The Mystery of Self-Esteem Part II

Thinking about the Murder Mystery study (below) and technology… and maybe about self-esteem in general.

We knock the focus on self-esteem now, because we confuse it with the specific practice of telling kids that they are smart at every opportunity and expecting that to make them smarter. So what passes for debate on “The Self-Esteem Question”  is really debate on how often we should say nice but somewhat unwarranted things to kids, and whether bad grades and red pens are a demotivator.

But the fundamental insight — that those who take failure as a lesson rather than a character judgement succeed — is not talked about much in that “debate”, even though it should be central to it.  You can watch children respond to failure at a problem, with one child saying “I’m sooooo stupid. I can’t figure this out,” and another kid simply remarking the problem is really tough, and you know which kid will plow through to the solution.

The 2006 mystery story research seems to support the self-esteem relation — people with high self-esteem *enjoy* being proved wrong, people with low self-esteem dislike it. And since so much of education is based on learning from failure, it’s not a big jump to figure out who will be a better learner. So no matter what Mark Bauerlein might think about how hugging kids led to low literacy rates, there’s still an important piece of the learning puzzle here to be sorted out…

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