Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tenure and Self-Esteem--Part 2

The tenure debate shifted abruptly to a much more important topic. Tenure proponents claimed that without tenure, parents fretting over their children's self-esteem would come out en mass to get teachers fired for not awarding   higher grades than their children earned. Bergen32 continued on June 11. 2012 at 2:31PM:

But to me the alternative of no tenure is much, much worse. Parents all over the state will look to get teachers fired because their little Johnny or Susie (who is soooooo perfect) did not get the grade they felt they were entitled to. High school coaches will be fired if little Johnny doesn't get as much playing time as he feels he deserves (google "Dennis Rossi Old Tappan" for an example of this - Rossi is a Hall of Fame HS basketball coach who got fired because some whiny parents complained). As a result, we'll graduate a ton of A+ students who are not prepared.
BTW - this commencement address at Wellesley HS in MA is something that all of our gradutes (sic) need to hear....High School Teacher Tells Graduating Students: You're not special.

I read the article, and then--admittedly steaming that something like this speech "caught the nation's eye, in an age where many believe today's youth suffer from a sense of self-importance"--left the following comments:

Bergen32: “you’re not special” “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." – from your link
I can’t think of a more evil or more hateful thing for any educator to tell a child. If you believe that destroying any child’s self-esteem—the vital quality that a flourishing life depends upon—is good, then you’ve just destroyed whatever credibility your pro-tenure argument had. No parent in their right mind would sanction such collectivist rubbish--the idea that the individual is nothing in the collective scheme of things. Didn't this ideology wreak enough havic in the 20th century? This is why we need to make teachers and schools fully accountable to parents.

To be fair, the speaker, Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough Jr., had some legitimate concerns. Meghan Neal wrote:

   The teacher warned students that Americans have come to appreciate accolades more than genuine achievement, and will compromise standards in order to secure a higher spot on the social totem pole.    "As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of the Guatemalans," he said.   In the quest for accomplishment, everything gets watered down. A 'B' is the new 'C.' Midlevel courses are the new advanced placement, the teacher said.

As we shall see, this does not detract from the hideous message he left these students. Bergen32 retorted:

June 11, 2012 at 4:44PM   Zemack - come down off the ledge, pal. How is what I said hateful? When everyone is special, no one is. Listen to the commencement address I posted and you'll see there's nothing hateful about it.
   Part of (certainly not all) the problem is the whole self-esteem" movement that basically states that under no circumstances should children have to suffer through anything that might (oh God forbid) hurt little Johnny's or Sally's self-esteem. And when little Johnny doesn't make the traveling baseball team (even though he isn't good enough) or little Susie doesn't get an A (even though she didn't deserve it), we still have to accommodate them because we can't do anything that might compromise their precious psyches. They need to realize that they can't always get what they want and that some disappointment in life is inevitable. If they learn that at a young age, they'll be well-prepared for the future....

My response:
I didn’t say what you said is hateful. I said what the commencement speaker that you laud said is.
The so-called “self-esteem movement” has no idea what self-esteem actually is. Self-esteem is the confidence to know that one is capable of dealing with reality, and that he is worthy of whatever success and happiness he achieves by his own effort. A person of true self-esteem holds pride in the fact that he gave it his best shot, even if he fails to make the travelling team. A person of self-esteem is not motivated by the desire to beat the next guy, nor concerned about his spot on the totem pole, nor does he seek the unearned or guaranteed success. Only a person of self-esteem is truly equipped to deal with disappointment. Only a person of self-esteem can respect others. A person who doesn’t think he is “special” or “important” will not think anyone else is, either.
Every individual is capable of “specialness”—the full application of his reason and his skills to the achievement of his chosen goals. But it has to be achieved, which requires self-motivation, which requires the fuel of self-esteem. The individual is a supreme value, not an inconsequential spec in a 6.8 billion cell ant colony. I would tell this year’s graduating class that each of them has something no one else in the world has—yourself. Make the most of it.

