic failure.

Actually quite a good article (since he says most of what I believe) until he goes off on this tangent and makes a slightly spurious assumption.

Consider healthcare, where vague notions of personal empowerment are a key factor in the startling American exodus from traditional medicine. A comprehensive study reported in the medical journal JAMA pegged the number of patient visits to alternative-medicine practitioners at 629 million a year, easily eclipsing the 386 million visits to conventional MDs. In theory, these defections represent a desire for "self-empowered healing" that will "put people in charge of their healthcare destiny," to quote one holistic health website. In practice, the trend puts hordes of Americans at the mercy of quacks who shrewdly position themselves at the nexus of mind and body. It behooves us to remember that feeling better about a health problem is not the same as doing better.

Most alternative healthcare practitioners actually want to help the patient do better, not pretend to do better that's what drugs are for. We actually spend time with our patients and try to educate them so they can change their lifestyle and remove some bad habits. Much better than taking a pill or getting an x-ray and then having the doctor tell you he needs to try something else because that didn't work.

I really liked this quote, it is so appropriate for many people, on many levels. Some of whom are in positions of power. Sometimes putting a good face on something doesn't always help.
Far from helping his disciples, the empowerment guru does them a disservice by making them "think positive" about a situation in which the odds of success are exceedingly low. As top management consultant Jay Kurtz argues: "The most dangerous person in corporate America is the highly enthusiastic incompetent. He's running faster in the wrong direction, doing horribly counterproductive things with winning enthusiasm."

You don't say.

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