The last two statements were inspired by this post. Bergen32 continued:

Zemack - sorry, I just don't see what Mr. McCullough said in his commencement address that was hateful. Please enlighten me. What he said was a message that these students need to hear before they go out into the world.  
Regarding your definition or description of "self-esteem", I'm very much in agreement with you. A child with true self-esteem would be OK with not making the travelling team, as long as it gave it his best effort. He might be disappointed (which is OK), but he'd be OK. But additionally, his parents would be OK with it too.

I welcomed the opportunity to "enlighten" him:

Gladly, Berger32. Here is McCullough’s closing statement:
“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.”
Another word for this is altruism—the idea that moral purpose consists of living for and serving others. What is the corollary of that? That others must live for you. This vicious inversion means you (and everyone) are entitled to the unearned, but not what you have earned. It fosters envy, resentment, and the entitlement mentality, because what others have is morally yours, and if you don’t get it, then others are selfishly holding out on you. On the flip side, altruism fosters suspicion and fear of others, because there are 6.8 billion people who have a moral claim on your life, and you never know when someone will present that claim.
Selflessness is the enemy of self-esteem, and any enemy of self-esteem is pure evil. Destroy self-esteem, and you have endless guilt for any self-satisfaction and happiness you earn. Only a few minutes of thought will tell you that the ideal McCullough is preaching is predatory law-of-the-jungle viciousness. Everyone is prey and predator. To the extent that anyone accepts and tries to live by this code, they are destroyed. What would you call it? (And please don’t bring up compassion and generosity. They grow from self-esteem, not selflessness.) 

The quote above is from the full text of the speech, not Neal's article. As you read the text, there are times that McCullough seems to be on the right track. As I read, I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes thought that maybe I was a bit too hard on him. For example, he said:
         The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer.  You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube.
But you can only judge a philosophical speech by its essential message. McCullough's message is to hammer the students into moral submission; submission as an end in itself.  McCullough's speech could have been made by Ellsworth M. Toohey, the collectivist in The Fountainhead:

If you learn how to rule one single man’s soul, you can get the rest of mankind. It’s the soul, Peter, the soul. Not whips or swords or fire or guns. That’s why the Caesars, the attilas, the Napoleons were fools and did not last. We will. The soul, Peter, is that which can’t be ruled. It must be broken. Drive a wedge in, get your fingers on it – and the man is yours. You won’t need a whip – he’ll bring it to you and ask to be whipped. Set him in reverse – and his own mechanism will do your work for you. Use him against himself. Want to know how it’s done? See if I ever lied to you. See if you haven’t heard all this for years, but didn’t want to hear, and the fault is yours, not mine.

There are many ways. Here’s one. Make man feel small. Make him feel guilty. Kill his aspiration and his integrity. That’s difficult. The worst among you gropes for an idol in his own twisted way. Kill integrity by internal corruption. Use it against himself. Direct it towards a goal destructive of all integrity. Preach selflessness. Tell man that altruism is the ideal. Not a single one has ever reached it and not a single one ever will. His every living instinct screams against it. But don’t you see what you accomplish ? Man realises that he’s incapable of what he’s accepted as the noblest virtue - and it gives him a sense of guilt, of sin, of his own basic unworthiness. Since the supreme ideal is beyond his grasp, he gives up eventually all ideals, all aspiration, all sense of his personal value. He feels himself obliged to preach what he can’t practice. But one can’t be good halfway or honest approximately. To preserve one’s integrity is a hard battle. Why preserve that which one knows to be corrupt already? His soul gives up its self respect. You’ve got him. He’ll obey. He’ll be glad to obey – because he can’t trust himself, he feels uncertain, he feels unclean. 

...Of course, you must dress them up. You must tell people they’ll achieve a superior kind of happiness by giving up everything that makes them happy. You don't have to be too clear about it. Use big vague words. ‘Universal Harmony’ – ‘Eternal Spirit’ – ‘Divine Purpose’ – ‘Nirvana’ - ‘Paradise’ – ‘Racial Supremacy’ – ‘the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.’ [or the 6.8 billion] Internal corruption, Peter. That’s the oldest one of all. The farce has been going on for centuries and men still fall for it.


No comments: